As the mother of two, now young adults, I know firsthand the pressures mothers face when trying to feed their children the most nutritious meals. I still remember some nights feeling that my ‘good’ maybe wasn’t good enough and that perhaps I should be preparing more foods from scratch or providing more variety in their meals.
After trying out different meal versions and tapping into my own imagination, today I am happy to report that although my young adult kids still enjoy the occasional fast food trips, they have gained a deeper appreciation for food and its varieties. And, since the college lifestyle doesn’t involve too much food preparation, they anticipate and look forward to coming home and eating a nutritious home cooked meal—we all win!
So for all you parents feeling like your good isn’t good enough, I have great news. Although most of us will probably never be perfect home chefs, there are many things within our control that we can do to form healthy eating habits in our children. I can’t think of a better gift for my own kids than encouraging and cementing healthy eating habits.
I’d like to share with you my top tips that have worked really well not only with my own children, but also with the families who seek my help:
Ditch the clean plate rule – Relax and don't panic when your children don’t finish everything on their plate. Perhaps the portion served is larger than what they really need.
Keep healthier options within reach – It is obvious that children will often eat what’s within their reach, so keep the healthiest foods within reach and the treats far away from their eye level.
Serve age appropriate portions – It is so easy to pile kids’ plates with heaping portions, but as parents, we should make an effort to understand that each child has different nutrient needs and that their stomachs are smaller than ours. Also it is key to remember that their portions should be served according to their age, gender and activity level.
To find out what your child should be eating daily, go to the MyPlate Checklist Calculator and enter their age, gender and physical activity level.
It's ok to give them a treat once in a while – Okay, let’s be real, many kids would eat cake and ice cream if they could for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! And they will be offered snacks, sweets, and treats at almost every social gathering they attend. So it is to your advantage to teach them how to eat treats mindfully rather than prohibiting them forever. Consider this – after 30 years of practicing nutrition, I have not met a single person who has never had a treat.
Nutrition 101 starts in the kitchen – If you want to teach your kids about good nutrition, start by teaching them the fundamentals of cooking. Begin by going slow and easy, teaching them how to make a trail mix with their favorite raw nuts and dried fruits. Then, graduate to preparing scrambled eggs, pancakes and/or sandwiches such as the famous grilled cheese. Teaching them their favorite dishes will make learning about nutrition more enjoyable for them. Take a look (below) at a few of my own children’s favorite recipes they learned to prepare at a young age.
Be a role model – Nothing speaks louder than actions. By modeling good eating habits, your children will learn to enjoy some of the same nutritious foods you do. Remember that children are constantly observing our actions and observing our behavior.
Below you will find a few quick and easy recipes my children learned during our kitchen adventures to make healthier, but still delicious meals.
Powerful licuado – In a blender, mix 1 medium banana, 1 (6 oz.) container of strawberry yogurt and 1 cup of orange juice. Blend well. Serve with cinnamon raisin toast – our favorite! Nutrients for 1-1/2 cups of licuado: Calories: 200, Protein: 4 grams, Fiber: 2 grams, Carbohydrates: 43 grams
PB & J Waffle Mini Sandwiches – Top 1 toasted mini waffle with 1/2 tablespoon of peanut butter, 1/2 teaspoon of jelly and 3 to 4 banana slices. Cover with another toasted mini waffle. Nutrients for 1 mini waffle sandwich: Calories: 240, Protein: 7 grams, Fiber: 3 grams, Carbohydrates: 32 grams
Cereal Riser – 1 cup cooked oatmeal with 8 fl. oz. skim milk and 1/2 cup berries. Sprinkle a packet of SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener on top. Nutrients per bowl: 200 calories, Protein: 13 grams, Fiber: 6 grams, Carbohydrates: 33 grams
I have been compensated for my time by Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog with Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.
For more information about planning a healthy diet, visit the Healthy Lifestyle section of this blog.
Sylvia Meléndez Klinger, MS, RD, LDN, CPT is founder of Hispanic Food Communications, Inc., a nutrition and food communications consulting company. A Hispanic native who is a leading expert in cross-cultural Hispanic cuisine as it relates to nutrition and health, Sylvia uses her in-depth culinary and cultural expertise to introduce new strategies for wellness to an increasingly health-conscious Hispanic population. For more than a decade, Sylvia has been a consultant for major food, beverage and pharmaceutical companies and non-profit organizations.