How can we be the example that we want to see in our children? Goodness, it is tough, I know! Some of the unhealthy snacks and meals are easier to access and at times cheaper and easier to have as a meal. I get that. However, as we try to say no to unhealthy snacks and junk food and replace these items with healthier things in our diet we need to understand that it is a process that does not take place in one day.
Are we setting the right example and do we eat healthy snacks, fruits and vegetables and include these as part of our everyday meals? On the other hand, are we sending a different message? We know that veggies and fruits are healthy for us and that they need to be part of our balanced diet but to a child they may wonder, why is mom or dad pushing these so hard. Why, all the fuss? And, why don’t they go overboard with potato chips or cupcakes? Children may naturally become weary of our over zealous behavior and skeptical refusing to be our guinea pig especially if they do not see us eating the food daily or weekly.
A child may ask you why so much over enthusiasm about that green thing called broccoli, or that yellow thing called squash. This may be sending a message that veggies are very different and not something that we normally would pick up to eat without all the fanfare. Vegetables are very different and very healthy; I agree. How much do we over compensate for our lack of interest in eating them as we pour on the theatrics to convince our child to eat these amazing foods? Why not treat vegetables, salads, carrot sticks, celery and all veggies as if they were an everyday or typical family snack? Then, what? How might the child’s perception change?
In the past when parents have approached me about tips on how to introduce veggies or how can they get their child to eat more of these delights, I go back to the basics and think of the rainbow. This is a simple concept that children can get their arms around. A rainbow is made up of many vibrant rich colors. Rainbows have awesome colors just like vegetables and fruits –the bluest blues, the brightest yellows, rich reds, the list goes on. Give the child some control in the decisions that are made at family meal times and ask them to help you pick out foods that match the colors of the rainbow. Teach that when these colors are on the plate, they provide a balance of everything just as rainbows have a balance of colors.
There are numerous art, science, and language /reading activities than can be centered on the concept of the rainbow. These experiences can engage your child through various projects, as they understand that the colors of the rainbow are presented together as foods go together. During your daily routines of planning and preparing meals, they provide language rich opportunities for you to talk with your child about balanced eating, eating small frequent healthy meals together as a family and maybe setting a plan in place to find recipes together where you can prepare and cook meals together. Instead of reading one of your children’s favorite books one evening pull out a cookbook and experience reading in a completely new way. Describe and discuss the pictures, the foods, the measurements and content. Ask your child how they might try to create a recipe. Do it together. One of my favorite things to do as a child was to pull the chair up to the counter or stove and watch my mom cook as she talked with me.
Ideas are everywhere! One of my favorites was to put finely chopped vegetables in the middle of a grilled cheese sandwich. If the vegetable is chopped very fine, it goes unnoticed. Also, add the colors of the rainbow to a child’s smoothie. Add cauliflower to potato salad or mashed potatoes. The ideas are out there and are endless.
As said, set the example by making better choices for snacks and introduce these power foods through your behavior. Children do not want to be left out and they do not want to be the child that does not go along with their peers - so be aware of opportunities where you can use groups to help you introduce things as well.
Better food choices help us keep our energy levels up and help us to stop overeating. I know this action is much easier said than done. Experiment and try taking baby steps to see what works for you and your family. Like anything in life, you have to make a commitment to the plan for it to work well. Each day is a new day to try a new thing and through small steps introduce a change that will eventually take hold. Know that if you have a blueprint or written plan to follow, a willingness to make small changes, have a large cup of patience and support along with a bowl full of positive affirmations, it can be done.
I just wanted to share these thoughts about how we approach introducing certain foods. If you are introducing a new meal, new recipe or new food -just treat it as you would other favorites like macaroni and cheese or a hamburger –simply serve it, engage in light conversation and eat and enjoy.
There are a number of recipe books that are published that focus on helping children and adults make great choices for healthy meals and lunches. Some of my favorites are:
How to Eat a Rainbow: Magical Raw Vegan Recipes for Kids! by Ellie Bedford and Sabrina Bedford
Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box with More Than 160 Happier Meals by Catherine McCord
Weelicious: 140 Fast, Fresh, and Easy Recipes by Catherine McCord
Dashing Dish: 100 Simple and Delicious Recipes for Clean Eating by Katie Farrell
Cooking Light The Ultimate Kid-Approved Cookbook: Delicious Food Kids Will Eat, Nutritious Meals Moms Will Love by Editors of Cooking Light Magazine
The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches on the Planet: Make Lunches Your Kids Will Love with More Than 200 Deliciously by Laura Fuentes
Pillsbury Fast & Healthy Meals for Kids (Pillsbury Cooking) by Pillsbury Editors
The Fussy Eaters' Recipe Book: 135 Quick, Tasty and Healthy Recipes that Your Kids Will Actually Eat by Annabel Karmel
Fuss-Free Food for Babies and Toddlers: 150 Healthy Home-Made Recipes: Nutritious, delicious and easy to prepare by Sara Lewis
The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Your Child to Eat—and Eat Healthy By Elizabeth Pantley
Two other resources to take a quick peek at are shown below. These resources give simple information that is easy to understand and adapt into our daily meal routines. Good luck and be the example of the rainbow!
by Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist Shannon Medenwald, Former Program Assistant