5 fun ways to get your kids to eat healthier in 2017

Is your New Year’s resolution to get your children to eat better? I got you covered like a kid in frosting at his first birthday party. 
With childhood obesity and diabetes cases at alarming levels, it’s important to get ahead of this and establish healthy eating habits now.  My kids eat, enjoy even, things like salmon, hummus, cashews, avocado, broccoli and shrimp. They ask for salads.
Don’t get me wrong. They still pound some sodium-heavy mac n cheese, and opt for French fries over almost anything else when given the option. But I can get them to eat good-for-them foods at nearly every meal with a few tricks that I rely on.
1. Get creative with names
My girls are obsessed with mermaids and princesses. So I make kale chips, which resemble dried seaweed, and I call them “mermaid snacks.”  And they’re gone quicker than chicken wings at a Super Bowl party.
tiana-pasta
Or I’ll make “pesto” by blending cooked broccoli, grated cheese, garlic and olive oil in a food processor, then toss it in whole wheat farfale (bow tie shaped noodles). I call it “Tiana pasta” since it’s the color dress that Disney princess wears. Honestly, I can’t believe it works either. For boys, you could use wheel shaped pasta with the same sauce and call it Ninja Turtle pasta, for example.
2. Let them play with their food. 
I’m becoming pretty famous for my animal pancakes. Sure, there is usually whipped cream, Nutella or chocolate sauce on them. But there is always fruit. And about the half the time I substitute regular pancake batter for Katie Lee’s power pancake recipe (with cottage cheese and rolled oats) from her Endless Summer cookbook. They are distracted by the fun faces and shapes, and race to finish.
A bowl of oatmeal can also serve as a sort of blank canvas as well. Top with blueberries, sliced almonds, etc.
face-plates
I let them become the food artists with these fun face plates too (available at Bed Bath & Beyond). And since eating healthy=eating colors, they get to make bright pictures and faces with nutrient rich foods.
get-them-involved
3. Have them help
 
If they have a hand in preparing it, they’re more likely to eat it. It’s a fact.
Try a “veggie only” pizza on a whole wheat crust that they can top themselves. Who cares what it looks like?  Pride tastes good, doesn’t it, Junior?
Or simply measure out everything you need for say, a soup or turkey chili. Let them pour in the ingredients and they usually can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Bonus: this also helps with counting and math. “Pour in two cups of flour.  Then hand me 3 eggs, etc.”
farmers-market-five-collage
If cooking with kids is too much for you, engage them in other ways to get them interested and invested in what they’re eating.
One of our favorite games in the summer and fall is “farmers market five.” I hand each child five $1 bills to purchase whatever tempts them. It’s easier in this environment because most prices are in whole dollars but you could try the same thing at a grocery store.
placecards
Have an artistic kid? Have them make placemats. Does your picky eater also thrive on order or accomplishing tasks? Ask them to set the table. It just might work.
4. Get playful with your packaging or environment.
One of my favorite lunches as a kid was served in a humble and well-seasoned cupcake tin. Each hole is filled with something healthy to make for a well-balanced meal.
Put a blanket on the floor and call it a picnic. Pack their meal in a lunch box so they can play “school.”  Make it a “mystery meal” and see if they can guess what it is by tasting it or smelling it with a blind fold on.
5. Sneak it in
 
When all else fails, you know what you have to do. Hide the healthy stuff in some of the foods they never turn down.
I purée cooked carrots and blend them into apple sauce.
Pint-sized objection:
“Why is it orange, Mommy?”
Successful rebuttal:
“Because I put sunshine in it.”
True story.
popcicle-molds
My girls also love smoothies. So I start with healthy stuff I know they’ll like (vanilla Greek yogurt and frozen berries) and I add almond milk, and a handful of kale or spinach. They never know. But I do. And what they don’t finish I freeze in Popsicle molds for a healthy dessert.
Jessica Seinfeld has two entire cookbooks, Deceptively Delicious, filled with sneaky ways to get your kids (your husband and yourself) to consume more veggies.
Now, I’m not saying that ALL of these will work. Or that the one(s) that work with your kids will work every time. But hell, it’s worth a shot. One bite at a time.
Despite all these ideas, I must admit I’m NOT the mom who feeds her kids organic, wholesome, nutritious foods every meal and every snack.  I do the best I can.  Full disclosure…I wrote part of this post while waiting in a long line at Target.  At check out my children put Cheetos and Doritos on the belt.  And they ate them on the way home.  Before dinner.
doritos at target.jpg
To me the most effective way get your kids to eat healthy is to lead by example.  And everything in moderation.  Try new things, watch your portions and as they say “eat the rainbow.” You’ll be amazed at what happens at your dinner table.
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Food is love.  And love is food. 

