If your house is like mine, your kids have a mental list of vegetables. Those vegetables that they “like” and those that they “dislike”.
Luckily for us, my five-year-old is finally past the very-picky eating stage and will try new foods which includes a larger variety of vegetables. My three-year-old still has a short list of acceptable vegetables.
Variety is key for a healthy diet in kids (and adults!) as each fruit and vegetable contains its’ own unique combination of nutrients and antioxidants. If you have a kid that only eats apples and broccoli for example, the child would be missing vital, beneficial nutrients are not found in apples and broccoli.
While it is true that taking a multivitamin can replace vitamins and minerals, a laboratory cannot duplicate all of the rich phytonutrients found in the real fruit or vegetable. A phytonutrient is a plant-derived compound associated with positive health benefits.
Like my kids, your kids might not embrace a huge variety of food right now but they are more likely to include healthy foods in the future with some habits that can be learned. Try to help encourage healthy eating habits with these suggestions
- Setting a good example by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables in your household.
- If your child tries a fruit or vegetable and does not like it, first commend them for trying something new, then reassure them that our taste buds change as we grow so they may like it later on.
- When talking to your kids about fruits or vegetables that you may not like, just address it in a way that suggests you don’t like it, but other people do (instead of making it sound awful and no one could ever bear to swallow it!).
If you enjoy cooking, and have some free time (ha! a rarity, right?) to experiment, there are many ways to add small amounts of vegetables to meals without them standing out. Examples include casseroles, smoothies, sauces, and spreads.
Here is my kid-tested recipe for healthier, vegetable packed, meatballs!
While my five-year-old now eats mushrooms, my younger kid will not. But she will gobble up these meatballs without question! I have made these a few different ways and find baking to be easiest for me. As an alternative, my friend browns her meatballs and then puts them in the crock pot with an unseasoned tomato sauce – the meatballs flavor the sauce for a delicious, easy meal ready at dinnertime. I plan to try this method too!
Baked Meatballs with Mushrooms and Onions
- 1 pound ground beef
- ½ cup mushrooms
- ¼ cup onions
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, and place a baking rack on top.
- Chop mushrooms and onions very finely, either in food processor or by hand. The smaller the chop will make for a more cohesive meatball.
- Mix all ingredients well, and shape into meatballs (mine are around the size of a golf ball).
- Place meatballs on baking rack (this allows some fat to drip off the meatball, but you can also place meatballs directly on the baking sheet).
- Turn the oven down to 300 degrees.
- Place meatballs in oven and bake for 40 minutes or until meatballs are browned.
- Serve, or simmer in tomato sauce for an hour if desired.
Getting the news that your child needs a gluten free diet probably sends most parents into panic mode. Luckily, there has never been a better time to be gluten-free for kids than now with the new labeling laws and all of the delicious food items recently created with this special market in mind! Gluten-free products such as bread, flour, crackers and pasta are readily available these days and actually taste good!
Here are four simple hints to help you find gluten free food for kids:
1. Look for the gluten-free (GF) sign on labels
2. Read labels carefully as gluten is sometimes used as a food additive
3. Ask if your grocery store has a list of gluten-free foods they carry
4. Many snacks for kids are rice-based and therefore gluten free
What you CAN include in a gluten free diet for kids:
- Meat (unbreaded)
- Dairy (milk, butter, real cheese, yogurt)
- Beans and legumes
- Rice of all kinds: white, brown, basmati, jasmine, etc. Remember, many kid-friendly and tasty snacks are rice-based!
