Let’s be real. It can sometimes be tough (really tough) when it comes to healthy eating for children. Kids today are inundated with messages from the media, friends, and everywhere in between that happiness comes from candy, sugary cereal, ice cream and pizza. These are tough forces to counteract.
As moms and dads, we want to do what is best for our kids and we worry when they aren’t eating enough or when they only want to exist on french fries. On the other hand, we don’t want to deprive our children of “normal” childhood experiences that involve food, or make them feel like freaks amongst their friends.
It’s a tough balance to strike, believe me, I know.
And the battle can be exhausting…and sometimes we just want to give in and not care about what they are eating. Wouldn’t it be so much easier?
But we must stay strong, because feeding our children is one of the MOST important jobs we will ever have. It is in our homes that our children will establish eating habits that will start them on a path to good health or poor health. The implications are huge – HUGE – I say. Children who are unhealthy or overweight are not living to their fullest potential. Their self esteem suffers. Their learning ability can be compromised. And their future health has its basis in childhood.
Healthy Eating for Children – The Fundamentals
I’ve been feeding picky children for almost 12 years. Along the way I’ve learned a thing or two about getting healthy food into kids. Let me share what I’ve learned for helping kids to eat healthy foods and learn to enjoy them.
- Model healthy eating behavior. You must be the example and show your children how enjoyable it is to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
- Teach your children WHY your family eats the way you do. Take every opportunity to explain to children why you make the food choices that you do for your family.
- Make your home a healthy food zone. We all know that there is junk food on every corner in the “real” world. Don’t let it come into your home and expect your kids to stay away from it (or yourself for that matter). There will be plenty of opportunities for your kids to get unhealthy food when they are at friends or relatives’ houses, restaurants or at school. Let your home be a healthy oasis.
- Be careful of introducing refined sugars, grains and fatty foods. Once they get a taste for white flour, fried food, and refined sugar, they won’t want anything else. It’s just the nature of those foods – they are addictive for everyone and kids are certainly no exception. Work hard to make WHOLE foods the only options at home.
- If you already live with junk-food-junkies, explain the reasons why you are making changes, make it a family-wide endeavor, and let kids know that their taste buds will change and they will come to like healthier foods in a matter of time.
- If you are allowing an unhealthy food (like pizza, for instance), surround it with lots of healthier foods (such as salad and fruit). Even make the healthier stuff the “appetizer” that must be eaten before they get the less healthy stuff.
- Make simple substitutions that are not too noticeable – non-dairy milk in recipes instead of cow’s milk, whole grain flours in baking instead of white, reducing or eliminating the use of oil in cooking, etc.
Healthy Eating for Children – Healthy Kid Friendly Foods
A whole food, plant based diet is best for everyone, including kids. Here are some of the foods my kids enjoy – I bet yours will too.
- Smoothies – The #1 best way to get whole fruits and vegetables into your kids is to let them drink them in a delicious, naturally sweet smoothie
- Whole grain pancakes with fresh bananas and berries
- Oatmeal with brown sugar and fresh fruit
- Veggies or baked pita chips with hummus dip
- Tofu scramble with roasted potatoes
- Peanut butter or almond butter and jelly or bananas on whole grain bread
- Tacos and quesadillas with refried beans instead of ground beef
- Enchiladas and burritos with rice, beans, and white or sweet potatoes
- Whole grain pasta with marinara sauce
- Homemade veggie burgers and baked potato wedges
- Macaroni and “cheese” (recipe coming soon!)
- Veggie chili
- Veggie lasagna
- Rice and beans
- Creamy vegetable soups such as broccoli, tomato or butternut squash
- Lentil soup or corn and potato chowder
- Veggie “meatloaf”
- Vegetarian shepard’s pie
Healthy eating for children doesn’t have to be complicated. Start early with introducing whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Children learn to like what they are exposed to. Sometimes it takes many introductions to a new food for them to develop a taste for them, but don’t give up. Show your children how enjoyable whole, plant based foods can be.
Remember that our children’s health is OUR responsibility. There is no greater gift that we can give our children than their health and our own health, so that as a family we can all live life to its fullest for as long as possible.