Cooking for little ones (and not so little ones) often presents some unique challenges.
While, obviously, you want to provide them with nutritious meals, it can be a pain in your….patience…to get them to eat the foods that are best for their growing bodies. We’re all probably well aware of the food plate and the number of servings our children need of healthy grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables, and calcium products.
Getting them to eat these nourishing foods…well, that’s another matter altogether, isn’t it?
Here’s the good news when cooking for children: you do not need to incorporate all the important nutrients into every dinner. This is not Chopped, and the judges won’t send you home for not using all of the ingredients.
SETTING FOOD TRAPS
If the dinner table has become a battle ground, if the kids are marching to the table, already prepared for war…go guerilla on them! Avoid pitched battles and sneak those healthy foods behind enemy lines when they least expect them.
Let’s face it…raw cucumbers, thinly sliced and sprinkled with salt, are freakin’ awesome, and make a much healthier snack than potato chips! But don’t just chuck a bowl of them in their face like a hand grenade…just set them out of the table, let them see you nibbling a couple yourself, and their own natural curiosity will eventually spring the trap.
Jungle warfare, baby!
The same holds true for melon and cantaloupes. These make excellent snacks and are a much-needed fruit in these important diets for little ones.
Here’s another biggie: If they don’t like apple slices…DON’T GIVE THEM APPLE SLICES! How hard is that? I don’t care if YOU love apple slices, if you do…great, YOU eat them. Give them some options. The goal here is not notches on your rifle-stock, it’s winning the war, long term!
MESS HALL FARE
There’s an old saying that an army marches on its stomach, and many a war has been lost not to bad planning, or bad soldiers, but to a lack of good food.
Plus, you’ll be helping us teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk kids, in our MY KITCHEN Outreach Program.
Bad attitudes, lack of motivation, poor school performance…all of these “symptoms” have been tied to a lack of proper nutrition.
Regardless of what we think we can or can’t cook, the reality is that our kids cannot live on macaroni and cheese alone. It’s been tried and tested and failed miserably.
Try mixing things up whenever you can while keeping meals kid friendly. It is important that you try to introduce whole grains, proteins, and vegetables whenever possible at meal times around your home. Remember the “2 out of 3” rule:
Kids (and many adults) are quicker to accept a new dish if at least 2 out of every 3 ingredients are familiar favorites. Their favorite peanut-butter and jelly can be a Trojan Horse for whole-grain bread or crackers. Shredded cauliflower, carrots, or broccoli virtually disappear in spaghetti sauce. Land mine that home-cooked macaroni with cheese sauce (not that glowing-orange powdered junk) with fresh cooked peas and carrots.
You get the idea!
Cooking healthier meals for kids is now easier than ever before. Fresh fruits and vegetables are best whenever possible. However, if you cannot manage fresh, or frozen, at least avoid “canned with syrup” (swimming in sugary tooth-rotting sweetness) whenever possible. Frozen is far preferable to canned when it comes to both fruit and vegetables, as there are often fewer additives.
Turn their ration of milk into dessert (and get a healthy dessert at the same time) by mixing it into a frozen fruit, like our Blueberry Slush.
TRAIN THE TROOPS
Encourage your children to try new things rather than cooking the same few meals over and over again that you know they are likely to eat. This prevents two things from happening. First of all, it helps you not to get bored when cooking for your children.
Second, it allows your children to try new flavors and textures and form opinions about them. By trying new things they will learn not only about the things they dislike but also the foods they really enjoy.
Kids tastes change over time. It’s frustrating, I know, to spend time and money preparing a meal only to have your child push the plate away and say “Yuck.”
For this, I strongly recommend enlisting their help in the kitchen. First of all, children are much more likely to eat the things they had a hand in preparing as a matter of accomplishment and pride. (See our post: Tips for Raising an International Gourmet)
Second – you’re training a new kitchen commander who, with any luck, will have dinner ready for YOU, one of these nights!
It’s psychological warfare I know, but all is fair in war and parenting.
I’ve used these tactics to great success in my own household, and I hope you will enjoy the same degree of success on the field of battle, as well!