Raising healthy children is our responsibility yet diabetes, obesity and even fatty liver disease are en route to becoming status quo. Making a commitment to serve nutrient dense foods positively impacts the health and overall well-being of our families. Unfortunately, many of us are faced with the daily nightmare of feeding finicky eaters. After a stressful day, nobody wants to become a short order cook.
First things first; active kids expend energy, therefore they may require increased caloric intake. Hungry kids are more apt to nibble or nosh whatever is served.
Be a positive role model. Parents can’t skip a serving of supper time greens yet scold for pushed away plates.
I’m not going to play the blame game or pass judgment but here’s a friendly reminde: food is not a reward, punishment or a bartering tool. Negotiating a clean plate is a no no!
Water is the only beverage needed. It’s essential for life. Juice, pop and sports drinks are not necessary. Excessive empty calories, high sugar, additives, preservatives and dangerous dyes are not healthy any day. Filling up on fresh pressed juice and pure coconut water are holistic, however liquids can’t replace real food. Kids should carry their own water bottle. Consuming a minimum of 30 ml of water per kg of body weight is a great guideline at any age. Skip the funky flavored portable single serving powders and drops. Kids quickly learn to love lemon, mint or a few pieces of flavorful frozen fruit in water. Filling in nutritional gaps with liquid vitamins or a greens powder is one way to flavor water while supporting healthy growing.
Limit sugar, even natural sugar. We aren’t born with a sweet tooth. Sugar is addictive at any age and serves absolutely no health benefits. None.
Meals should include all macros; protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. Doubling up on one food group while excluding others isn’t balanced. Protein is the building block of muscle, also helping to stabilize blood sugar and promote fullness. The category of carbohydrates are expansive. They act as an immediate source of fuel or can be stored for later. Legumes, although a complex carbohydrate are also a plant- based high-fiber protein. Fruits and vegetables equal energy plus tons of vitamins and minerals. Plants provide over 25 000 phytonutrients. From yellow to purple, every color indicates intense cell -supporting and disease-fighting phytonutrients. Each fiber- filled bite promotes a full tummy while aiding in healthy gut flora, encouraging healthy digestion and ultimately regular elimination. Too many kids live with constipation. Healthy macros maintain mini versions of us!
I’m not disputing the fact that pleasing picky eaters can be a full-time job. Add in sensitivities, allergies and yuck factor, it’s understandable for parents to cave. Admittedly, serving the same dishes night after night is easier, but it’s a future recipe for disaster. Loving our kids includes educating them on how to make the best food choices. In my own personal holistic heaven, bodies are built on one-word foods such as apple, rice, broccoli or beans. In the real world, I am forced to take a long deep breath and add, “If you can’t spell or pronounce ingredients, those foods belong in a science experiment, not your body!”. Parents can’t depend on schools or media to instill ‘healthy food’ facts. Canada’s Food Guide is stepping up their game but I’m still not convinced it’s not without a hidden agenda. Kids watch, learn and absorb everything we do. Best selling book, Children Learn What They Live; Parenting to Inspire Values by Dorothy Law Nolte is worth reading.
In my experience, families are more likely to eat a nutritious meal when most or all of the family eats together. Realistically life is busy. Aim for balance.
Planning and preparing meals only to have kids refuse equals mealtime mayhem. My goal is to change all that. Back to basics means building a “healthy eat anything house” with a solid raw food foundation.
Find a hour of quiet family together time. Begin by building a list of favorite foods. Every member should have a say in planning the weekly household menu.
Mix it up by making dinner time culturally inclusive. Take turns choosing a new region. Cooking new dishes is an exciting and easy way to broaden horizons while potentially pleasing picky palates.
Having fun with kiddies in the kitchen is possible! Delegate age appropriate tasks. Helping with meal prep can teach appreciation for the hard work involved. Washing, chopping, stirring, smelling and creating from start to serving may trick and tempt taste buds into trying.
Setting the table should be part of any dinner time ritual. Designated dining chairs, personalized place mats, dishes and cutlery can set the tone. Nobody is ever too old to use their special mug! Open my cupboard. Here lies Wonder Woman, Star Wars and Big Bang Theory!
Get your green thumb in gear. Start by sprouting. Patience during the seed stage quickly builds to excitement as buds begin peaking through the dirt. Kids exude innocence in the beauty of nature. It’s adorable to watch their sheer amazement as seeds grow into sandwich and salad toppers. Planting pint size pots of indoor herb heaven help jazz up any hum drum dish. Take it a step further. This spring, start a small family garden. Digging in the dirt opens dialogue. From photosynthesis to pesticides, discussing the positive impact of the small family garden is more than farm to table. It’s environmental education, loving the land and feeling connected to a bigger picture.
