When it comes to getting our kids to eat healthy, there are no secret weapons. Every child is different, like tiny, mess-making snowflakes. And each is motivated by different things.
As parents, we have the responsibility of finding out what those motivators are passing along healthy eating habits to our children. We should start out by being role models, understanding that, particularly in their early years, we are the most important influence on their behavior. In other words, we hope they will do as we say, but we can almost guarantee they will do as we do.
That means that, as parents, we have to do a few things that may not be all that enjoyable. One the bright side, they are steps that could make Mom and Dad healthier too.
Start by tossing out your own food prejudices. Hate Brussels sprouts? Keep it to yourself. Your child will use your judgments as an excuse to hate the same things. If you are an unadventurous eater, get over it. Try new things and ask your child to join you.
The best place to get your child talking about healthy eating is in the kitchen. Studies show that children who have a role in making healthy meals are more likely to eat them. To top it off, it's a great opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with your child.
Get your child engaged in the process early. Spend time together leafing through healthy cook books and picking out recipes they think the whole family would enjoy. Talk with them about those figures at the bottom of the recipe laying out the calories, fats and sugars in a dish. Discuss the difference between the portion size in the menu and what your typical family serving looks like.
Once you've picked out a recipe, go shopping together. Spend some time in the produce department looking at unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. Check out the meat counter and talk about the differences between lean and fatty cuts. Show them how to read food labels.
If you don't have any healthy cook books at home, you can go to www.activateallencounty.com and pick some out. Better yet, follow us on Pinterest where we have dozens of delicious, healthy recipes posted. For now, try your hand at recipes created by children.
Makenna's Bodacious Banana Muffins (by 9-year-old Makenna Hurd)
What you need:
3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
¾ cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, plus more for pans
Cooking spray or paper muffin liners
What to do:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C).
2. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray or line with paper muffin liners.
3. Sprinkle a little cinnamon in the bottom of each cup.
4. In a large bowl, beat together the bananas, eggs, brown sugar, applesauce, oil, and vanilla.
5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon.
6. Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture. Stir until mixed, but don't overmix.
7. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tray.
8. Bake about 30 minutes, until the tops of the muffins spring back when pressed lightly. Let cool and enjoy!
Hidden Veggie Lasagna (by 9-year-old Owen Kerkvliet)
• 1 (16-ounce) box whole-grain lasagna noodles
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 cup shredded carrots
• 1 medium head broccoli, chopped
• 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
• 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
• 3 cups tomato sauce
• 32 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
• 9 ounces chopped fresh spinach or thawed frozen spinach
• 1 1/2 cups part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the lasagna noodles, according to package directions, until al dente. Drain the noodles and set them aside.
3. While the noodles are boiling, in a large saucepan over moderate heat, warm the olive oil. Add the carrots, broccoli, bell pepper, and onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce to vegetables, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.
4. In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta and spinach.
5. In a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, spread 1/3 of the vegetable tomato sauce on the bottom. Arrange lasagna noodles lengthwise over the sauce. Spread the ricotta cheese mixture evenly over the noodles. Add more vegetable-tomato sauce, another layer of lasagna noodles, and another layer of the ricotta cheese mixture. Continue to layer the lasagna with the remaining sauce, noodles, and ricotta mixture. Top the lasagna with the mozzarella cheese, cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake until the top is browned and the lasagna is heated through, about 45 minutes.