8 Tips for Raising a (Healthy) Foodie
And Some Kid-Friendly Recipes…
In my opinion, one of the most important aspect of raising your child to be healthy and happy in life, is raising them to eat well. Healthy eating habits last a lifetime. In our overly-processed, highly gluten-ed, fast-paced world, this can sometimes seem like a very daunting task. But it doesn't have to be difficult. If you get back to the basics of cooking, and teach your children to love their food, you have the building blocks for raising a healthy foodie. Here are 8 tips to get you started:
1) Start healthy eating habits early. While its never too late to start eating healthy, its also never too early. It all starts with mom, who can pass on the benefits of eating a wide variety of nutritious food even to her developing fetus in the womb. A nursing baby also gets these same benefits from mother's milk. And as soon as baby is ready for solid foods, bring out those vegetables! I started with vegetables (instead of fruit) so that their virgin palates wouldn't be fooled into thinking that sweeter fruit is better than savory vegetable. After pureed veggies and fruit, my babies, at less than a year of age, went on to favorite palak paneer (that's Indian curried spinach – for Luke) and lentil soup (Ava).
2) Give a wide variety of choices. Toddlers, especially, are known to be picky eaters. If you have one or two in your house, give them a good variety of healthy choices on the same plate. This way, whatever they choose to eat, your mind should still be at ease. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), toddlers get what they need in the form of nutrition over a three day period. So if they choose all protein one day, and all carb another day, just watch, you'll see them go for the fruit & veg on day three. Believe it or not, their little bodies will actually tell them what they need, as long as you aren't supplying too many desserts or non-nutritious snacks in between to throw them off.
3) Set an example. If you're asking your child to eat his broccoli, but you're not eating yours, why would he want to? Children learn from you and from your enthusiasm. Show them how excited you are to eat your broccoli! Tell them how this gluten-free mac 'n' cheese is soooooo much better than the original! Show them how much fun it is to cook in the kitchen! They might actually start believing you! If you want your children to eat healthily and to love their food, make sure you do too.
4) Show your children where food comes from. Have your child help you build an herb and/or vegetable garden. We started an herb garden when Luke was two. We called it our "pizza" garden because we used the herbs in our pizza sauce. Being almost 5, he's now too mature to call it a "pizza" garden. But you can still find him and his baby sister munching herbs in the garden, anytime they're out back playing. If you don't have space in your own yard, join a city co-op garden. Or take a visit to a local farm. Or you can quiz them on all the vegetables in the produce section of your grocery store. We do this a lot and spotting the differences between a zucchini and a cucumber or horseradish and ginger is fun for everyone!
5) Don't give up. The first, second, or third time your child turns away food, offer it again. According to the AAP you should present the same food (e.g. carrots) at least 10 to 15 times, before your child will accept it. Just keep putting it on the plate, along with the other portions of the dinner. Eventually your child will grow used to the idea and will accept the food. Don't make a big deal of them not eating it in the beginning, but you can give them lots of kudos when they do! Although I don't know if this is recommended by AAP, I have been known to employ a few other tricks that make veggies a little more appealing. Like calling beets, "sugar beets" and showing them how it turns their teeth pink. I also posted an ad on my refrigerator with a photograph of a kid hugging the biggest piece of broccoli you've ever seen. Subliminal messaging. My kids love that picture. They also now love broccoli. In fact, Luke now eats pretty much any kind of vegetable imaginable, including broccoli, kale, spinach and lettuce. And he's proud of that fact.
6) Fill your fridge and cabinets with healthy snacks. We've all been there. Our kids are too hungry to wait for dinner and we don't want their little bellies to grumble. But we don't want to spoil their appetite. So arm yourself with healthy snacks and you won't have to worry. Of course, fruit is the first thing we reach for when looking for a snack. But you can also make or buy veggies chips of all kinds (kale, parsnip, sweet potato, etc.), make or buy fruit & nut bars (think Lara bars) or nut thins (crackers made from nuts), topped with ham or cheese, peanut butter in celery boats, etc. Or let your children nibble on pieces of raw carrot, peppers or other veggies as you're chopping them up for dinner. This gives them extra exposure to vegetables and keeps them from filling up on too much fluff.
7) Cook and eat together with your child. Children love to be helpful! My children started by watching me cook from their high chairs, before they could crawl or speak. As soon as they were old enough, they began pouring measured cups of liquid into cake batter, and stirring mixtures of all kinds in pots. They love to whisk eggs, add a pinch of salt, and peel hard boiled eggs or raw shrimp. Children also love ritual. Food is part of our culture and most rituals revolve around food. Eating together is a ritual in itself, especially these days when families eat in front of the TV, or even in the car. Once Ava (my two year old) stopped throwing her food and using potty talk at the table, we moved our Sunday night meals into the formal dining room. Now they both look forward to Sunday night dinner, eagerly setting the table and making imaginary phone calls inviting all the friends and family over.
8) Make eating and cooking fun. Make smiley faces out of vegetables topped on polenta, or heart-shaped swirls of cream in butternut squash soup. I don't do this all the time, but when I do, everyone gets a kick out of it. Make them their favorite foods in a gluten-free/allergen-free version. You can request help in translating that favorite recipe in our forum, if you need it. Buy some fun kids tools of their own (see our giveaway and review below), and put them to work in your ktichen. Or get them some kids cookbooks with great photography and images of kids cooking, inspiring them to be little chefs. Let them choose the Saturday night meal and make the preparation of it a family event. Get them a toy kitchen with toy food and let them make their own elaborate feasts. My children are very imaginative in their own kitchens, and very good at presenting plastic picnics on perfectly laid out blankets. No matter what they make me, they always assure me that I will be able to eat it because everything they make is always gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free. 🙂
Our featured kid-friendly recipe are these awesome corn dogs by Star Chef,kumquat. They are a favorite for so many kids (and adults too!), and now they're gluten-free! We have plenty of other kid friendly recipes too, from gluten-free versions of childhood favorites, to simple and tasty dishes that your child can help you make. Here's the roundup:
Childhood favorites: Golden Honey Grahams by Free Eats, Apple Smoked Cheddar Mac N Cheese Balls by All Day I Dream About Food, and Baked Macaroni & Cheese (video) and Crunchy Chicken Strips (video) by KC Pomering, , Ice Cream Sandwich Cookies and Homemade Gluten-Free Oreos by Cakes 'n' Bakes.
Simple, tasty meals: Pasta al Pomodoro by Jeanette's Healthy Living, White Bean & Chicken Chili by Cara's Cravings, Quick & Easy Chicken and Stir Fried Rice by the Spicy RD, Quick & Easy Broiled Shrimp, and Zucchini & Sweet Pepper Fritters by Gluten-Free Foodie (aka me).
Fun & Healthy Snacks: Pecan Coconut & Honey Granola (video), Texas Chocolate Bark (video & recipe), and Banana Pops by KC Pomering.
– Heather Jacobsen