Raising a healthy eater can be a tricky process. It’s a balancing act of many aspects: providing nutritious foods, encouraging new foods, allowing independence, teaching regulation of “junk” foods, allowing for a child’s individual food preferences, allowing for a child’s natural growth pattern and daily appetite changes, peer pressure, and teaching a child how to cook and prepare food. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? I’d like to break down the complication into manageable steps.
- First and most importantly, remember that your child was born with the natural ability to monitor her intake. Just like a newborn baby knows when she is hungry and when she is satisfied, your child knows how to do the same. However, if food is used as comfort, reward, or punishment, then it interferes with the child’s natural ability to regulate intake. So, by encouraging her to clean her plate or eat “just one more bite”, you may be encouraging her to eat more than she needs. Trust that she knows when she has had enough. This leads into tip 2.
- Establish regular eating times throughout the day and stick to them. For example, offer breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and dinner. If your child is not hungry at lunch, then let him know that he doesn’t have to eat, but he will not be allowed to eat until snack time. Letting a child feel hunger is good. It’s good for him to feel hunger, satiety, and occasional fullness. But, it’s not a good idea to let him graze all day. Predictability is very important, especially for young children.
- Keep a variety of foods stocked in your kitchen and limit the junk foods. Some ideas are whole wheat/grain bread, crackers, pasta, rice, muffins, cereal, oatmeal, and tortillas; skim or 1% milk, lower-sugar yogurt, and cheese; canned tuna, peanut butter, leftover meats (chicken, pork, beef), low-fat deli meats, and beans (if she won’t eat beans from the can, try pureeing them with some spices and serve with crackers or vegetables as a dip); fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables and fruit; and 100% fruit juice and water. Although it’s best to save the junk foods for special occasions, I do believe it’s important to keep a small selection at home to teach the child how to regulate her intake.
- Avoid trans fats, added sugars, processed foods, fast foods, and fried foods. You already know that these foods should be limited in your diet, so the same goes for your children.
- Don’t give up when your child doesn’t like new foods. It may take up to 20 exposures of a new food before the child tries it! Pair an unfamiliar food with a familiar food when you are serving it and try not to pressure the child to eat it.
- To ensure variety in your child’s diet, offer 2 different foods groups at each snack and 3 different food groups at each meal. Don’t worry if some days your child eats no fruit and all dairy and grains because the next day he might want only fruit and meat. The average intake over a week is the most important number to monitor.
- Allow your child to help choose, prepare, and clean up the meals as much as possible. Not only is it quality family time, research shows children who are involved in meal preparation tend to be healthier eaters.
- For a personalized recommendation for your child, visit mypyramid.gov, where you can enter the age, height, weight, and sex of the child and receive an estimation of how much of each food group she should aim for on a daily basis.
- If you have any specific concerns about your child’s diet, please contact your pediatrician or dietitian.
- Remember all children are different and these “tips” are just that; they are not hard and fast rules. Most importantly, offer a variety of foods at predictable times and allow your child to decide how much to eat. Raising a healthy eater takes a lot of patience and practice! If you would like more information on child nutrition, please check out Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming by Ellyn Satter, Just Two More Bites! by Linda Piette, and Baby Bites by Bridget Swinney. These are invaluable references.
Please share: What’s your biggest challenge with raising a healthy eater?
If you were to take a peek into my pantry, these are some of the foods you would find. I consider these foods not only staples of a nutritious diet, but also good for easy snacks and meals. (Most of these foods are store-brand, unless otherwise specified.)
- Whole wheat pasta: Use in any of your favorite pasta dishes.
- Brown rice: Brown rice is a hearty side-dish to your favorite meat. When you’re short on time, use Minute brown rice, which cooks in about 5 minutes.
- Whole wheat bread: Make sure the first ingredient is “whole wheat flour.”
- Mission Carb Balance whole wheat tortillas: These tortillas are a staple in my diet. At only 80 calories per tortilla, I like to use them for any meal: scrambled egg wrap, quesadilla, meat and cheese wrap, spread with peanut butter for a pre-workout snack, or with tacos.
- Couscous: If you haven’t tried this grain, then you should. It cooks in just a few minutes and offers a break from the usual rice or pasta. My favorite brand is Hodgson Mill.
- Triscuits or Wheat Thins: Both of these crackers are whole-grain, which makes them a great choice. I like to eat mine with cheese as a snack.
