Let’s be real, feeding kids is tough!
I’ve realized from firsthand experience with my three little ones that the goal here cannot be perfection. Through much trial and error, I have learned to set aside all expectations and have found much more peace in establishing healthy compromises.
Below are seven tips to potentially level-up your kids’ nutrition. In addition, I hope a few of these will bring you more ease and joy at the dinner table.
1. Focus on protein and dietary fatsFat is king when it comes to our kids’ health. Their growing brain requires it. For breakfast have your child try:
Whole, real eggs topped with cheese.Full fat cottage cheese or plain full fat Greek yogurt topped with fresh or frozen berries and maybe a drizzle of honey. How about French toast? This one might seem complex, but it only takes a few minutes. Whisk an egg with cinnamon, vanilla extract and a splash of heavy cream. Soak a piece of bread in the mixture so it absorbs it all. Cook on a griddle or skillet on medium heat until browned on each side. Cover with butter and put a dollop of full fat Greek yogurt and berries on the side for dipping.2. Look for better versions of unhealthy optionsFor lunch, provide your child with some uncured deli meat with hummus, avocado and cheese wrapped up in it. Opt for grass-fed organic hot dogs and nix the bun. Carrots or cucumbers dipped in ranch or hummus would be great. Just make sure to serve them a protein and dietary fat first.
3. Try to find better substitutionsFor example, some great snack ideas would be:
Trail mix, nuts (salted taste better), or nut butter packs that are tasty and convenient. Full-fat yogurts topped with berries.Nut thin crackers and cheese.Lower sugar beef jerky or grass-fed meat sticks.Low-sugar cereals (I like Catalina Crunch).If the kids “need” some chips, try for root veggie options or sweet potato chips. These are best if they can be fried in coconut or avocado oil rather than vegetable, soybean or even olive oil.4. Serve food with a dip or sauceButter makes vegetables taste great and my kids tell me ketchup does the same. Search for low-sugar ketchup if you can. For dinner, bake some chicken and sweet potato fries with ketchup for dipping, steak with broccoli topped with butter, or make some mac and cheese but add some cauliflower to the mix.
5. Kids really like meatballsI take some 80% ground beef, and add some dried mustard, garlic, about ¼ cup ketchup and chopped parsley. I shred some zucchini and carrot and add that to the mix as well. Once I roll them into balls, I drop them into some marinara sauce (no sugar added and olive oil base) and let it all simmer for an hour or so. We forgo the noodles, so I just serve the meatball chopped up, top it with Parmesan cheese and put some broccoli with butter on the side.
6. Drinks count, tooYou can make a huge impact on your child’s health by changing out their drink choices.
Kids do not need juice and can get all of the vitamins and minerals they need through real food. Juice is really just another source of sugar. (There are 6.5 teaspoons of sugar in 8 ounces of orange juice.)
As for milk, the medical community has advised us parents to switch to skim milk once our children hit the age of 2. This is unfortunate, as our children need dietary fat for their growing brains. A recent study showed whole milk was linked to lower BMI (weight for height ratio) and better vitamin D absorption than skim milk. If you feel your child needs milk, provide them with whole milk even if they might have weight to lose.
The best beverage of all? Water. Even when exercising, no Gatorade is needed for little tykes.
7. Be open mindedIn the pursuit of perfect parenting, we often feel bound by social norms. If your family dinner doesn’t look like something that’s pictured in a magazine, don’t worry about it. Perhaps your child will eat more (and healthier options) if they aren’t seated at a table. Consider a picnic? Maybe eating small bits, like a carrot, small piece of meat or piece of cheese here or there while roaming will do the trick? How about playing some music during mealtime?
Also, (and I know this is hard) try not to push them to finish their meal. Let them practice listening to their full signals. If they ask for a snack 5 minutes after saying they’re finished with their meal, pull their dinner back out and ask them to finish it first. Providing them with some choices and a little freedom while eating might be your ticket to success. Consider teaching and practicing conventional manners at meals that are earlier in the day when kids are less fussy.
With all this being said, it’s important to find a plan that will be sustainable for you, your family and your child. It’s all about finding balance in letting them enjoy the treats that life brings, while establishing a foundation that recognizes food choices really do matter.
Ashley Lucas has a doctorate in sports nutrition and chronic disease. She is also a registered dietitian nutritionist. She is the founder and owner of PHD Weight Loss and Nutrition, offering weight management and wellness services in the Four Corners. She can be reached at 764-4133.