If you’re like me, you like to show love with food. As Valentine’s Day draws near, I teamed up with someone I love, my friend Rachel from Roaring Acres, to create three lovely events aimed at showing those close to us just how much we care. Cozy up with your girlfriends for PJ Potluck, entertain your kiddos with a Valentine’s themed play date, or romance your honey with an enticing sweetheart’s brunch in bed.

lovely events pj potluck setup

Week nights can be exhausting. The idea of cooking for a crowd probably doesn’t appeal to many. Make a few easy things (some ahead of time) and ask your gal pals to contribute the rest, potluck style. Throw what you need in a silverware caddy and dish out sweets in small, portable portions. Trade work clothes for yoga pants, pop in a movie (or three) and indulge in some serious comfort food.  

Take movie night to the next level with tomato and truffle popcorn soup shooters. Saw this recipe in Food Network Magazine and had to give it a shot. I actually used half the recommended amount of truffle oil and found it to be just enough. Make the soup a day or two in advance, then just heat and serve. Garnish with popcorn and share the rest of the bag with easy-to-pass-around tins.

lovely event chocolate penne

I wanted to give local entrepreneurs some LOVE in this post by making an indulgent and (appropriately flavored) pasta dish using chocolate penne from the Little Lakewood Pasta Company.  Recipe follows. 

And I also LOVE friend and fellow TV news veteran, Tiffani Tucker’s, new Bundt cake business. Have a Slice mini heart-shaped cakes were the perfect complement for our Valentine’s Day dessert. She prepares five different flavors that could also double as favors.


Over the weekend, create a no-frills craft and healthy lunch. Served in the middle of the action, the kiddos can help themselves while they decorate cards for the local nursing home, or a children’s hospital. Dig up that heart-shaped cookie cutter and make sandwiches with strawberry jam and almond butter.
Since my little sweeties like to dip things, I roasted some red peppers and added it to homemade hummus, and provided a pile of sweet and crunchy sliced red and yellow peppers. Recipe follows.

For something to sip on that’s also good for the heart, I made smoothies in my daughters’ favorite color–purple. Toss in frozen berries, a banana, almond milk, and a generous splash of this vibrant fresh pressed juice from Restore Cold Pressed, made with raw and organic apples, beets, carrots and lemons. Use a fun glass so they can slurp them up happily.

Dessert doubles as a holiday-themed activity with decorate-your-own mini cupcakes.  More sprinkles ended up on the floor than on the cupcake display…but kids love to be involved in the fun.

lovely events brunch set up

And don’t forget to to treat your honey.  Create a beautiful brunch or breakfast in bed. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then deviled eggs are the fast lane.


Hard boil eggs and make the deviled filling the night before. (I add mayo, yellow and Dijon mustard, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and salt/pepper) Fill and top them on Valentine’s Day. I painted hearts with Sriracha, sprinkled capers on a second set, then used the remainder of my pancetta from my pot luck pasta recipe for a third variety.

lovely events breakfast stack

To satisfy meat eaters, make this impressive Breakfast Stack with sausage, cheese, sautéed veggies and potatoes. Recipe follows.  This can also be prepped ahead of time to allow for less labor and more snuggle time on this romantic day.

And for a decadent dessert, my go-to is a Chocolate Strawberry Panini, a recipe from my culinary crush, Giada De Laurentiis. I used my Panini press, but if you’ve got a Foreman Grill or a grill pan, those will do the trick too.


Skip the heart-themed setting and create a Valentine pink bubbly by dropping in a few Red Hots for color and just a hint of cinnamon flavor. Or brew up your love’s favorite blend, and finish it with the care and attention of a seasoned barista.

lovely event coffee

A trio of Valentine’s Day menus, delivered. My love to you all!!

Chocolate Penne: 1 lb. dried chocolate penne pasta, 1 jar prepared Alfredo sauce, or about 2 cups homemade, ½-1 c. asparagus, cut into bite sized pieces and blanched, 2-3 T. pancetta or bacon cut into 1 inch pieces, 1 Roma tomato, halved and sliced, pinch of nutmeg and cardamom (optional)

Cook pasta according to package directions, 7-10 min. In a sauté pan, fry up pancetta, then set aside. To the same pan, warm sauce and add nutmeg and cardamom. Toss the pasta in the sauce, and then add asparagus. Top with sliced fresh tomatoes and crispy pancetta.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus: 1 red pepper, olive oil and salt, 1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained, I lemon, juiced, 1 clove garlic, chopped, 1 T. parsley, chopped, ¼ t. sesame oil, ¼ c. water, ½ c. olive oil, salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425* Coat the red pepper generously with olive oil and salt. Roast in the oven until skin is slightly charred. Set aside to cool then peel the skin and remove seeds and stem. In a food processor, combine beans, garlic, lemon juice, parsley, sesame oil, water, salt/pepper and the red pepper (cut into strips).  Blend until smooth, gradually pouring in the olive oil.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Chill and serve.  