Yes, it all sounds simple on paper. Hearing,”no!” night after night is a nuisance but please don’t give up!
Studies, experts and diligent parents agree that it may take between 10 and 15 exposures of new foods before kids accept. Slowly start with substitutions.
- White rice is usually an easy sell but focus on serving brown long grain, basmati or wild. Kids can customize sushi rolls with raw vegetables, fruit and even seeds.
- Get groovy with grains. Tonight in the rice cooker give couscous, quinoa in all 3 colors, millet and amaranth, farro or barley a whirl. Increase health value and switch water for milk alternatives. Pump up the protein by swapping out water for chick pea beverage. Don’t forget legumes and rice must be combined to make a complete plant protein. Meat isn’t necessary for growing bodies.
- Meatballs, burgers and even fish can be meat-less. Lots of companies offer alternatives. Faux meat patties, nuggets, sausages and deli favorites for the upcoming plant based generation are now readily available. Edamame has also gained popularity with the explosion of all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants. It’s the perfect protein-packed pod of plant based goodness. Don’t be scared to try tofu or its fermented version tempeh. There is no shortage of recipes on scrambling, baking, grilling or stir frying tofu. Plant based may just please even the toughest tiny tots!
- Ditch the dairy. There is no reason anyone should drink mucous forming milk! Choose from coconut, soy, almond, cashew, hemp, quinoa, pea, rice, chick pea and newcomer OAT beverage.
- Bread, pita, crackers and bagels are so yesterday’s lunches. Modernize and roll into pinwheels or use cookie cutters. For future hipsters, I love collard green, lettuce, seaweed or even rice and coconut wraps.
- Who says cereal is just for breakfast? Sometimes rules are made to be broken. Overnight oats, chia pudding, granola, dry cereals, even waffles or pancakes delight diners.
- Pump up pasta. Endless choices exist. Choose chick pea, black bean, lentil, sweet potato, kamut, quinoa and my latest love konjac. Still feeling stuck? Present a plate of princesses or hockey players and pasta night hits legendary status. There is a pasta shape for every hobby, holiday and special household event. I promise.
- Tailor soup and stews to toddler taste buds or use as camouflage. Add in everything and anything pureed but admit nothing.
- Vegetables are a love vs hate relationship for lots of kids. Sometimes it’s simply based on the preparation method. Step it up and turn steamed, raw, roasted and mashed into spiralized, flower shapes and scalloped edged creations. Inexpensive kitchen tools add an artsy flair to food fare. Challenged still? I discovered frozen veggie pucks that come in red and green! Melt into meal time mega-nutritious magic.
- Nuts may not be allowed at school, but sunflower seed, soy and tiger nut are high protein and not nuts! Chick pea butter is a thing believe it or not. It’s just a matter of time before it hits our shelves. Coconut spreads are another option. From chocolate to pineapple, coconut spreads are a healthy fat with a burst of fresh fruit. I have yet to meet a child of nay age who didn’t love chia seed jam spread over seed butter.
- Fruit is an easy sell,especially ones higher in sugar. Most kids avoid squishy over ripe fruit and stick to a typical top three of grapes, strawberries and apples. Dazzle kids with dehydrated fruit. Choose exotic papaya, mango or even passion fruit for a delicious sugar and sulfite free answer to snack time.
Introducing new foods must be the focus. Presentation can be a deal breaker. Unless Canada’s Top Chef is your alter ego, do your best. Taste, texture and color is a deciding factor. When kids refuse to sample, ask why. Sometimes it’s as simple as, “Ewwww, avocados are slimy.”. Smile! You solved the mystery. Now go ahead and hide their healthy omegas in a smoothie or brownie! Camouflage flax in bread crumbs. Get comfortable with the idea of nutritional yeast as a parmesan cheese replacement.
Whether we eat to live or live to eat, eating well-balanced nutritious, eye-pleasing and flavorful and yes, fun meals should be the goal.
Patience and perseverance will lead to well balanced nutritious meals.
Happy healthy households however rushed can run smoothly with some meal planning and prep.
All else fails, be thankful for tasty powdered greens, raw, sprouted plant based protein bars and multi-vitamins!
Mercedes Kay Gold is a Certified Holistic Practioner and Certified Mobile Trainer living and working in Toronto. Her writing has been featured in various publications and has appeared on Daytime with Jacqueline Betterton. She spends her spare time blogging all things healthy and enjoying time with her sons.