This is my son’s first year of summer camp and the first time he is routinely eating lunch on his own. Since I’m not there to see what he is eating, I’m trying to send food that he really likes. To make this process a little less time-consuming I wrote down foods he eats in the following categories, so I can just look at the list and pick out one or two things from each category.
- Protein (such as hard-boiled egg, sandwich, lunch meat rolled up with cheese, cubed tofu, cheese stick)
- Fruit (fresh or dried)
- Vegetable (sliced cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas)
- Starch/Carbohydrate (cheese crackers, fig bars, whole grain chips, cereal)
In the list above, I included a few examples of what my son will eat – your kids may be less picky .
Before camp I also took my kids to the grocery store to pick out some special ‘camp snacks’. I let them get some things I normally wouldn’t, such as organic dinosaur –shaped cheese puffs (priced as if they are made of gold) to make it fun at lunch time. My son picked out dried papaya, which I wouldn’t have thought of, and both of my kids eat it up like candy now. Nice to have another food to add to the acceptable list AND they both actually like it!
My son actually said on two separate occasions that this sesame chicken I made for dinner was his favorite chicken. For this picky eater to say that about something (not including chocolate ice cream), it must be a good recipe! The whole family likes it and it is very easy (a necessary qualification in my daily life). I used chicken thighs but I’ve also made similar recipes with chicken breast, so whatever you have or whatever is on sale can work!
Sticky Sesame Chicken:
I also love that the recipe includes sesame seeds which taste yummy and are a good source of minerals, fiber and phytosterols. Phytosterols are found in plant cell membranes and are chemically shaped similar to cholesterol. When eaten together, phytosterols block some of the cholesterol in foods from being absorbed into the body.
I buy the sesame seeds from the bulk section of my grocery store and sometimes throw some in a batch of cookies or hot cereal for an extra nutritional punch. They are also great toasted and sprinkled on veggies to add an easy, fancy-looking, nutty-flavored touch.
The phrase “Do it myself!” has grown in popularity in my house these days, coming from both my three year old and two year old! I actually love to hear it because it means I get an extra five seconds or so to tend to some other undone task before getting the return cry for “Help!”
Burrito night allows my little independent ones to make their own dinner. I prepare the fillings, put them on the table and let the kids do the assembly. It’s a little messy but it gives them a sense of control and they enjoy it!
We usually do vegetarian burritos which are so fast to prepare and no one ever misses the meat because they are delicious! After sampling many brands of whole wheat tortillas, I found a great one at my local produce market. My son actually only likes “brown” tortillas now since these are is so tasty! My ingredients are ones usually in the house: rice, black beans, shredded cheese, avocado, light sour cream, lettuce (my kids won’t eat this) and salsa/tomatoes. This is also a good meal for early eaters without as many teeth – I used to mash up the beans a little, and cut the avocado into bite size pieces.
I like to add flavor to my beans and doing so also adds some extra antioxidants and phytonutrients (natural chemicals found in plants) without any complaints from the kids!
Here is the recipe I use:
Power Black Beans
Makes 4 servings
- 1 can low sodium black beans
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ small onion, chopped
- 1 Tbsp canola or olive oil
- ½ tsp cumin
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional – this amount really doesn’t add heat, just a touch of flavor)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat olive oil on medium high heat in small pan.
- Add onion and spices and sauté about 2 minutes.
- Add garlic and sauté an additional minute.
- Add can of beans, including liquid.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 5 minutes.
Relaxing at meal time? Not likely. But it can be fun. Just change your expectations!
I have accepted that meals with two kids under the age of four involves major cleaning, occasional screams and multiple trips to the kitchen for forgotten or desired items. By letting go of my previous meal experiences before kids (relaxed, leisurely, uninterrupted enjoyment of the food on my plate and lively conversation) and accepting a different experience, meals have become more fun for all of us. And, when I feel I’m losing patience (can I just have two bites in a row without getting up from my chair?) I try to remember that this time period will be over in the blink of an eye.
A long time ago I read somewhere that you should play music during a dinner party to help cover for any awkward silences and make the meal seem more party-like. I incorporate this into every meal – we all love listening to music and it sets the stage for a happier table.
When I’m alone with my kids I sometimes read a book to them. They love this and I love that they enjoy it. I learned this in the co-op preschool we go to – it keeps the kids amused, in their seats, and I think it possibly gets them to eat more of the food on their plate since they are enjoying the experience!
So the next time you have a meal with young kids, enjoy the chaos. Make it fun and remember that these moments are short and pretty soon your kids will be pouring their own milk and cleaning up after dinner!
What Does a Dinosaur Eat?
The same thing we often do… Dinosaur Leaves (which are actually roasted kale chips in our house)! A study done at Cornell showed that kids will eat more of a food with a fun or silly name, so I try to add some clever name to an everyday food when I can. Broccoli trees, train track carrot sticks… use your kids’ interests to come up with names they will be attracted to.
