Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Healthy Eats for Kids

In recent years, I'll admit, I've developed a new soap box. What is it this time, you ask? Well, it's the kids' options on a restaurant menu. It's always the same: mac & cheese, pizza, or chicken nuggets. Yes, restaurants need to make money and feel they are forced to offer these things because kids are picky eaters. And YES my kids are some of the pickiest eaters that I know. But part of the skill of a chef is to take something people know and love and make it into something new and different right? Why can't they sneak in butternut squash with that mac & cheese?? Put spinach or zucchini on the pizza and offer fresh, homemade, whole chicken nuggets????? Don't answer those questions. Just let it stew. I've heard a good option is to order a lunch-sized portion of something off the menu for your kids. I just might do that next time. My son actually loves baked fish, non-breaded with just butter and some herbs. And this was a kid who it's taken 5 years for him to willingly eat chicken!

Okay, off the soap box now. This post is about finding alternatives for the same ol' same ol' that are healthy and delicious for kids. Every kid is different, and you know your kids best. These are some options that I have found that I am excited to try out. But first, here are a few tips I've learned:

1. Help your children grow some food.

My son was so much more excited to try basil on his pizza and as a pesto on pasta when he knew we had grown it ourselves and he had watched it sprout from a tiny seed and flourish as a wonderful smelling, beautiful plant. Also, my son has learned that there is nothing like picking your very own sun-warmed tomatoes or strawberries and popping into your mouth straight off the plant. Mmmm!

2. Involve your children in making their own food.

My son loves smelling all the herbs and spices I put into what I'm cooking or baking. Both my son and daughter love to measure and stir. Children naturally love to help and when they're able to stir, and knead, and make a mess (I've had to work really hard at putting my mess anxiety on the back burner!), they can take pride in having done something as big and important as creating their own snack or putting dinner on the table that the whole family enjoys. It's also fun bonding time with mom or dad in the kitchen which is usually the center of the home.

3. Have your food rules and stick with them.

It's taken my husband and I our entire son's life to develop rules for eating at the table. We're still working on it, and it's been a challenge with picky eaters. Some parents have the theory of "you have to eat everything on your plate" while others are more into experimentation on the child's part and they'll eat when they're hungry. I think we're somewhere in the middle. Lately, we've been having our son help with how much is going on his plate, so that he feels that he has some decision-making power there, but he doesn't get to choose what goes on his plate. I think educating him on what our bodies need for strength and energy has helped him understand that veggies, fruit, and proteins are more important than the dessert that may follow. It's a work in progress though. :-)

Whatever your feeding philosophy, I think when your kids know what is expected at the table, then meal times will probably go smoother.

Here are some great posts I found for kids' snack ideas:

45 Real Food Snacks for Kids

10 On-the-Go Healthy Snacks for Toddlers

25 Healthy Snacks for Little Ones

Also, I think having a few cookbooks in your arsenal can be a huge help. Here are two of my favorites:

Organically Raised: Conscious Cooking for Babies & Toddlers

Healthy Meals for Babies & Toddlers

One of my favorite ideas from the book Healthy Meals for Babies & Toddlers is for ready-made sandwich filling ideas. Most kids love sandwiches, heck, I love sandwiches and would try these super cool fillings any day:

heaping 1/3 cup hummus
1 small cooked carrot, chopped
1 Tbsp chopped cucumber (you could substitute zucchini too)

Fruity Cheese Spread
heaping 1/3 cup lowfat soft cheese or ricotta cheese (I used neufchatal)
1 Tbsp. chopped pitted dates
2 Tbsp. chopped plumped dried apricots

Egg & Bacon
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and mashed
1 Tbsp mayonnaise (or Miracle Whip if you have my more refined taste buds haha!)
2 crisp-cooked slices bacon, chopped

A twist on the sandwich: my son loves a tortilla (white or whole wheat) with peanut butter and jam or honey and rolled up into a burrito. It's pretty good!

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