“I’m hungry!” “Is there anything good to eat?” “What’s that?” Whether you sit at a round, square or rectangular table to eat – it can often feel more like a boxing ring than a civil place to converse and enjoy the fruits of your labour! Just as kids come in all shapes and sizes so does their appetites and taste preferences. This challenge is often labelled as being “picky”.
So how can we nurture the eating habits of kids so they choose to eat healthy? Start with the basics. Introduce food as “fuel” and its most important purpose – to help keep you both healthy and fit. Reaching for food as a comfort measure or to relieve boredom leads to the potential for developing chronic lifestyle diseases like diabetes. Many children by the time they reach middle school are both overweight and diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. This is when actions speak much louder than words. Role-modelling a healthy plate of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes leads to imitation of the best kind.
While role-modelling is an unspoken, observable action, another powerful action is what we deliberately choose not to say something. For example, stopping yourself from instructing your kids to “clean their plates” puts a stop to overeating out of obedience and instead, encourage your children to listen to their natural cues of hunger and fullness. A helpful habit to maintain a healthy body weight.
Another helpful practice is to have healthy snacks prepared for the after school – before dinner ‘arsenic hour’. To tame those hunger pangs have fruit and veggies all prepped so kids can dig in immediately. Then you can enjoy the silence of contentment. It makes play time much more peaceful.
Remember to save “treats” for once-in-a-while special occasions like birthdays or a holiday celebration. This avoids foods becoming ‘forbidden’ and therefore, even more enticing and attractive. A piece of chocolate birthday cake is not going to do harm and lets kids to be a part of the festivities. It just is not an every day food item.
Now that you have figured out those special occasions – what about the more common practice of eating out? Let’s face it, kids meals at most restaurants whether fast food chains or family dining are not optimal. Choices like bean burritos (hold the cheese) and rice and veggie bowls are great go-to items. An alternative is to select off the adult menu some healthy choices and split the portion between two kids or arrange to take half the portion home.
To continue promoting a keen interest in food and its value for health and fitness – involve kids whenever possible. For example, play grocery store ‘bingo’ in the produce section. Ask them to retrieve certain vegetables from their ‘bingo card’ aka grocery list. This is a great opportunity for teaching what certain vegetables are and how to select them. The winner gets a special non-food treat like a sticker or honour – like choosing the dinner menu!
Finally, keep kids in the kitchen! There are many safe and age appropriate tasks kids can do to contribute to the making of a meal. It is also an opportunity to do a little math practice as well – counting out the number of potatoes needed or participating in the measuring of ingredients. Before you know it, you will have a budding chef on your hands!
Here is a really simple and fun recipe to share doing with your kids: A special thank you to Mike H. who shared the basic veggie burger recipe with me and encouraged me to experiment with it! Mike, who has lost both 45 pounds and his diagnosis of type 2 diabetes (now a non-diabetic) loves to show his son that healthy food can be really delicious and fun to make!
Italian Veggie Balls: (GF)
Gather and Prepare:
- 6 medium red skinned potatoes (perfect starch binder) – baked at 400 for 60 mins – place in refrigerator for several hours until completely cold – keep skin intact and use box crater to crate (remaining skin left after grating done can be disposed of)- put in large mixing bowl
- 1 can of no salt black beans – drain and rinse and then mash well in a separate bowl
- 1 cup large flake oats
- 1 cup nutritional yeast
- 3 tBsp
- Italian seasoning
- 2 bulbs of garlic (bake each in tin foil for 30 mins at 400) – remove skin and chop
- 1 medium onion – diced and sauteed until translucent – transfer when cooled slightly to large mixing bowl
- Combine all ingredients together – best to use hands to blend and then roll into ‘golf’ size balls
- Cook in non-stick pan at medium heat – turn often to brown evenly
Make your favourite tomato sauce and serve on a bed of whole grain pasta or brown rice with a mixed green salad for a complete meal.
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