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.

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.