Kids seem to love artificial, processed food that comes in cleverly marketed, colorful packages. These “fake foods” contain refined or artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colorings, and other chemical compounds to make it taste better or to prolong shelf-life. When kids eat this processed food, their bodies have to deal with the synthetic additives, and it can lead to nutritional imbalances and chronic disease. Their bodies are designed to metabolize whole foods, not these synthetically altered foods.
Do kids naturally love processed food or is it a learned response to advertising? Or is it that this is the food that they consider “normal” since it’s what most other kids are eating? My experience with my daughter is that she enjoyed her healthy whole foods diet until she was introduced to the processed food she saw other kids eating at school. Until then, she didn’t know about all the packaged junk that passes for lunch. We didn’t have television in our home so she didn’t get the early commercialization of food. But soon it became a challenge to compete with the fake foods.
Unfortunately in this society, there are plenty of fancy-wrapped junk foods that grab our kids attention and taste buds. And it does take time to prepare wholesome foods rather than take the easy route of packaged convenience foods.
So how do we get our kids to eat healthy foods?
The biggest piece of advice that I can give from experience is to not make food an issue. Respect your kids’ appetites, and if they are not hungry, don’t force food on them. Never use food as a reward or bribe or make your kids “clean their plate”. Allow them to choose how much they want to eat of the healthy foods you have available.
It’s important to be a healthy role model for your kids. Kids will imitate what they see their parents eating. Maybe this is not apparent yet in your toddler, but kids will grow up accepting their parents way of eating as the “norm”.
Here are some ideas:
Use basic, fresh foods and ingredients. Choose healthy foods without corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, preservatives or chemical additives.
Shop at a local farmer’s market or a grocery store that carries produce from local farms. Or take your kids to the actual farms so they can appreciate how food is grown. Let them see all the different types of fruits and veggies and let them pick out new ones to try.
Get your kids involved in meal planning, food shopping, and cooking.
Plant a garden with your kids and/or enroll them in healthy cooking classes.
Teach your kids why we eat healthy foods and about nutritional values of different foods and how this affects their bodies.
Allow your kids to choose what goes into their school lunches from a variety of healthy foods.
Keep healthy snacks available at all times so they are easily accessible when kids are hungry. Cut up fruits and vegetables and put them right in front of kids. Simply put a bowl in front of them while they are doing homework, watching TV, etc. Have you tried giving them red, orange or yellow bell peppers? These are much sweeter tasting than green peppers and many kids love them. I cut them up into strips and simply hand them to my daughter whenever possible.
Introduce new foods on a regular basis and don’t give up when introducing something new. Some kids need it to be offered 8-10 times before they decide to accept it as a food they like. Talk about the new food’s smell, color, texture and shape, and ask them decide for themselves if it tastes good. Serve the new food along with the foods they already like and don’t make a big deal of it.
Make food fun and playful by cutting it into shapes, making smiley faces, food collages, or fruit kabobs. Make a game of exploring one new vegetable each week to learn about and to taste.
Don’t worry if your kids are not eating three balanced meals each day. Instead, look at what they are eating over a period of three days.
Don’t let them fill up on juice, milk or soda throughout the day so there’s no appetite for food. Get them in a habit of drinking plenty of water, instead.
Try to keep your kids away from television and other advertising. There are a lot of ads for processed foods and advertisers target kids early on to establish brand loyalty.
You can add kale or other leafy greens to meals without your kids knowing. Chop the greens up finely in a food processor and add them to spaghetti sauce, lasagna, stew, stir fry, soups, or chili. You can even chop greens up in advance and freeze them in small bags so they are handy when needed.
Most kids love cheese, so you can always add shredded cheese to greens to make them more appealing. Raw cheese is healthier than pasteurized cheese. Here’s a simple dish that my daughter has always loved. Saute spinach or chard, add tomato sauce and top with cheese. Serve over brown rice. Very simple. You can make different variations, depending on tastes.
Roasting the vegetables can make them more appealing to kids. Coat the vegetables with olive oil and bake at 400° for approximately 20 minutes.
Buy a juicer and a blender and make green smoothies, carrot juice, apple/beet juice. Here’s an example of a vegetable and fruit juicing recipe for kids.
Soups are a great way to add vegetables to a diet for kids. You can chop up the vegetables or blend them into a broth so your kids don’t even know they’re there.
Patty James, the author of More Vegetables, Please!, has the following ideas for adding more vegetables to a diet for kids. Check out her website: www.PattyJames.com.
• In a bit of olive oil, sauté onions, peppers, zucchini and garlic for a few minutes and then add your eggs or tofu and spinach leaves for a healthier scramble.
• Add cubed pumpkin or butternut squash to your morning hot cereal. Pureed pumpkin is fine as well. Sprinkle with nuts, seeds and cinnamon.
• Add a handful of leafy greens to your morning smoothie.
• Cooked chopped kale, peppers and onions in some water in a saucepan and after it’s softened, crack an egg in the center. Cover to poach the egg until it is done to your liking.
• Add shredded zucchini to your next muffin recipe.
• Add pureed pumpkin or other winter squash to your pancake batter in lieu of some of the fat. Less fat, more veggies!
• On your next sandwich or wrap, add some grated carrots and zucchini, sprouts and lettuce. All of them, not just one of them.
• Add pureed peas to your next guacamole recipe.
• Steam the stems of the broccoli, puree and add to hummus to guacamole. Brocomoli!
• Add grated carrots and slices of cooked butternut squash to your next grilled-cheese sandwich.
• Add minced red peppers, celery, red onion and shredded carrots to your next tuna salad recipe.
• A big green salad for lunch is an easy way to add more veggies to your life. Go light on the high-fat salad dressing.
• Add some spinach leaves to your homemade hummus or place store-bought hummus in your blender and add spinach leaves yourself.
• For a snack try sliced jicama with salsa. Also good is jicama rubbed with lime juice and sprinkled with chili powder.
• On Sundays and Wednesdays, you and your kids, if you have them, slice/chop carrots, celery, cauliflower, broccoli and any and all other seasonal vegetables. If they’re easy to grab, you’ll eat them!
• Start your meal with veggie slices as an appetizer. Try cutting the carrot sticks into little rounds instead of slices, red peppers into squares, etc. It’s a fun little change that kids especially like. Serve with your favorite dip if you like.
• Try to have half of your dinner plate as veggies; some cooked, some raw.
• Marinara sauce used for pasta or pizza is an easy way to add more veggies….shredded zucchini, finely chopped broccoli, chopped spinach leaves, red peppers, onions and garlic. Yum!
• Add peas, chopped broccoli, and grated carrots to your next macaroni and cheese recipe.
• A meat loaf is an easy way to add more veggies to your life. Finely chop and add red pepper, onions, celery, carrots and any other favorite veggie.
• Next time you make a pot roast or stew think: Veggies and Pot Roast, not Pot Roast and veggies. Ditto for stews-heavy on the veggies, light on the meat.
What has worked well for you? Please post your suggestions below. Feel free to also post any questions.