- The following list of ingredients with less familiar names:
- Oat gum
- Silicon dioxide
- Food starch
- Glucose, dextrose, sucrose and lactose
- Citric, lactic and malic acid
- Guar gum
- Xantham gum
- Tapioca flour or starch
Gluten-free Lunch Box Ideas for kids lunches:
- Cubed roasted chicken and cheese
- Rice and bean burrito made with a gluten-free tortilla
- Cottage cheese and fruit
- Hardboiled egg
- Gluten-free deli meat rolled with cheese in the middle
- Tuna or chicken salad
- Hummus with gluten-free crackers and veggies
- Soup or stew in a thermos
- Oatmeal (stir in seed or nut butter for extra protein and flavor) in a thermos
- Homemade trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
- Pumpkin or sunflower seeds
- Fruit – dried, fresh, canned
- Homemade smoothie
- Tortilla chips with ground beef or bean dip
The following list of suspicious foods might contain gluten. Make sure and check the label:
- Spices, seasonings, bouillon (HINT: If there is no ingredient list on the spice, it only contains that spice and no gluten)
- Imitation meat or seafood
- Processed meat or cold cuts
- Salad dressings
- Oats (can be exposed to wheat during the growing or processing phases – look for GF)
- Soy sauce
- Seasoned snack foods
- Play dough
- Foods with these less familiar names of wheat:
- Durham or graham flour
- Cous cous
Back to school means busier schedules and more planning for many families. Breaking down lunch preparation into a standard formula and planning ahead for the week can simplify the process, save money and time!
To make your child’s lunch healthier, a nice goal can be to aim for one food from each of the following categories:
1 - Protein
2 - Whole Grain
3 - Fruit
4 - Vegetable
5 - Milk or Water
Tips for Easy and Healthy Kids School Lunches
- Include your kids in lunch planning (and packing if they are old enough!). Kids are more likely to actually eat their lunch if they pick it out. Take them grocery shopping and let them choose some healthy foods to include.
- Use leftovers to your advantage! Who doesn’t love leftover pizza in their lunch box? When planning weekday meals, make extra of your kids’ favorite dinners that can be eaten cold and send it packed for lunch.
- Use leftover meat in a sandwich or wrap, or cut into bite size pieces and serve with a dip.
- Send hearty soup or oatmeal in a thermos for a warm, filling treat.
- Combine fruit and vegetable such as dried cranberries and carrots for a colorful and tasty dish.
- Increase the fun factor by cutting food into interesting shapes. Use a cookie cutter for soft foods like sandwiches or cheese. Try using a vegetable peeler to make thin slices of carrot, cucumber or zucchini.
- If your kids like to eat the same lunch every day, go for it! If it is something they will eat, it’s better to serve it than have their lunch end up in the garbage!
- Low fat dairy foods such as yogurt or cottage cheese are quick, easy and good sources of protein that kids often enjoy.
- Instead of relying on my often-tired and multitasking brain to come up with fresh meal ideas each week, I find making a list of foods and meals my kids usually accept and referring to it when planning my grocery trip helps make the process easier.
Helpful and Fun Lunch Ideas for Kids that are Bored with the Traditional Sandwich
Try these protein-packed ideas coupled with a side of fruit and vegetable!
- Ham or turkey rolled with a thin slice of cheese in the middle
- Pasta salad with whole wheat pasta, cheese, beans or meat and veggies
- Yogurt parfait
- Cubed tofu with soy sauce
- Tortilla spread with seed or nut butter and banana
- Apple or celery with seed or nut butter
- Pizza with whole wheat crust
- Cheese and crackers
- Stuffed pita
- Bean and cheese burrito
- Whole wheat pancakes
- Hardboiled egg
- Pear and cheese kabob made out of straw
Use whole wheat pasta over white for more fiber, protein, and phytonutrients in this dish! If you currently use white pasta regularly, and want to try whole wheat, you can do the switch gradually by mixing half whole wheat pasta and half white. Gradually increase your ratio of whole wheat to white, and experiment with different brands to see what appeals most to you and your family.
- ½ pound pasta
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 head broccoli, or two cups frozen broccoli
- ½ cup ranch dressing
- ¼ cup milk or buttermilk
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Cook pasta according to directions, however set timer for two minutes less than directions
- Add peas to pasta water, and cook for two more minutes
- Prepare broccoli (if frozen, add to water with peas or if fresh, steam heads in microwave or stove)
- Whisk milk and dressing together
- Combine all ingredients and top with freshly grated parmesan
*Cooked chicken mixed in this dish is also very good!
