Helping Kids Eat Healthy

Make it Fun

Give small children a celery stick and they’ll turn up their noses. Fill the trough with peanut butter, sprinkle on some raisins,and tell them it’s “Ants on a log,” and they’ll eat it up! Instead of whole vegetables, try them julienned or cut on the bias. Sometimes just looking different will encourage them to give veggies a try. Broccoli by itself is boring, but with a cheese sauce (consisting of low-fat milk thickened with flour and melted cheese) might be too tempting to pass up. Make faces on sandwiches or let them use ketchup and mustard to paint designs, and foods that made your kids stick up their noses may find their way into their mouths after all.  

Slip in Some Good 

Two ingredients I always keep around the house are wheat germ and flat seeds. Why? There’s not a baked good you can make (banana bread, pancakes, muffins, cookies, anything!) that can’t benefit from a tablespoon of wheat germ, which is high in protein and fiber, or a teaspoon of flax seeds for some Omega-3. And whenever my children ask for yogurt, I always add a little chopped fruit and a sprinkle of wheat germ on top. They call them “crunchies” and eat it up. 

Also, food preparation can make the difference between something being healthy or harmful. Never fry foods in vegetable shortening (the solid stuff) or butter. Use olive oil, canola oil, and transfat-free packaged spreads. I’ve been amazed how easy it is to substitute a product called “Smart Balance” for butter in any recipe I use. I even dared make a pie crust once with it and it turned out okay! Though toddlers should not be put on a low-fat diet, you can still take advantage of using healthy fats when it comes to your family’s diet. For older children, consider going the next step and replace an egg in a recipe with two egg-whites. Also use low-fat cheeses, sour cream, and cottage cheese. 

Get your children used to whole wheat bread from an early age. They won’t know the difference and will think white bread is a treat. If it’s too late to convert, consider light wheat bread or other grains. Some have a mild taste that they won’t notice. You can also start substituting one-fourth cup of wheat flour in every cup of white flour that you use in your baking, too. Every bit helps.

A Spoonful of Sugar

The average American consumes fifty pounds of sugar a year, and since it’s not all at once, you may need to examine your child’s diet and figure out how it’s adding up. Juice is one of the biggest culprits. I’m ashamed to admit that I buy juice in bulk, but I only buy one-hundred-percent juice, never the “cocktail” or “punch” varieties. You can also buy frozen pops that are made from fruit juice, though they can be pricey.  One way to switch your children over to healthier cereals may be to combine two cereals for a while (their favorite plus a healthier one) or purchase a bag mini marshmallows and add your own preferred amount to each bowl. Oatmeal is another great option. There are lots of flavors (even though they often contain a lot of sugar as well) and the whole grains are good for them.

Sounds Fishy

Undoubtedly, fish is one of the healthiest meats your child can eat and maybe they already do. If not, try a few of these dishes around home. Processed, pre-made fish sticks would not be considered healthy, but the ones you make yourself can be. Start with cod or halibut and slice it into one-inch strips. Dip the strips in beaten egg whites and a combination of bread crumbs, wheat germ, and seasonings. Fry in olive or canola oil for two minutes on each side (or, better yet, bake them!). Drain well and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.I’ve found that fish usually goes over well, regardless or type or preparation, if kids have something to dip it in. Make your own tartar sauce with pickle relish mixed into low-fat mayonnaise or settle on ketchup (believe it or not, the tomatoes in ketchup still have some benefit). And instead of tacos with ground beef, try grilled fish.  

All in all, fries and hot dogs will still remain two of kids’ favorite foods. But remember, eating healthy has a cumulative effect. The good fats help chase out the bad fats. Whole grains can cleanse out your system. Sometimes you have to compromise, because you don’t want food to become a battle. Cut out the bad when you can and slip in the good when possible. If your children ever find out, they’ll thank you for it . . . some day!

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