Older children present a special challenge where nutrition is concerned. Here are some tricks that my daughters and I have learned over the years.
1. Present food in a fun way.
Broccoli florets = “dinosaur trees,”
Cauliflower florets = “ghost trees”.
Baby carrots = “snowman noses”,
Raisins = “batman gummies”,
Green salads = “bunny food,”
Vegetable soup = “monster soup.”
Cashews = “moon nuts”
edamame = “magic beans“
My kids loved a story called “There’s a Monster in my Soup.” It’s about a child who refuses to eat his soup. He notices something green in his soup. On careful examination he sees that it is a teeny tiny monster with a spoon! Every bite the monster takes makes him greener and bigger and stronger. But every bite the child takes makes the monster smaller! I got a lot of soup down my toddlers with that story at the table.
2. Whole foods are the diet we seek. Don’t ever get started feeding children fast food. This “food” is not actually food. Its convenience in a box.
3. Buy fun lunch boxes for each child in the family. Start them using their lunch box when they’re young. Instead of going to fast food places, pack lunches for family outings and picnics. They can help choose what goes in their lunchbox. Fill with grapes, carrot sticks, dips, raisins or craisins, nuts, small triangle sandwiches, wraps made with peanut butter or hummus and vegetables. Then when it’s time to go to school, they are already familiar with creating a healthy lunch themselves.
4. Grow a garden. Let children choose their favorite vegetables to plant. When children are involved in growing vegetables, they are more likely to eat them.
5. Children should exercise before dinner. In schools where recess comes before lunch, children eat a much healthier meal. My grandchildren call playing outside “green hours.” Children need at least 2 green hours a day. This improves their appetites, especially if they get their playtime just before dinner
6. Limit use of antibiotics. When children have to take antibiotics, make sure you follow up with a high quality probiotic for a number of weeks to rebuild their gut flora. It can actually take up to a year to rebuild the “good” bacteria in the gut after antibiotic usage.
Think of antibiotics as a limited resource. Peanut allergies (1% of children) have increased, partly due to the increased use of antibiotics early in life, (information found in “Disease Proof Your Child” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, M. D.).
7. Limit Candy consumption. After your kids have had the fun of Halloween trick-or-treating (or easter egg hunting), try purchasing their candy from them and letting them spend the money on a toy. Some dentists will also buy their patients candy. Encourage neighborhood groups to purchase toys, and fruit instead of candy.
8. Have regular mealtimes. Families often “eat on the run.” Mom and Dad are so busy, it is easier to throw something fast at the kids and let them eat it while they’re watching TV. Mealtimes are also the time when important communication can go on in families.
In my field of education, we call this kind of thoughtful parental work: Easy-Hard. Yes it’s easy right now to feed the kids fast food, but it will be harder down the road to maintain their health. Hard-Easy is what you really want with kids. It’s hard to take the time to sit down as a family to a meal, prepared by hand. But then it’s easy to have children with strong immune systems who don’t miss school and don’t have to go to lots of doctors.
9. Eat healthy snacks. Here’s a list of clean and convenient snack foods, something for every letter of the alphabet. This will help you remember how many choices you really have.
a. Apple slices (no dip necessary, I promise); Almonds; Apple Sauce; Avocado dip; Apricots.
b. Banana Blueberry Bars; Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries); Bean dip and homeade oven corn chips
c. Celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins (bugs on a log); cucumber circles; craisins.
d. Dried fruit chips (with no added sugar); dates, split with a pecan inside
e. Edamame (no need for salt). They are delicious and fun to pop out of their shells. You may have to show children how.
f. Figs; Freshly made popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast (it tastes cheesy)
g. Grapes; Granola; Grapefruit
h. Hummus with pea pods; hairy bananas (cut up bananas with shredded coconut sprinkled on top)
i. Ice pops (popsicles made from fresh fruit, water or juice, and a little honey to taste, then frozen for eating the next day)
j. Juice (make it fresh). I love carrots and apples together.
k. Kale chips (easy recipes are online); kiwi fruit
l. Lettuce wraps (put in anything the child wants from bananas, raisins, coconut to sliced berries and sunflower seeds)
m. Mangos, melons: cut into chunks and give them a toothpick to pick them up.
n. Nuts and seeds (Pumpkin and sunflower seeds) (a handful will do)
o. Oranges, peeled and in sections (Clementines are easy to peel for little hands)
p. Pineapple spears or peaches or pears or plums or pomegranate seeds
q. Quaker oats cereal with fresh fruit
r. Radishes; Raspberry or strawberry banana smoothie.
s. Smoothies. Try the green smoothie kind with spinach in it. Hint: You can freeze leftover smoothies into popsicles if you pour them in a skinny glass and put in a popsicle stick. After frozen dip the glass in warm water to release the popsicle). Kids love them.
t. Trail Mix (make sure it is made with little or no salt); Try Tofu cubes dipped in a little cornstarch, sesame seeds and garlic powder, then fried in coconut oil. My grandchildren love them.
u. Uncooked raw veggies with ranch dip made from vegenaise
v. Veggie burger
w. Whole wheat bread and peanut butter with low sugar jam or honey. Cut into triangles
x. Box of raisins (that one was hard, but there is an X in the word box)
y. Yam or Sweet potato oven fries
z. Zucchini bread or muffins