This was previously posted in the November 2011 issue of Beverly Hills Child Magazine where I write monthly about ways to ensure we raise healthy children.
One of the best and simplest ways to get your kids to eat healthier is by letting them help you make family meals. Children love to help, and they are more likely to eat food that they have prepared with their own hands and by their own efforts.
The following are some simple snack and meal ideas that children can help make.
1. Kebabs – Cut chicken or lean beef into large chunks, chop up some bell peppers into large pieces, set out a bowl of cherry tomatoes, chop up some onions into large pieces and set everything out with some skewers. Let your child push the pieces of meat, peppers, onion and tomatoes onto the skewers in whatever order they choose to and then grill them yourself. It’s a great way to help your child feel pride in helping you make the meal and also to get your child to eat vegetables (bell pepper, onion and tomato).
2. Dips for vegetables– Chop up carrots into sticks. Clean and prepare mushrooms and celery. Chop bell peppers into strips. Wash and set out cherry tomatoes. Then let your child help you make some dips. Use fat-free fromage frais or plain yogurt in several separate bowls and let your child choose which spices and seasonings to add to each one. You could have a jalapeno and cheese dip, using finely diced jalapenos and grated low-fat cheese, or you could have onion and chive dip by adding chopped fresh chives and finely diced onion. You could make a garlic and onion dip using garlic powder and onion powder. Your child might prefer a taco dip which would just take some taco seasoning. You can also have some dry soup packets, such as Lipton’s Onion Soup and add those to the plain yogurt to make a delicious and healthy dip.
3. Burgers – Finely dice onion and bell peppers. Let your child add the diced vegetables and whatever spices you wish to add to a bowl full of ground lean beef or ground turkey. Next, your child can use her hands to mash it all together and mix it up. Kids love the tactile sensations of getting messy while making this, and they will also enjoy patting the burgers into balls that they can then flatten onto a plate. Next, you grill the burgers and serve them on whole wheat buns with some lettuce and slices of tomato.
4. Peanut butter apple dip – This one is really easy to make. Let your child mix one 190g pot of fat-free vanilla or fat-free toffee yogurt to ½ cup of reduced fat and reduced sugar peanut butter. Once it is mixed until it’s smooth, give your child some apple slices to dip in it.
5. Healthy personal pizzas – Mix some tomato sauce with some oregano, a dash of salt, some garlic and a bit of pepper. Lay out some whole wheat pita breads. Prepare some low-fat grated cheese. Chop up some bell peppers and onion. Set everything out and let your child take a pita bread and top it to make his own pizza. Once he has added the toppings that he wants, just bake it for about 5 minutes at 250 degrees.
6. Fruit salad – Wash red grapes, green grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. Chop up some cantaloupe and honeydew melon into bite-sized chunks. Let your child choose which of the types of fruit that she wants to add to her own bowl of fruit salad, and then let her pour an individual-sized pot of fat-free yogurt, in a flavour of her choice, over the fruit. Using a large bowl, let her make a fruit salad with all of the left-over fruit to serve to others.
7. Healthy Strawberries and cream – Wash and slice strawberries into a bowl. Let your child sprinkle a small amount of sweetener over his bowl of strawberries. Open an individual-sized pot of fat-free vanilla yogurt and let your child add two tablespoons of sweetener to it and mix it well. Then he can pour the yogurt and sweetener mixture over his strawberries and enjoy it!
8. Mexican meatballs – Finely dice some spring onions. Put one pound of lean ground pork into a large bowl. Let your child pour a packet of taco seasoning into the bowl and then add the diced spring onions to the bowl. Next, let your child mix it all together with their hands, letting it all squish between their fingers. Then your child can roll the mix into individual balls, small enough to make 15 meatballs. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 300 degrees.
9. Pasta – This is very simple and once you’ve boiled and drained the whole wheat pasta, your child should have no problems doing the rest. Your child will just need to add two heaped tablespoons of extra light mayonnaise , a bit of seasoning and about a handful of low-fat grated cheese. If these are added right away, the cheese melts and sticks in a tasty manner to the pasta. You do not have to add vegetables to the meal, but throwing in some peas or corn will add nutritional value to the meal.
10. Jacket potatoes – You will need to prepare some toppings for your child to choose from, such as tuna and mayonnaise, baked beans, low-fat grated cheese, or other toppings. Bake your jacket potatoes after piercing them several times with a fork and spraying them with a low calorie oil spray. One hour at 300 degrees should be enough time for the potatoes to bake. Once the potatoes are removed from the oven, let them sit for ten minutes, the put a potato on your child’s plate and slice it across in two cuts, one horizontal and one vertical. Place the potato on its plate in front of your child and let them choose how they wish to top their jacket potato.
There are many ways to serve healthy meals to your kids, but letting them help and be a part of the preparation is the best way to insure that they will want to, at least, try the food they are helping prepare. In all of the above suggestions, let your child be creative. He might come up with ideas of his own that will help improve or change the meal. It’s important to give your child choices but healthy ones, so that she can feel that she has some control over what she eats, and you can be assured that, whatever she chooses, it will be healthy.