“Yucky! Yucky!” That’s the common response of my kids when I sauté up some red, yellow, and orange peppers in the pain (I know, ambitious, right?!) and serve it as a side dish. Ditto for other veggies—and my new favorite protein-rich grain, quinoa. “Eww…I don’t like this!” “Aw, mom! We’re not having quinoa again!!” And sometimes, to be perfectly honest, I just don’t have the energy to cook anything—particularly knowing the response I’ll be met with—so I steam up some frozen peas, heat up some frozen rice, and put some chicken nuggets in the toaster oven. You can imagine what my kids say to this super-easy-for-moms meal—they love it!
So, I’ve been thinking about ways to up the nutrition factor of my kids’ foods (and my meals as well), given that it’s March—National Nutrition Month. This is sponsored by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics every year as a way to jump start people (and families) to eat better. Here are a few lessons I’m putting into play this month in my house:
1) Frozen is more than fine. I know it seems like cheating to steam up a bunch of straight-from-the-bag frozen peas for dinner—or even for lunch for my toddler—but frozen fruits and veggies are pretty nutritious for you. They’re frozen at the peak of their freshness, retaining key nutrients. (And bonus: they rarely go bad like fresh produce does!) So my advice: stop feeling guilty and start experimenting with frozen. Some things I’ve discovered recently in the frozen aisle: frozen broccoli and cauliflower (you only have to steam up what you need), frozen asparagus, and yes, even frozen sliced red, yellow and orange peppers! The key when cooking frozen is this: put a tiny bit of water (or chicken broth) on the frozen veggies and heat up in the microwave. (Too much water and the nutrients leach out.) Or just add them to a steaming basket and steam. A tiny bit of butter and seasoning works well—or sometimes I try to get my kids to eat naked veggies sans seasoning (it works about 50 percent of the time!).
2) Pick your food fights. Sure quinoa is much healthier than rice (it’s high in protein, disease-fighting antioxidants, and healthy fats), but rice isn’t horrible, particularly if it’s brown rice (it’s high in B vitamins, iron, and fiber). So if your kids prefer rice, make them rice. And if it’s French fries they love, serve them baked fries. If it’s a hamburger they want, opt for leaner turkey burgers (kids rarely notice the difference, particularly if it’s doused in ketchup). I used to try serving my kids spinach and onion turkey burgers; while I loved them, you can imagine the response I got!
3) Be a label lover. I recently spoke with a mom, who was telling me—shocked— how much added sugar yogurts had in them, even some of the supposedly healthy Greek kinds. This is true with so many foods—for adults and kids. (Cereal is another top offender.) What seems to be healthy may not be. Look for products (including juices for kids) with little to no added sugar. Pure fruit juice is fine, if you can find it. These varieties often don’t come in juice boxes, so buy a small “water” bottle and add healthier juice to it for your kids.
Guidelines from the American Heart Association say preschoolers with a daily caloric intake of 1,200 to 1,400 calories shouldn’t consume any more than 170 calories, or about 4 teaspoons, of added sugar a day. Children ages 4 to 8 with a daily caloric intake of 1,600 calories should consume no more than 130 calories, or about 3 teaspoons a day.
But these are some of the things that work for my family. But I know that moms are a source of amazing inspiring. Please share your best healthy eating tip. We want to hear from you!