Friday, November 1, 2013

Planning Meals for Kids

No one will argue that kids have some strong opinions, and it often seems especially so with food. Prepare a culinary masterpiece and your child may scoff that it doesn't hold a candle to macaroni and cheese. Kids can easily be your harshest culinary critics. They dread mealtimes that are more of an obligation than a time for fun, and rely on certain comfort foods which are familiar to them. Simply put, vegetables are the enemy, and kids are not going to eat that broccoli just because it's "good for them." Recipe4Living would like to offer some suggestions for easing your kids into more diverse eating habits and making meals simpler, more nutritious, and most importantly, more fun.Things to Keep in Mind when Planning Meals for Kids* Patience, patience, patience. Learning to eat a variety of foods is a skill that children learn with time, and sometimes it's a slow process. Many children won't accept everything you cook right away, and need time to adjust to new flavors and textures. Don't worry, kids will eventually eat their veggies.* As fellow editor Maxine suggests, make a family tradition out of the "no thank you helping." Even if your kids are unsure about a new dish, make it standard dinner practice for them to at least try a tiny spoonful. This encourages kids to expand their tastes without forcing them to eat a full serving.* Regularity is absolutely key in encouraging kids to eat what is served at each meal. Always offer three regular meals and around three planned snacks during the day. Since kids grow quickly, they generally need to eat more often. At meals and snacks, offer a variety of foods in differing colors and textures to get your child more used to different kinds of foods. It may take many exposures to a food before kids even try it, let alone decide that they like it, so don't be discouraged.* Treat children like any other member of the family. Ask for help in planning weekly meals, and better yet, let kids choose at least one meal a week. Ask for their opinion on what to make with chicken, offering several choices. Ask what they think other family members might enjoy. As many toddlers make more than evident, children like to voice their opinions. Pass the food around the table and let your child serve him or herself.* Involve your picky-eater in the cooking. For example, your child can help stir and add ingredients to mixtures. Give him or her an apron or chef's hat, especially one that is personally decorated with a name or handprint. Kids will feel proud to know that they have helped and will be more excited to eat what they were included in preparing.* Bring a positive attitude to the table and to the food. Tell your child how much you enjoy the food, without pushing him or her to eat. Bring up conversational topics that will engage your child, focusing on him or her, rather than the plate and its status.* Remember, you are not a short order cook. If your child refuses to eat what you have cooked, that is their choice. Do not prepare alternative meals or have open access to items like peanut butter, because your child needs to learn to eat what you serve.* Since many children will often eat bread even when refusing the rest of the meal, serve plenty of bread and a starchy side, and don't worry if that is all they eat. They will get around to the rest of the meal eventually.Sneaking Nutrition into Your Kids' Meals* With vegetables, you want to make them available and eat them yourself, but don't push too hard if your child doesn't immediately want to eat them too. They will with time. Until then, many deep-yellow fruits, such as peaches and cantaloupe, provide similar nutrients, such as in amounts of Vitamin A, as vegetables.* Sneaking vegetables into meals can be easier than it sounds. You can always pair a vegetable with something that you know your child already likes, or modify a vegetable slightly to encourage your child to eat it. For example, top a baked potato with homemade, mild salsa. Try adding vegetables to your kid's favorite dishes to encourage them to eat healthier. Later, if you serve vegetables on their own, you can point out that your child already enjoyed them. Add some peas to macaroni and cheese, put small broccoli pieces on top of pizza, or stuff pita pockets with different vegetables. Here are some other ways to sneak vegetables in daily meals:- Shred vegetables such as zucchini and carrots and add them to tomato sauces served over pasta. Try this veggie-rich but kid-friendly recipe for Spaghetti Lasagna.- Carrots, zucchini, squash, and sweet potatoes are great in many different muffin and quick bread recipes.- Add chopped vegetables to rice or mashed potatoes. Try this recipe for Confetti Rice.- Sneak leftover vegetables into your child's favorite soups.- Include plenty of vegetables in hamburger, meat loaf, and chili recipes.- Wrap up vegetables in a grain such as pita or bread, which is ever-popular with kids. Make a healthy burrito by spreading mashed beans on a tortilla, topping with shredded cheese, and heating in the microwave.- If all else fails, try melting cheese over vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower before serving.Snack Time* Nutritious snacks can be creative and fun, and thus more appealing to kids. Here are some imaginative things to try with food that your kids will really enjoy:- Use cookie cutters to shape a piece of bread or a meal into shapes like hearts, stars, or Christmas trees in the holiday season.- Use carrot sticks to make the masts for mashed potato boats, or add red and yellow pepper sails.- Put a little peanut butter on a celery stick and top it with raisins to create "Ants on a Log."- Make "radish roses" together. Make thin slices about 1/2 inch down the radish but not all the way through, following its contour. Repeat until you have almost the entire radish sliced. Place a couple radishes in ice water for a several hours to watch them "bloom." Share the fun with your amateur gardener in enjoying edible flowers.- Try something really crazy and have your child "paint" bread for a sandwich or healthy snack. Fill several paper cups with milk and a few drops of food coloring, present your artist with a paintbrush, and let them create a masterpiece. Afterwards, simply toast the bread to firm it up and make edible artwork.* The best snacks for kids are simple; they should not take longer to make than to eat, and they should never, ever be eaten with anything but fingers. Your kids will agree that a knife and fork are completely unnecessary. Finger foods just taste better.