Many parents say that one of the biggest challenges of parenthood is getting their kids to eat enough of the right kinds of foods. Not surprising when we live in a country in which millions of dollars are spent each year on food advertising, targeted directly at kids, that glamorizes junk food, breakfast cereals, fast food, candy, soda and so-called "fruit" drinks, most of which is loaded with refined sugar, fat, and/or artifical colors, flavors and preservatives. Is it any wonder that we don't hear kids in the aisles of the supermarket begging their parents to buy apples and carrots?
Well, the struggle to build a nutritious foundation for your kids' health doesn't have to be a losing battle.
Here are a few suggestions to help you and your kids form healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.
- Let your kids know you really enjoy the healthful foods you eat! Set a great example. Your children adore and idolize you, and that means you are the model for many of your kids' behaviors, including eating! So, rave on about just how delicious you find your morning bowl of oatmeal topped with nuts and raisins, the crunchy apple or peanut butter stuffed celery stick you snacked on, the healthy sautéed cauliflower with turmeric you served with dinner, or the recipe for beet-apple-walnut salad with feta cheese you had at lunch.
- Appeal to their senses: Kids love colorful foods with interesting textures. On the other hand, some kids dislike foods with strong, overpowering flavors. Other kids don't like mixtures of foods (like casseroles). So skip the jalapenos in your black bean dip, steam and serve several vegetables separpately, and try to remember these persnickity preferences are likely to change quickly.
- Always offer healthy options: Make sure that each meal and snack is heavy on the fruits and vegetables. Use whole grain breads for sandwiches, whole grain crackers and chips for snacks. A small ziploc bag full of home-roasted nuts, dried fruits like chopped papaya, raisins and coconut, and a few carob chips can give any candy bar a run for the money.
- Let your kids help: School age kids are curious and energetic. Let them help you choose new recipes to try. Let them stir and mix it up in the kitchen. Have fun! They will be more interested in food and nutrition if you let them play with you—make a game of meal planning and food preparation.
When children start school, they begin to eat more and more meals away from home. Also, their food choices and habits are increasingly influenced by their friends. As a result, the foods you put in your child's lunchbox will impact not only your child's health, but may also encourage his/her friends to eat better. Here are a couple of "yummy" additions to any lunchbox:
- Melon/Blueberry/Coconut Salad: This sweet, colorful salad is quick to prepare and easy to take along in a lunchbox. Cut honeydew melon and/or cantaloupe into small chunks. Or use a melon baller - a task your kids will love to help you with. Add frozen or fresh blueberries and some shredded coconut. You can also mix it up with a little vanilla-flavored yogurt. Kids have fun eating this salad because they can use their fingers!
- Lunchtime Noodles: Most kids love noodles, so this salad is a lunchtime hit. Cook 4 ounces of whole grain noodles (curly noodles, like rotini, are great for this recipe) according to the package directions. Prepare a dressing for the noodles using 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil, 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. If your kids like spicy foods, add 1/2 teaspoon of hot pepper oil or a pinch of cayenne pepper. Add finely chopped carrots, celery, and red cabbage. Top with sesame seeds and parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. This salad can be made ahead, and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, but it won't last that long—we promise!
- Chick pea spread with vegetables: Chick peas (also known as garbanzo beans) are loaded with protein and fiber. Plus, they have a mild, slightly sweet taste kids enjoy. Chick peas are used to make a traditional Mediterranean spread called hummus. Hummus is quick to prepare and easy to take along in the lunch box. Include carrot sticks, red pepper strips, or celery stalks and/or tortilla chips for dipping. To make the hummus combine 1 can (15 ounces) of chick peas, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 clove of garlic, and 2 tablespoons of sesame tahini in a food processor. Mix until smooth. If hummus is too thick, add water as necessary. If your kids don't like spicey food, skip the garlic. If they do, add paprika as well as the usual salt and pepper to taste.
For more information on nutrition for kids, please see our article on School Age Children in the Special Needs section of our website.