- Vanilla wafers or gingersnaps: These are two of my favorite cookies. They are both two of the better choices when you are looking for cookies because they are low in fat, saturated fat, and trans fat.
- Dried beans: Beans are full of fiber, protein and carbs. They are a very inexpensive food that offers so much nutrition. I try to cook with beans once a week.
- Canned beans: When you don’t have time to cook dried beans, canned beans are an excellent choice. To make a delicious and quick dip for vegetables, bread, or crackers: drain and rinse a can of beans, place in blender, add a little water, add seasonings to taste, and puree until smooth. Now you have a tasty bean dip.
- Canned Hormel turkey chili with beans: This makes for a quick meal when you are pressed for time. Serve with homemade cornbread, rice, or over a baked potato.
- Canned fruit packed in juice or lite syrup: Canned fruit is good with any meal and is just as healthy as the fresh version.
- Canned vegetables: I prefer fresh or frozen vegetables generally, but canned ones are good to have on hand as well. Try adding canned diced tomatoes to your spaghetti sauce, drained canned mushrooms to your homemade pizza, or canned corn to your cornbread batter.
- Baking ingredients: white flour, whole wheat flour, vegetable oil, olive oil, baking soda, baking powder, spices and herbs, salt, vinegars, sugars, etc. I like to cook from scratch as much as possible. Make sure to always have the basic baking and cooking ingredients on hand so you can make your own muffins, cakes, cookies, biscuits, marinades, casseroles, etc.
- Semi-sweet chocolate chips: Not only for baking, but also to satisfy chocolate cravings!
- Non-fat dry milk powder: Dry milk powder in the large boxes is usually cheaper than milk. If you are looking to trim your grocery bill, make up a quart of dry milk to use in cooking and recipes throughout the week.
- Whole oats: Oatmeal is one of my favorite breakfasts. I like to add a variety of fruit, sugar substitutes, cinnamon, nuts or peanut butter, and milled flax seed.
- Milled flax seed: An excellent source of fatty acids. Try adding to your cereal, yogurt, baked goods, or even use as an egg substitute in your baking!
- Dry cereal: My favorites are Cheerios and Wheaties. But I like pretty much any kind. A small bowl of cereal and milk makes a great bedtime snack. When choosing your cereal, make sure the first ingredient has “whole” in it, to make sure it is a whole-grain cereal. Try to stay away from cereal with a lot of added sugar or fat.
- Popcorn kernels: Air-popped popcorn makes a healthy snack. I like mine sprayed with olive oil and salt.
- Sugar-free hot chocolate mix: I found a recipe for hot chocolate on the Splenda website. It is easy to make and delicious, especially during the winter.
- Raw, plain almonds, peanuts, and walnuts: Nuts are another great source of protein, carbs, and fiber. One of my favorite snacks when I’m on the go is an ounce of nuts mixed with 2 tablespoons of dried fruit. It’s satisfying and doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
- Canned chicken and tuna packed in water: These are both lean sources of protein and make for super-quick meals and snacks.
- Granola bars: Although granola bars are often considered a “health food”, I tend to disagree. I think most are more like a cookie disguised in a wrapper. But, I do keep them on hand for times when I need a really quick snack-on-the-go or when I would like something sweet. (They are better than cakes and pastries.) My favorite brands are Nature Valley, Kashi, Fiber One, Lara, and Kind. But usually you will find the cheapest ones in my pantry since I don’t eat them very often.
What’s your pantry must-have?
I always have muffins in my freezer for a quick breakfast or snack. I enjoy trying new muffin recipes and tweaking them to increase the nutrition. The original recipe I got from a magazine a long time ago; I made some changes to make it my own.
- ½ c. vegetable oil
- ½ c. unsweetened applesauce
- 1 c. sugar
- 1 c. molasses
- 4 eggs or 1 cup egg-substitute
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 c. low-fat buttermilk
- 4 c. white-whole wheat flour
- 1 T. plus 1 t. ground ginger
- 1 t. allspice
- ½ t. nutmeg
- Beat oil, applesauce, and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Stir in molasses and eggs, beating well.
- Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk.
- Combine flour and spices.
- Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to the sugar/oil mixture, beating well after each addition.
- Spoon into greased muffin tins or paper liners. Fill about 2/3 full.
- Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
Yield: 36 muffins
Nutrition Facts per serving (1 muffin):
Calories: 137, Total fat: 4g, Saturated fat: 0.7g, Cholesterol 24mg, Sodium 88mg, Total carbohydrate: 24g, Dietary fiber: 1g, Sugars 11g, Protein 3g
If you were to take a peek into my refrigerator, these are some of the foods you would find. I consider these foods not only staples of a nutritious diet, but also good for easy snacks and meals. (Most of these foods are store-brand, unless otherwise specified.)
- Skim milk: It’s my favorite beverage at breakfast and I also use it throughout the week in cooking.
- 2% milk sharp cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, lite feta cheese, and parmesan cheese. I use it in some of our favorite meals: homemade pizza, pasta salad, tacos, and grilled cheese sandwiches for a super-quick meal.
- No-sugar-added, fat-free yogurt: An excellent source of calcium, carbs, and protein, which makes for a great snack. Yogurt is also good for smoothies (blend yogurt and frozen fruit together until smooth).
- Eggs: Eggs are good for any meal! I like scrambled eggs for breakfast with whole wheat toast and fruit or for dinner when I need a quick meal. Don’t forget about hard-boiled eggs which make great snacks.
- Plain, low-fat yogurt: My children love plain yogurt and with the healthy probiotics it contains, it makes an A+ choice for snacks. As a plus, it is less-expensive than the other yogurts that are marketed to kids. If you don’t like plain yogurt, try adding honey, jelly, or a little sugar. Plain yogurt can be substituted for sour cream in recipes.
- Greek cream cheese: This cheese is a naturally lower-fat version of cream cheese. I use it in recipes in place of regular cream cheese.
- Condiments such as ketchup, mustard, spicy mustard, light Ranch, low-fat mayonnaise, low-sodium soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, pickles, balsamic vinaigrette (my favorite marinade for chicken), barbecue sauce, A1 sauce, jam, lemon juice, and lime juice. Most of these are store-brands to save money. The exception is the light Ranch.
- Hershey’s lite chocolate syrup for mixing with skim milk for a sweet snack.
- Maple Grove Farms sugar-free maple syrup as a low-calorie topping for pancakes and waffles.
- 100% fruit juice: If you are taking a multivitamin or iron supplement, consider taking it with juice—the vitamin C will help maximize the absorption of iron.
- Hormel natural choice deli meat: This lunch meat is nitrate/nitrite free and is a good choice for sandwiches or wraps. I like it wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla with mustard and a slice of cheese.
- No-sugar-added applesauce: Always a quick side for lunch or use as a substitute for oil/butter in baking.
- Fresh fruit and fresh vegetables: It varies by the season, but during the winter, I always have clementines.
- Lite butter (stick): For baking and cooking.
- Butter (stick): There are times when pure butter is the only way to go!
What’s your “must-have” in your refrigerator?
Snack time is not just for filling little stomachs until the next meal. Think of it as a perfect time to fill in some nutritional gaps. Try to offer a fruit or vegetable and a good source of protein and carbohydrate at each snack. Choosing the right snacks will fuel your child’s mind and body for optimal growth and performance in school and activities. Here are some examples:
- Sliced or diced fresh fruit
- Sliced vegetables with low-fat dressing, salsa, or bean dip
- Nuts/seeds (over 3 years old)
- Trail mix
- Edamame (soy beans)
- Bean dip (rinse and drain your favorite canned beans, puree in blender with seasonings and a little water)
- Light popcorn
- Whole wheat tortilla with peanut butter
- Sugar-free pudding cup
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread
- 100% juice
- Sugar-free punch, Crystal Light, Capri Sun Roaring Waters, water, and V8 V-Fusion
- Whole grain crackers (Triscuits, All-Bran, Wheat Thins) and low-fat cheese
- Whole grain pretzels (hard or soft)
- Whole wheat mini bagels with peanut butter or light cream cheese
- Multi grain chips or baked chips with salsa
- Low-fat chocolate milk or soy chocolate milk
- String cheese or cheese cubes
- Whole grain dry cereal
- Granola bars (Nature Valley, Kashi, Fiber One)
- Dried fruit such as raisins, Craisins, banana chips, and apples
- Fig newtons (whole grain)
- Homemade “Chex mix”
- Smoothie: yogurt and frozen fruit pureed in blender
- Mini homemade muffins
- Frozen juice pops
- Homemade granola or energy bars
- Hard boiled egg
What is your favorite after-school snack?