It won’t always work but it’s worth a try! Today my method failed when I tried to pass off dill in rice as grass to feed a horse, since my son pretended he was a horse for a good portion of the day. This didn’t work as he told me he doesn’t like “salad” in his rice. Oh well, he did eat a bunch of salmon and carrots so I was happy anyway…
There are a bunch of recipes for Kale Chips out there – it works best for me when I use spray oil to coat the leaves because you use less oil and it spreads more evenly.
Dinosaur Leaves (aka Kale Chips)
- 1 bunch kale
- Canola or olive oil spray
- 1 tsp salt or seasoned salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Remove thick stems from kale by tearing leaves off, or using a knife
- Wash and thoroughly dry kale (I usually do this ahead of time and leave it out to dry for a few hours – a salad spinner would work well if you have one)
- Spread kale out on a cookie sheet (can line with parchment paper for easy clean-up) and spray a light coating of oil
- Sprinkle salt and toss to cover kale evenly
- Bake until crispy, 10 to 15 minutes
Pasta happens to be one of the few meals everyone in the house loves! It’s also SO easy that I love it even more! I started off feeding my kids white pasta since it’s easier to chew and usually more appealing to their picky palette. Recently I’ve switched to doing either all whole wheat pasta or half whole wheat and half white and they still love it.
Years ago, when I first switched over to eating whole wheat pasta myself, I didn’t like it but kept at for the health benefits. I discovered that if I added just a quarter to half of wheat pasta to the white pasta that the flavor was infinitely better. I still mix the pastas (I do them in the same pot and just stagger the cooking time accordingly), but this many years later there are a lot more brands on the market with better taste. They really differ in flavor and nutrition so it takes some experimentation to find what works for your taste.
Why is whole wheat so much better than white? Comes down to the same reason many of our foods lose nutritional value – the processing. Wheat has three parts to it; the endosperm, germ and bran. The endosperm is the starchy part of the grain. Wheat germ and wheat bran contain fiber, powerful phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and protein. White flour is made up only of the endosperm, while whole wheat has all three parts in it, making for a more filling, disease-fighting, nutritious meal.
This recipe is similar to one of my favorite salads the grocery store I used to work for served in their deli. Any pasta works, of course – I like to use wheels because my kids are into vehicles of any kind…
Wagon Wheel Pasta
- 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 is also really good in this dish!
We all know who wins this battle when it comes to our kids’ preferences! It’s been proven that excessive juice consumption is associated with increased risk for obesity. Juice, even 100% juice, is filled with empty calories. Having juice along with a meal is like adding two cookies for dessert (personally, I would rather save my calories for the cookies!)! Even though 100% juice counts as a fruit serving, eating the real thing offers so many more benefits for our kids. An apple instead of a glass of apple juice is full of fiber and antioxidants that have been filtered out and removed during the process of making juice.
With that said, we do drink juice in our house! I dilute it – my ratio is ¾ water and ¼ juice. This makes everyone happy. My kids have been drinking juice this way their whole lives, and don’t know any different. If this is a switch you want to try, it’s best to do it gradually. Start adding a splash of water to your kids’ juice and gradually increase the ratio of water to juice over a few weeks and they probably won’t even complain.
I actually use this trick on myself to get more water in! Flavored water is more fun to drink than plain!
Growing up my family always had pancakes or French toast on weekends, and we’ve continued that tradition with our kids. I remember how fun it was to help make the breakfast and now I see it in my 3 year old when he gets so excited to get out his stool and do his part!
I love making pancakes from scratch instead of from a mix because it’s just as easy, tastes much better and isn’t loaded with artificial ingredients such as Red 40. Why is it necessary to color pancakes? Yikes…
I’ve made many, many different pancake recipes over the years, some healthy and some not (after all, it is a breakfast with the word ‘cake’ in it!). Sometimes I use all whole wheat flour, sometimes I do half whole wheat and half all-purpose. Using whole wheat flour adds fiber and protein, providing a healthier and heartier breakfast that takes longer to digest. This means your kids won’t be starving an hour after eating these pancakes as opposed to the normal ‘cake’ pancakes. And, as an expert, picky pancake eater, I have to say they are delicious!
I usually double the recipe and bring extras along for a healthy snack, or freeze them for a quick, weekday breakfast.
Fluffy and Hearty Pancakes
- ¾ cup milk
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- ¼ cup flaxseed meal (optional)
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- Cooking spray
- Combine milk with vinegar and set aside for 5 minutes
- Combine flour, flaxseed meal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk egg and butter into “soured” milk. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, and mix just until the lumps are gone.
- Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. I like to flick a little water on the skillet or griddle and if it sizzles it’s hot enough to start cooking. Pour batter and cook until bubbles appear on pancake. Flip and cook until browned.
Because there is butter in the batter, I don’t add any extra on top – the pancakes already have a buttery flavor. Enjoy!
Adapted from original recipe for Fluffy Pancakes by Kris, allrecipes.com