As our children grow we may worry about whether they are getting the right kind of nutrition. We knew exactly what our children were eating when we were the only one feeding them. But soon, too soon, they discover fast food.
Is fast food OK for our kids?
When our time and strength are limited, it is easy to wheel into McDonalds for a quick bite. But here’s some food for thought.
It’s extremely difficult to eat in a healthy way at any fast food restaurant. The fats, sugar, and salt in fast food draw kids like a magnet, largely because they appeal to a child’s “primordial tastes,” explains Shanthy A. Bowman, PhD.
Because fast food doesn’t contain much fiber, kids don’t feel full afterward — so they eat more later. So it is not just what they eat at that meal, but what they eat the rest of the day that is a concern. It is easy to go above the appropriate calorie intake and fall way short of nutrition on days they eat fast food.
An occasional fast food meal is OK, but more home-cooked, family meals with better nutrition will go a long way to helping your children learn healthy eating habits for a life-time.
Should we hide veggies so kids will eat more of them?
There are two opposite ideas about getting kids to eat more veggies. One says we should make them more attractive so kids will want to eat them and the other says to hide them in foods they already like. After some research, here’s my take. If our kids won’t eat canned peas or slimy boiled spinach, making our veggies more attractive could help a lot! Providing veggies with crunch, cut up to eat as finger food, served with nutritious dips, and in a variety of colors will appeal to most kids.
But when the nutritious food just won’t be eaten by our kid no matter how nicely it is served, it’s time to become more creative. Packing whole grains, yogurt, veggies, and eggs into foods they love like pastas, soups, and smoothies makes good sense.
Penn State researcher Barbara Rolls, PhD found that adding pureed vegetables to favorite foods led 3- to 6-year-olds to consume almost twice as many vegetables (and 11 percent fewer calories) over the course of a day. “I think it’s really important for children to know what vegetables and other ingredients are in their food; that helps them learn about the many forms in which vegetables can be eaten and how vegetables served in different forms can taste different.” Never lie about the ingredients. When your child asks what is in the food, answer honestly so he will trust what you say about food.
Exposing children to a variety of nutritious foods that are minimally processed, serving foods in appropriate portions, and limiting nutrient-poor foods are small steps we can take to help our children learn to appreciate the tastes, textures and flavors of healthful foods. It may also reduce the likelihood they’ll get hooked on less healthy options.
Getting children to help plan, buy, and prepare food helps them develop an interest in eating wholesome food. Talking about the color, texture, and value of different nutrients gives our kids more reason to enjoy food that it good for them.
Healthy Snack Ideas
To help you find additional ways to get more nutrition into your kids, see our Kid Friendly recipes section of Your Child’s Journey.
Here are some ideas for quick to prepare, nutritious snacks that may interest even the pickiest eaters.
- Peanut butter and jelly on rice cakes or rye crackers, banana bread, sweet potato muffins, or oatmeal cookies with raisins, cranberries or nuts
- Whole grain tortilla roll ups with cheese, chopped veggies, beans, or left over chicken
- Hard boiled eggs and cheese slices or cubes. Baked sweet potato chips- no salt necessary
- Hummus (chickpea paste), guacamole, or salsa with cut up veggies or salt-free crackers to dip
- Snack mix made with popcorn, nuts, pretzels and dried fruit
- Whole grain waffles with peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese and jelly or raisins on top
- Yogurt and cut fruit or juice frozen into popsicles or blended into smoothies
- A small cup of frozen fruit
Please: write in if you have other questions about or suggestions for nutritious, fun food for kids.