This post was inspired by the American Heart Association’s new Healthy For Good website and made possible by a sponsorship by The American Heart Association.
Feeding a baby a colorful, healthy diet is easy: babies don’t yet know about donuts. Though I am sort of lazy in my kitchen skills, I found smashing and chopping fruits and veggies for my children rewarding when they were new to eating. (And no-prep avocados and bananas are perfect first foods. Just mash and feed!)
But then, toddlers. And preschoolers.
It’s so much harder to control their diets as they get familiar with the enticing sound of a packaged food ripping open. Animal-shaped crackers? More, please!
As tempting as I find it to solve every snack time with something from my pantry, I have a couple reminders I try to use to boss myself around in an effort to do better and increase the nutritional value of what I offer my kids.
Do we really need this snack to be convenient?
Bars, crackers, and yogurt tubes are portable, but when we are at home, I remind myself to save the bars for the car (Car Bars? Is there a brand using that name? Should I start one?). Eating at home is a fine time for food that’s messier and doesn’t travel well. I’ll spread some nut or seed butter on an apple. And while I don’t want sliced grapes consumed in the back of my car, they’re a great way to add color to my kiddos’ diet, and perfect when we’re hanging out in the backyard. Packaged snacks may often have more sodium, added sugars, and saturated fats than whole, fresh foods. Reducing our reliance on them is a goal for me. (Here’s a handy lesson on reading labels.)
Can I incorporate fruits or veggies into this meal?
My kids eat so much pasta, I’m embarrassed. Though neither of them will allow sauce on it, they will eat sliced red bell peppers and carrot sticks as a side dish. One of them will eat raw green beans and the other will eat sugar snap peas (because why would they make my life easy by liking the same foods?).
Most days before dinner, I put a plate full of raw veggies on the counter and they snack on them. So even if they won’t eat a side of seasoned roasted anything, or vitamin-rich tomato sauce, they’re getting the good stuff daily. My rule? If it grew out of the ground, you can graze on it all day.
Let them be weird
Do they want to eat frozen peas straight out of the bag? (Try it, our kids love it!) Do they want to squeeze lemon or lime on slices of cucumber? It’s more fun that way, I must agree. I try not to squash creativity if it’s going to lead to the consumption of fruits or vegetables. My kids both like to eat a huge leaf of romaine lettuce, plain, with their hands. Fine, why not?
Is there something smart I can share with my kids about our choice?
Even young kids like to feel in control and smart as much as adults do. Doling out tidbits of health and nutrition information can get them on board with choosing smart foods. The HealthyForGood website is packed with recipes, fun facts, and tips on smart shopping, cooking, and label reading.
As soon as a kid can grasp the concept of numbers, you can show them how to pick one box of cereal over the other in search of a less sugary option by label reading.
Also, kids love money. Water is a free beverage, you guys! Tell the kids! But really anything we make at home almost always has less sugar than what we buy at the store – lemonade, sparkling water with fruit, even hot chocolate.
Pro tip for a true cracker addict: home made popcorn. It’s fun to make — and healthier, when you control the seasoning. I love the SimplyRecipes simple stovetop popcorn recipe (and there’s even more counting, when you cook it!)
If you, like me, feel like you could do a little better (or a lot better) in the categories of eating smart and adding color to your family’s diet, consider joining the Healthy For Good movement (scroll down here www.heart.org/HealthyForGood and click “join the movement”)
What behavior could you change?
Thanks to the American Health Association for their sponsorship of RookieMoms.com. The views, opinions and positions expressed within this post belong to the Rookie Moms site and do not necessarily represent those of The American Heart Association unless explicitly stated.