Happy New Year! We all want to start the year off on the right foot and many of us do so by changing some of our holiday eating habits. But what about children? How do we tackle the not-so-easy job of getting our children to eat healthier? Here Katie Letts, chef and shine nutrition specialist, provides some tips to 5 major issues parents face. May 2014 be happy, healthy and delicious for your whole family.
Continue to shine your light –
Aaron Goldschmidt, founder & director
The holiday goodies have been consumed, the champagne has been toasted, and the start of a new year means one thing above all else: New Year’s resolutions! Making it a priority to improve the eating habits and overall health of your little one is an honorable goal, albeit a challenging one. Let’s face it; most small mouths come with an assortment of not-so-small obstacles. Every-day issues, from picky eaters to the lack of time to cook can make preparing nutritious family meals and snacks a battle!
Recently, I asked several moms and dads to share the greatest challenges they’ve faced with providing a well-balanced diet for their children. Some of them provided me with their solutions for said challenges, as well. Not so surprisingly, many of the food issues were quite common among most of the families! The parents who generously contributed their thoughts range from professional chefs to folks who would much rather “take-out” than tournée… After all, children will eat like children (even if their parent heads a TV network kitchen). If you would like to resolve to keep your family happy and healthy, feel free to use these tips, as needed… Let’s put the solution back into “resolution!”
1. My child is a picky/fickle eater.
You know the drill. One day, your little girl refuses to eat anything except chicken nuggets. Only beige foods will appease her palette (green food is yucky!), and chicken nuggets can do no wrong… Until three days later, when she suddenly (and without warning) refuses to eat chicken nuggets.
I’m going to dole out a little bit of tough love on this one, but don’t give your child a choice in whether or not to eat the healthy foods you provide for him/her. It can be tough to be firm as a parent (“Can’t we just give her chocolate milk for dinner? She’ll drink her calcium if it’s loaded with sugar!”), but it is imperative to instill a diverse and healthy diet while children are still young and developing their bodies and taste preferences. Children may not like the thought of eating broccoli over pizza on a Tuesday night, but over time he or she will develop a taste for it. Sure, there will be some tearful tantrums at first as your little girl insists she needs macaroni and cheese for the fifth night in a row, but setting some parent/child boundaries by saying no to unbalanced eating habits will be good for her character development, as well as her nutritional health and future eating habits. Rather than make picky or fickle eating a nightly battle, try cooking meals with your child and excitedly explaining the great qualities of all the healthy ingredients (ex: Carrots don’t just taste good, they help our eyes stay strong so we can see better every time we go to the park! Let’s add some carrots to our salad, together!). This might seem like a far-reaching idea, but I once taught a four-year old who insisted she loved celery, before ever trying it, purely because one of the Wonder Pets had raved about it on Nick Jr. Sneaking vegetables into non-veggie dishes, like Sloppy Joe’s or mashed potatoes, can help an especially picky eater get some balanced nutrition into his/her diet, as well.
2. My child doesn’t eat enough.
Pediasure commercials everywhere have summarized a scene that has played out in most family kitchens for many generations; the child who refuses to eat. Period. Whether your son is easily distracted by thoughts of “missing out on all the fun,” while being forced to sit at the dinner table, or whether he simply has no interest in food (unless it’s candy), a non-eater is a surefire cause of frustration and the willingness to try anything to get him fed.
Randy, how do the little piggies go?
[giggles and oinks like a pig]
That’s right, oink, oink! Now, show me how the piggies eat…
I believe that children shouldn’t have to clean their plates, but that they shouldn’t be allowed to leave the table without eating anything. A happy compromise on this is the two out of three rule: three healthy options are served on your child’s plate, and he/she must eat at least two out of three of them. This allows him/her to view eating not as a punishment, but as an opportunity to be a “big kid” and choose for him/herself. Please be aware of the options you choose to serve; if you give your child a roll, macaroni and cheese, and Brussels sprouts, he/she will almost certainly just choose to eat the starches and leave the vegetable. Whether or not you insist he/she finish the two types of food is completely up to you (and most-likely depends on the portion size)… If you prefer, you can always insist your child eat at least a certain number of bites before he/she is finished. Positive, non-food related rewards also help encourage children to eat. Offering dessert as a reward is not something I recommend, as it can potentially teach a child to emotionally depend on sweets for satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment. Instead, suggest an activity you can do together, like riding bikes in the park after lunch, or an extra-long story at bedtime.
