So you want to get your child eat more nutritious meals but aren't sure how? Ask Erin Dow! The mom-to-three knows a lot about feeding kids -- her own and as an Expert Chef for Guiding Stars, a nutritional navigation system that evaluates the healthfulness of foods based on nutrient density. Here are her tips for getting preschoolers to eat in a more healthy way -- hint: bring them into the kitchen with you!
1. Embrace the mess but model tidy preparation.
A mom recently told me the most important thing she learned in one of my classes was that she needed to let her kid be a kid in the kitchen. Healthy homemade food comes from real ingredients that require some prep, and peeling veggies and coating your own chicken fingers makes a bigger mess than the bagged alternative. Keep your workspace neat to avoid extra work or compromise thesafety of your food, but let the kids do their thing without judgment; if they feel like they ruled the kitchen during preparation, they’re more likely to embrace the healthy food they’ve created.
2. Familiar flavors served in novel ways can promote variety.
Yup, kids are picky and most of us wish they were more open-minded to new flavors. My experience tells me that surprisingly, by respecting their food biases and serving what they like, we can expand their palates. Something as simple as a BLT Pasta Salad, pasta tossed with crispy bacon, baby spinach leaves, cherry tomatoes, and a low fat ranch dressing, can present a new ingredient (such as fresh spinach) in a familiar context. Once they’ve had it in an enjoyable preparation, they’re more likely to try it in a new one, and before you know it, their tastes will broaden.
Note from Amanda Rock, Guide to Parenting Preschoolers: A great recipe that illustrates this smart tip is Dow's Blueberry Cake, which incorporates tofu.
3. Do a little prep on your own before the kids step in.
Plenty of parents try to bake a cake with their preschooler, but a cake from scratch can often prove to be too complicated for kids so young. So out comes the boxed cake mix. But take it from me. A four year-old wants to do two things with a cake: stir stuff and eat it. So take a few minutes to preheat your oven--they don’t want to wait!--then combine the dry ingredients into one bowl (don’t stir!) and the wets into another and THEN call your son or daughter in to bake a cake with you. They can stir away while you prepare the pans, and in no time, your homemade cake is done as easily as your boxed cake was and it’s healthier too. Best of all, you’ve taught your child that tasty cake comes from a recipe, not a box.
Looking for a recipe to try these tips out on? How about this one for Erin’s Carrot Fries? (See photo above.)
Even the littlest kitchen helpers can help toss baby carrots around with olive oil and seasonings in a large mixing bowl. I regularly suggest carrot fries to fulfill a nutrition program’s vegetable requirement, and the simple decision to call this preparation “fries” instead of “oven roasted” has increased the number of lunch line takers.
Preheat oven to 450° and line a rimmed sheet pan with aluminum foil. In a medium bowl, toss one pound of baby carrots with one tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste. Place the carrots onto the sheet pan in a single layer and roast for approximately 15-18 minutes, or until the carrots are beginning to brown. Serve as you would french fries with a side of low-fat ranch dressing for dipping.
About the author: Erin Dow is the mother of three children, ages 11, 10, and 6 and is the Expert Chef for Guiding Stars, a nutritional navigation system that evaluates the healthfulness of foods based on nutrient density. She consults with school nutrition programs on healthy kid-approved recipe and menu development with a focus on scratch cooked foods. Her career as a chef spans fifteen years.