Ah, the holidays. The ubiquitous plate of garishly decorated butter -- and sugar-laden cookies -- that seems to follow you everywhere. The Advent calendar that pops out an ever-larger chocolate every day for 25 days! Hanukkah's fried latkes piled high with sour cream, jelly doughnuts and so much more.
At the best of times, it can be hard to make sure kids are eating balanced meals with the right amounts of fruits and vegetables. In fact,show us a parent who brags their kid will eat everything, and we'll show you a parent who is, well, not 100 per cent acquainted with the truth.
It can be that much harder over the holidays when schedules are ignored and another lavish feast seems to always be right around the corner.
The reality is all children go through a variety of eating phases over time. Whether it's the growth spurt of an infant, the assertion of independence of a toddler or the insatiable appetite of a teenager, our kids' young growing bodies and minds can wreak havoc with mom's menu planning.
We've both had our struggles with one or more of our children at different times. One of the most baffling and frustrating challenges as a parent can be having a good eater who suddenly switches her eating habits for no apparent reason.
The trick for most parents is navigating these stages while still ensuring their children get their requisite servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Because let's face it, fruits, but especially vegetables, are usually the first casualty in most families' dinner table battles.
Brother and sister team Greg and Lori Heller of Toronto's interactive cooking studio and school, The Chef Upstairs, believe teaching kids to be hands-on in the kitchen is a powerful tool in getting kids to try and like different foods.
"I have seen a huge difference in the children who take classes and what they are willing to try," says Lori. "They watch the cooking shows and want to be like Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver."
Indeed, like many aspects of childhood, if you give kids a little ownership in the process, they might be more likely to participate in the finished product. So if they have a stake in menu planning, cooking and preparing meals, it can nudge them to be a little more adventurous with what they'll try.
However, Greg cautions against giving kids too much autonomy over meals and snacks. "I believe that parents who let their kids make adult decisions struggle with getting their children to eat properly," he says.
Here are some great tips from the Hellers to get your kitchen on track:
1. Don't be a junk food junkie. Limit soft drinks or bottled drinks (iced teas, energy drinks, vitamin water, etc.) to no more than once a week as a treat. Eliminate potato chips, Cheesies, Doritos or store-bought cookies from your pantry. Kids take the path of least resistance and will quickly make these bad snack foods part of their daily diet. Try making one day a week "junk food" day, where kids can eat whatever they like. As you eliminate foods high in sugar, salt and fat from their diets they will slowly stop craving these foods.
2. Get your children accustomed to drinking milk, water and natural limited amounts of 100 per cent fruit juice.
3. Keep plenty of fruits and vegetables cut up and available for your kids to snack on. Remember they will always eat what is easiest to reach.
4. Teach kids at a young age to enjoy cooking and making their own food. Make it easy for them to experiment by keeping safe, kid-friendly utensils in reach.
5. Avoid packaged and processed foods whenever possible.
THE GOOD NEWS: Edamame is full of protein and fibre. SNACK TIP: Buy frozen edamame beans and keep them in your office freezer, says registered dietician Diana Steele of Eating For Energy in Vancouver, B.C. Pop them in the microwave and add cherry tomatoes for a quick and wholesome snack.
THE GOOD NEWS: Cucumber is packed with vitamin K (needed for strong bones) and low-fat cheese is full of calcium. SNACK TIP: Steele recommends making mini cucumber sandwiches by taking low-fat cheese and turkey and wedging them in between two slices of cucumbers — the kids will also love this one.
THE GOOD NEWS: Low calories and tons of fresh fruit. SNACK TIP: Start a smoothie club at work. Steele recommends having one person make smoothies at the office for everyone in the club once a week. Keep this role rotating and try flavours like mixed berries and tropical fruit.
THE GOOD NEWS: Apples can boost your immune system and natural peanut butter is full of protein. SNACK TIP: Dip sliced apple pieces in plain Cheerios for a crunchy snack.
THE GOOD NEWS: Eaten in portions, homemade trail mix can be packed with fibre, according to MyFitnessTrainer.com. SNACK TIP: For kids, Steele recommends making a homemade trail mix with seeds and dried fruits (avoid nuts because of allergies) and for yourself, add in popcorn or even whole wheat pretzels.
THE GOOD NEWS: When made at home, muffins are low in fat and packed with healthy oats and dried fruits or vegetables. SNACK TIP: No, we're not talking about the store-bought kind or the sugary ones you pick up from a bakery. If you still want to snack on muffins, Steele suggests making a batch of zucchini pumpkin muffins. Check out a recipe here.
THE GOOD NEWS: If you are buying tortillas from the store, avoid ones with excessive salt, sugar and corn, according LiveStrong.com. For the most part, homemade tortillas are not as bad as the store-bought kind. SNACK TIP: Take a whole wheat tortilla and spread almond butter on top. For an extra nutritional boost, wrap it around an banana. This is the perfect afternoon snack, Steele says.
THE GOOD NEWS: Greek yogurt is a great source of calcium, protein and probiotics (which is good for your digestive system), according to SheKnows.com. SNACK TIP: Mix berries or granola with a cup of sugar-free Greek yogurt, Steele says.
THE GOOD NEWS: Apples in general have been known to prevent types of cancer and sugar-free apple sauce is a great fibre booster in the morning, according to FitDay.com. SNACK TIP: Sprinkle crushed graham crackers over sugar-free apple sauce.
THE GOOD NEWS: Forget butter and salt, making popcorn in an old-fashioned pot over the stove with seasoning and a touch of oil can actually be a healthy snack. SNACK TIP: For a good evening snack, mix over-the-stove popcorn with flax seed oil and a bit of your favourite seasoning.
Here are some videos of great veggie-driven recipes our kids like. Maybe yours will too!
*Adapted from a column originally published in Parents Canada magazine, March 2012
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