“The most natural food is fruit”
As parents, we strive to make sure our children have everything they need. Clothes, food, good hygiene, doctor well checks, exercise, and so much more. However, there are times when life is just so crazy busy we take short cuts. These short cuts are usually in the form of food. This is because food is so easy to come by, and we have so many choices. We must remember though, that not all of the choices we have are equal.
We tend to start when they are young. Giving them chicken nuggets, hamburgers, pizza, and even macaroni and cheese. Then, as they get older, we start to see a pattern of that being all they will eat. Being a provider that cares for other children I see this all the time. It was easy and fast at the time, and when life is crazy we need easy and fast, but quickly it becomes a habit and a cycle.
As a provider, I also run a program that is under certain guidelines to serve healthy foods. The goal is to provide good nutrition, but to be honest so much goes in the garbage. So, eventually I decided to do an experiment. For one week I had parents pack what they would feed their kids at home for the first two days and then what they thought was a well-rounded, healthy meal the rest of the week. The guidelines were: do not be afraid to put things that needed to be refrigerated or reheated in it. Do what you think is best for your child. By the end of the week nothing changed. I served more sandwiches, Chef Boy R Dee, and instant macaroni and cheese than I typically serve in a two-month time frame. I knew then, it was going to be an uphill battle.
As an early childhood educator, I have had parents ask me how to get their child to eat better. The answer is simple, cook it and stick to it. I don’t mean run down the frozen meal aisle or the boxed meal aisle at the grocery store. I mean good clean eating. Fruits, vegetables, and good clean proteins. I have told my families that I too had slipped into the what is easy category when my kids were young, but quickly asked myself what was I doing. I had to make the change and quickly or my kids were never going to understand what good food was either. That’s when I started exactly what I tell all my families now, good clean meals that you cook and stick to it and they will eat it.
Healthy food doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. The most important thing to do is start.
So how do I go about getting my picky eaters to eat healthy foods? There are two ways: 1. Put hidden ingredients in the things they love and 2. Let them cook with you! It truly is that simple!
One of my favorite recipes for the kids in my program must be the macaroni and cheese! I know I will never get the group to eat a vegetable like butternut squash and my original homemade dish was not orange enough (like the famous box counterpart), but combine the two and it has been a great big success! A lot of times with my recipes that I am wanting to make healthier it is a trial and error kind of thing. For instance, my original macaroni and cheese was not orange enough (like the boxed counterpart) so I had to play with the recipe to get the perfect combination to ensure the texture and eye appeal were correct. Play around with ingredients to find the healthiest of combinations and you have a winner eventually!
The key to remember is start early and remember it is okay to have the not so healthy foods at times. We all do it. Just consider those the times that are treats and move forward. Kids will be around all types of unhealthy food throughout their lives. For instance, my youngest daughter is in gymnastics and competes for her gym. When they would do clinics and such they would break for lunch and serve the good old pizza! I was appalled at this because here we are asking our kids to work their bodies and then fuel it on nonsense. My oldest is a cheerleader and the morning of the competition the coach said we would all meet and get hair and makeup done and she would bring breakfast, doughnuts! I quickly made the decision that they would meet at our house and I would supply the breakfast! I want to teach young kids how to make great, healthy food (fuel) choices if they want to do things like sports. The most important thing is to start young and get them involved and show them the differences in the types of food.
Here is the recipe for my successful macaroni and cheese that is healthy and the kids will never know, but you will!
Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 Box protein plus elbow macaroni
- ½ Box of Greek yogurt cheese (looks like cream cheese)
- 1 Cup butternut squash puree
- 1 Cup almond milk
- 1 Cup Monterey jack cheese
- Boil noodles per the directions on the box and drain. Set aside.
- In the pan the noodles were cooked in put in the milk, the Greek yogurt cheese and melt, stirring frequently.
- Once melted, add in the butternut squash and the noodles and mix.
- Add in the Monterey jack cheese and stir once again.
- Warm through and serve. (If needed add in more milk to get the desired consistency)
Remember to make sure your meal is balanced and serve with a fruit or vegetable (you can do this one and still feel proud they are getting a vegetable anyway in the macaroni and cheese).