Breakfast Stack: ½ lb. breakfast sausage, ½ c. shredded cheddar cheese, 2 T. each, red and yellow bell peppers, 1 T. white onion, chopped, 1 small potato, shredded, 1 egg, beaten.

Preheat the oven to 350.* Brown the breakfast sausage and set aside. Shred the potato like hash browns and then wring out as much moisture as you can, with a cheese cloth or clean dish towel.  Season and pan fry until golden brown.  Set aside.  Combine chopped veggies, season and sauté until softened.  Generously coat a medium ramekin (about 10 oz. size) with cooking spray.  Sprinkle cheese on the bottom for the bottom layer.  Add a layer of sausage, then veggies, then potato.  Pour  in the beaten egg, making sure it filters through the layers. Finish with a final layer of cheese.  Bake 20-25 min.  Cover with a plate and flip to remove from ramekin and serve. 

Veggie U: Teaching kids to grow, harvest and thrive on fresh veggies

How many times have you tried to talk a child into eating their veggies?  It’s a monumental task in some households.  Equally daunting is the fight against childhood obesity.  But the green-thumbed folks at Veggie U and their partner teachers are helping fight that battle…one vegetable at a time. 

Veggie U set up

I came into contact with the non-profit while attending a speaker I featured in a previous post (Robyn O’Brien).  I was immediately drawn to their display of seedlings and indoor grow lights.  When I started inquiring about who they are and what they do, I knew it was something worth sharing.

Veggie U tasting

The mission of Veggie U is to teach kids about where vegetables come from, and how they grow.  And the idea is if they understand it better and take pride in cultivating them, they are more likely to eat them.

veggie u feast day

It was started by a family of farmers in Milan, Ohio…the same people behind The Chef’s Garden which focuses their output on the need of chefs.  Several local chefs are also involved in supporting the program, as it educates the next generation of restaurant-goers about good food.

Veggie U lesson plan

The organization provides schools with everything they’ll need for an indoor garden.  They ship the seeds, soil, grow lights, root viewers…even composting worms (a big hit among the 3rd grade boys, I’m told).  They provide 25 one hour science-based lessons that can be taught during designated plant science or health class time.  The classroom eventually harvests 17 different vegetables, showcasing them in a “feast day.”

Veggie U studying

“I have always been interested in helping my students make better choices about food and daily exercise and this was the greatest gift to have a program that was designed to do just that. To top it off, it was already aligned with the Ohio Academic Content standards-Extended version (which are used for students with learning disabilities). This was such a bonus as an educator, to have a complete comprehensive curriculum that was already aligned with the standards and had all the materials that you needed to teach sensory friendly lessons of such an important nature,” said Kristin Dickerhoff, Intervention Specialist at Murray Ridge School.

veggie u teacher

Dickerhoff’s classroom has students with Autism, many who have severe sensory issues and avoid various food textures and smells.  Those kids often fixate on a narrow list of foods and therefore don’t get proper nutrition.

“Having the Veggie University curriculum and the opportunity to show children hands on how “Good Food” reaches their plates was such a blessing.  I was completely blown away at how these precious students who on a typical day would only choose to munch on crunchy chips or soft yogurt were trying raw veggies during the first week’s “veggie Testing” lesson,” said Dickerhoff.

Veggie U comparing soil

Now that Veggie U is part of their routine, Dickerhoff has launched “Healthy Snack Wednesday” in their Primary wing of 50 students.  Each week every student in the wing gets a healthy snack prepared by her class and delivered to each classroom.  Her special needs kids use this opportunity to practice communication skills during drop off.

“I can’t say enough about how much this curriculum has changed the lives of each and every one of my students and how it has evolved into so much more,” said Dickerhoff.

veggie u shipping

Shipping is their number one expense.  Kits are put together by volunteers, but they run $450 for new kits, $225 for refills or renewals.  They operate through grants, corporate sponsors, fundraisers and sponsorship.  Only 6% of schools fund their own programs.

The take-aways are real.  Veggie U reports a 30% improvement in willingness to eat veggies among their graduates.  Students develop writing skills as they journal the process.  Even vocabulary skill are incorporated. (Examples: hypothesis, variable, conclusion, germinate)

Veggie U watering

Veggie U is now in 36 states and 6,500 classrooms, with more than 164,000 graduates.  They have indoor gardens in every Cleveland Metropolitan School District elementary building, as well as Toledo, Akron and Canton schools.  They’re currently trying to grow their presence in Hawaii, where 85% of their food is imported, hoping to encourage future farmers.