Healthy Kids Meals
Being a parent requires strength, humor, flexibility…and a whole lotta good meal ideas.
Like most kids their age, my 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter are obsessed with birthday cake, candy and juice. They’ve never met a taquito or hot dog they didn’t like. In fact, if given the chance, I’m pretty sure they’d design their diets exclusively around hot pink and brown foods.
The good news is, even though quinoa, almonds, chickpeas and asparagus aren’t their first-pick desert- island foods, they appreciate them enough to dig in at dinnertime. In my experience, it doesn’t take superpowers or manipulation to grow a child’s appreciation of whole foods; it just takes persistence, confidence and a little creativity. It also helps to have friends who are willing to share ideas. Consider me one of yours.
Don’t Dread The Veg
It drives me crazy when a book for children disrespects vegetables. (“Spinach, again? Blech!”) Sure, kids may not rejoice in a pile of sautéed spinach, but we parents need all the help we can get to kindle their interest.
Often, the best way to do that is by experimenting with cooking methods and seasoning. Years before I had children, someone taught me the beauty of roasting vegetables in a thin coat of olive oil, sea salt and pepper. The result is tender-crispy broccoli, green beans and asparagus that my kids (and husband!) will almost always happily eat.
Common parenting advice says that kids who help prepare a dish are more likely to eat it. Certainly, my kids are eager to help, but at the end of a long day the last thing I want is four extra hands involved in rolling meatballs when it’s already 6pm. Instead, I try to make meals that my kids can dress up however they like with fixings at the table. That way, they have choices about how their food looks and tastes, and I still have my sanity.
Growing up, my brother was skinny and picky. His weight worried my mom, who would often cave and heat frozen corn dogs for him, one of four things he’d willingly eat. Our childhood pediatrician, a very wise man, predicted my brother would grow to be a big eater. Today, that scrawny kid is six-feet-two, barrel-chested, and eats absolutely anything.
The moral of this story? Stand fi rm. If you want to raise an adventurous eater, the best way to sabotage your efforts is by preparing something different for them than what you eat yourself. In our home, everyone eats the same meal. If they don’t like the way it looks, they still have to take one bite of everything before they may be excused to their room. My husband and I don’t shame them into clearing their plates, but if I prepare something extra unfamiliar— say, quiche or an Indian dal—I make a dessert that’s only available to those who give dinner a concerted effort.
In the end, like kindness, persistence and courage, kids learn nutritious eating best as observed in their parents. So ... what’s on your plate?
Dessert: A Relative Term
Dessert need not be sugary or complicated to qualify as a treat. Favorites in our home are juicy dates with a salted almond tucked inside; plain yogurt with a few drops of stevia stirred in and spooned over chopped fruit; popcorn drizzled with honey and dusted with cinnamon; or banana “ice cream”: frozen banana wedges whipped in the food processor with almond milk and topped with shredded coconut or chopped peanuts.
Or Not To Hide?
Sneak clandestine veggies into their food or serve them in plain view? The topic is hotly debated among some parents. I have a friend whose sons hate mushrooms and onions, so she minces them into their taco meat—a brilliant move, considering her kids have never enjoyed either veggie. If your child doesn’t dig the taste or texture of some ingredient after, say, 10 tries, I doubt there’s harm in incorporating it secretly. (Extra credit: If at all possible, try growing the off ending ingredient in your garden. My son wasn’t a fan of tomatoes or snap peas until he planted and harvested them himself.)