Kidamentals strives to enable parents to quickly and simply find the information they are looking for. Given the vast amount of information on the internet now, it can be hard to find trustworthy sources with valid and thoroughly researched information. You can find expert advice on nutrition provided by registered dietitians at www.KidsEatRight.org.
Kidamentals is reprinting the following article with the permission of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
With childhood obesity on the rise, making sure kids eat right and get plenty of exercise is vital.
Parents and caregivers can play a big role in children’s nutrition and health, teaching kids about healthy foods, being a good role model and making sure physical activity is incorporated into each day.
August, which is Kids Eat Right Month, is a great time for families to focus on the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is encouraging families to take the following steps:
To encourage a healthy lifestyle, get your children involved in selecting the food that will appear at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table.
Involve your child in the cutting, mixing and preparation of meals. They will learn about food and may even be enticed to try new foods they helped prepare.
Sit down together as a family to enjoy a wonderful meal and the opportunity to share the day’s experiences with one another. Research indicates that those families who eat together have a stronger bond, and children have higher self-confidence and perform better in school.
You can help kids form great, healthy habits by setting a good example. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, choose lower-sodium options, and make at least half the grains your family eats whole grains. For beverages, choose water over sugary drinks, and opt for fat-free or low-fat milk.
Aside from being a great way to spend time together, regular physical activity is vital to strengthen muscle and bones, promote a healthy body weight, support learning, develop social skills and build self-esteem. Kids are encouraged to be active for 60 minutes per day.
Getting kids to eat right can sometimes be a challenge, particularly if they are picky eaters. But experts say that a conversation can help.
“Talk to your children. Learn the foods they like. Teach them about the foods they need for their growing bodies. Find ways together to make sure they have the knowledge and ability to eat healthy and tasty foods at every meal,” says Angela Lemond, registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson.
It may help to consult a registered dietitian nutritionist in your area to ensure your family is getting the nutrients it needs with a meal plan tailored to your lifestyle and busy schedule.
For more healthful eating tips, recipes, videos and to learn more about Kids Eat Right Month, visit www.KidsEatRight.org.
This August, reevaluate your family’s eating and exercise habits, and take steps to make positive, healthful changes.
With protein to keep the kiddos full for a while, and a fun presentation, this is one of our favorite snacks for kids!
- Ice cream cone (cake cones with flat bottoms work best)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup yogurt
- Sprinkles (just a light dusting for the fun factor!)
- Fill cone with yogurt
- Add sprinkles
These yogurt pops use sweet, fresh berries or fruit to eliminate the need for adding sweetener other than what is already in the yogurt. It also makes them much healthier than most frozen treats from the store that come loaded with sugar. Amuse your kids and make this healthy treat together! It’s so easy that kids can almost make the popsicles themselves!
- 1 cup yogurt (any flavor, we like vanilla)
- 1 cup fresh berries or fruit
- ¼ cup milk (this amount will vary depending on the thickness of the yogurt you use)
- Slightly smash berries or fruit in a large bowl to release some of the juice
- Whisk in yogurt and milk until smooth and creamy
- Pour into Popsicle mold, or Dixie cups with sticks
- Freeze and enjoy!
In the summer when berries are cheap and delicious, buy some extra and freeze to enjoy when the sweetness of summer is long gone! Use this method so you don't end up with an unbreakable, giant ball of berries stuck together in your freezer! You can either wash the berries and let them completely dry before freezing, or wash later when they have thawed. I tend to do the second method for convenience (I never allow enough time for the berries to dry), and if the berries are washed first they might not retain their texture and quality as well.
- Fresh berries
- Lay berries on a cookie sheet or large tray in one layer so they are not all touching.
- Freeze for a few hours.
- Transfer berries to a sealed bag or container.
- When ready to use, thaw slowly in the refrigerator.
- No need to thaw when using in pancakes or baking, just throw them right in the batter frozen!