3. I work hard and don’t have the time/energy to come home and cook every night.
Listen, I get it. Even as a chef, there are many nights when I come home from working an extremely long/difficult day and either order Thai from Seamless, or call it a night with a bowl of Cheerios. That’s fine for yourself, but what about if you’re responsible for developing the eating habits of growing tykes?
Planning is key regarding this issue! Schedule cooking time for both you and your child over the weekend, making the majority of the meals you will need for the week. A lasagna can go a long way, and roasted chicken can be used for a variety of meals throughout the week. Including your child in the cooking process will encourage a love of healthy foods, because he/she will see first-hand how his/her meals are made, start to finish. This is also a wonderful opportunity to have some quality time with your family as a whole. Long hours during the work-week can sometimes make it hard to find time to do things with your loved ones that don’t require a TV and a remote control. Planning out some meals for the week, grocery shopping and cooking are great ways to enjoy a weekend afternoon together!
4. I want to feed my children food without added chemicals and artificial ingredients, but it’s hard to find quality food at a price that won’t break my budget!
The Pediasure brand may have provided a solution for children who are difficult eaters, but the top two ingredients (after water) for their classic product are sugar and Corn Maltodextrin. Feeding your family only organic foods without added chemicals and artificial ingredients is a fantastic idea, but is not always a budget-friendly one. But, wait! There’s more…
This issue is a tough one, and it certainly requires some creative thinking. If you live in an area with farmer’s markets, this is your best bet. Farmer’s markets sell local, organic produce (and often dairy/proteins/grains) at a fraction of the price you would find at a health food store, primarily because you’re buying your products straight from the source! Buying food “in-season” is also a great way to cut back on cost. Food simply costs more when it’s not in-season locally and has to be shipped from across the globe. Not everything has to be organic, either. Fruits/vegetables with a thick, protective skin, for example, are mostly protected from the dangerous pesticides that plague non-organic farms, and so paying double the price for organic simply isn’t worth it. Bananas and pomegranates can be purchased safely without an organic label, leaving more money in your budget for organic necessities, like eggs, chicken and tomatoes.
5. I want to make sure to feed my kids meals that are well balanced in nutrition, but sometimes I run out of ideas!
This is a common problem when it comes to cooking for any age, at any level! Luckily we have the internet and its many cooking web sites, as well as access to a plethora of markets, ingredients and spices with which we can experiment to our heart’s content. The key is to play with your food… Have fun with it, and include your kids in that fun! Try out some new spices, or give that strange-looking fruit you’ve passed in the “hippie section” of your local market a whirl (hint: it’s Dragon Fruit!). If you need a little more structure to your recipes, scan through several of the amazing cookbooks available at your local bookstore, or look online! Check out these web sites: Peas and Thank You, Food Network, Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, and Spark Recipes. Below I’ve included one of my own recipes to try!
Pomegranate Salsa w/Pita Chips:
- Nylon child safety knife
- Cutting board
- Mixing bowl
- Wooden spoon
- ½ bunch chives, minced
- 1 jalapeño, minced
- 1 green bell pepper, small dice
- 12 oz sweet corn, canned (in water)
- 1 medium pomegranate, seeded
- ½ cup cilantro, minced
- 1 lime, juice & zest
- 2 TBSP cider vinegar
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- Whole wheat pita chips (optional serving suggestion)
- Assist your child in using the Nylon safety knife to cut up all of the fruits and vegetables, as specified in the ingredients list. Prepare the remaining ingredients, like removing the pomegranate seeds from the husk and juicing the lime, accordingly.
- Allow your child to combine all the prepared ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl, excluding the lime, cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and pita chips.
- Toss in the lime juice, followed by the cider vinegar, using only the amount of vinegar necessary to reach your desired salsa consistency. Salt & pepper to taste.
- Serve with the pita chips and enjoy with the whole family!
By Katie Letts, Shine Nutrition Specialist