My son is not even two yet and one of the most important things to me in being a good Mom is to promote healthy eating. Now, we all know why feeding your kids entirely processed foods is bad, but I also believe it's harmful to restrict a child's diet to foods that only have extremely high nutritional value. Why? Because one day, that baby of yours, is going to grow up, make his or her own decisions, and taste a cheeseburger. And it's going to be the most glorious thing he or she ever tasted. And that, my friends, could lead to trouble.

I believe it is best to expose my son to everything, but keep the processed foods to a minimum. But, as I'm sure all you Mommies and Daddies know, it's not always easy to get your kids to eat the non-processed foods.

Here's the one, inescapable truth that always helps me make the right decisions when feeding my baby: no child, no matter how determined to have his or her way, is going to starve themselves. None. Eventually, after they've staged a long enough hunger strike because you didn't get them chicken nuggets, their growly bellies will get the better of them and they'll come and gobble whatever it is you're offering.

BUT, there are some ways to raise the likelihood of them enjoying healthy, whole foods. Getting your children involved in the preparation will make them feel a pride in accomplishment and encourage them to want to eat what they made with their very own hands. And you can start early, too, check out my son just the other day:

 Here are 6 ways to include your son or daughter in the meal making:

1. Pizza : I've talked about this one before. Make your own dough, preferably whole wheat, and then slice some veggies in every color of the rainbow. Encourage them to draw a picture using the veggies on the pie, and praise the most colorful ones. You'll be surprised what your kids consume after they've done this. We're talking mushrooms, green, yellow, orange, red peppers, red onions, spinach, arugula, tomatoes. Choose some more nutritious cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta, and cottage cheese. And always lots of homemade pizza sauce!

2. Sandwiches: Set up a sandwich bar like you would see at Subway and let the kids build their own sandwiches. Stay away from the processed meats and cheeses and focus on leftover grilled chicken from last night's dinner or perhaps some tuna. Choose a huge assortment of veggies, like cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, lettuce, peppers, onions, avocado, etc. Make it a contest to see who can build the highest sandwich and still be able to take a bite. Winner doesn't have to help clean up!

3. Pasta: get yourself a pasta machine. One of those hand cranked ones for $15 at your local kitchen supply store. Make pasta dough, which is, next to toast, about the easiest thing you can make. Here's some tips. Then get your kids to crank out some pasta. I find the most successful are ravioli, because once the little arms get tired from turning the pasta maker handle, you can get them stuffing their own raviolis. This is the absolute best way to sneak a ton of spinach into your kids' diet. They won't turn their nose up at something they made.

4. Kebabs: Fire up the grill and get your kids skewering their own kebabs. Set out bowls of only nutritional, colorful stuff, and again, praise the most colorful. Maybe even encourage your kids to order their skewers like the colors of the rainbow, or your favorite sports team colors. Offer them several different homemade sauces to baste with and let them choose.

5. Salad Wraps: Get some good strong romaine lettuce, and give each of your kids a leaf big enough to fill and fold closed. Set out dishes of all kinds of raw veggies and let them fill the lettuce, add dressing, fold up and watch them eat them like they're tacos. Stay away from tortillas, unless you made it yourself.

6. Sorbet sundaes! Make your own sorbet, either with an ice cream maker or just freeze fruit juice and scrape it up. Here's a recipe. Make as many different flavors as you can, preferably with different colors, then let your kids put together their own sundae. Offer fresh fruit as toppings.

One last tip I can give you as well, is to ask your kids to taste what you're making while you make it, as though you need their opinion. "Do you think this needs more salt?" , "I'm not sure if this is tomato-y enough, what do you think?". This way, you get them tasting things under the guise that you need their opinion, and not just because you want them to taste it. If they say it needs more salt, add some (or pretend if it has enough already), then agree with them "yeah, you're right, that's way better! Taste now!" and they'll inevitably agree with you because they don't want to be wrong. Then, they've already admitted that they like it before you've even put the dish in front of them. Plus, they've had a hand in making it, and there will not likely be any refusals to eat at the dinner table.

Good luck, and remember, no matter how hard it gets, aside from giving them love, a healthy respect for food is probably the most valuable thing you can give them. And who knows, maybe one day they'll be cooking salmon 5 ways against Bobby Flay in Kitchen Stadium.

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Gramma said...

Love this post! Very informative and CLEVER! Lucky Joey!

Stephanie said...

First of all, great suggestions! I really think that getting kids involved in making food gets them more interested and conscious of decisions. Second of all, cutest kid ever. He'll be making fine pastries and such in no time.

Courtney said...

Thanks Stephanie! I am rather fond of him myself... ;)

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