"A parent's job is really to create the structure and have regular meals but let kids be in charge of their eating," says the Toronto-area food educator and founder of Rainbow Plates.
"Always keep introducing new foods, but then get out of the way and let them develop their own competence around eating, develop their own independent ability to select food, to be relaxed around food and to be able to read their body's cues on 'I'm hungry' or 'I'm full.'"
Here are some recipes developed by Nezon for parents and children to try together at home.
RAINBOW SALAD PLATTERS
Using vegetables or fruits or a mixture, kids can create their own tasty platters.
Buy food in a variety of colours. Include familiar favourites and one or two new varieties, such as purple cabbage or fennel (kids love that it tastes like licorice.) Encourage the kids to help you wash, chop, spiralize and peel. Give each kid a plate to make their own pictures or patterns with the food and then provide a dip — hummus for the veggies, for example, or a yogurt-based dip for fruit.
Vegetable suggestions: Sweet corn, red sweet peppers, cucumbers, raw peas, beans, avocado, carrots, cherry tomatoes, purple cabbage, lettuces, sprouts.
Fruit suggestions: Bananas, oranges, kiwi, blueberries, blackberries, star fruit, dragon fruit, grapefruit, apples, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, plums.
EASY YOGURT DIP FOR FRUIT
50 ml (1/4 cup) plain yogurt or sour cream
5 ml (1 tsp) maple syrup, honey or brown sugar
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Stir well to combine and serve.
ORANGE AND GREEN (PUMPKIN AND ZUCCHINI) MUFFINS
Kids of any age can help with the mashing, grating, spooning, measuring, dumping and stirring to make these colourful muffins. Little ones love to sprinkle the pumpkin seeds on top and let them peek in the oven window so they can watch the tops rise like magic.
Use this as a basic muffin recipe and get creative with your own colourful combo of mashed and grated fruit and/or veggies. Try bananas, applesauce, pears, apples, carrots, even parsnips. The recipe doubles easily and the muffins freeze well.
50 ml (1/4 cup) canola oil
75 ml (1/3) cup sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla
125 ml (1/2 cup) pumpkin puree or mashed cooked squash or sweet potato
125 ml (1/2 cup) grated zucchini
250 ml (1 cup) whole-wheat pastry flour (or 125 ml/1/2 cup each regular whole-wheat and white flour)
2 ml (1/2 tsp) baking soda
5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder
5 ml (1 tsp) cinnamon
2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground ginger
125 ml (1/2 cup) chopped nuts or raisins (optional)
Raw pumpkin seeds, for garnish
Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F).
In a medium bowl, combine eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla, pumpkin and zucchini. Mix well.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and spices.
Add dry ingredients to wet and stir gently until combined. Add nuts, if desired.
Spoon into greased muffin tins and top each with a few pumpkin seeds for decoration.
For mini muffins, bake for 8 to 10 minutes. For regular muffins, bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Tops will turn golden.
Makes 12 mini or 6 large muffins.
RED TOMATO SOUP WITH ALPHABET NOODLES AND "SPRINKLES"
Soup is a flavourful way to expose young children to a variety of vegetables and the alphabet noodles make them quickly forget the soup is unfamiliar.
You can serve this as is or with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream, or with some pesto stirred in. Give your kids a variety of options to sprinkle on top or stir in.
15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped
5 ml (1 tsp) dried basil
Pinch ground cloves (optional)
1 can (796 ml/28 oz) whole plum tomatoes
1 can (796 ml/28 oz) crushed plum tomatoes
500 ml (2 cups) sodium-reduced chicken stock, water or vegetable stock
15 ml (1 tbsp) sugar or honey
250 ml (1 cup) cooked alphabet noodles (or any other cooked grain such as quinoa, rice, corn kernels or barley)
Freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh parsley or other herbs and grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish
In a medium heavy saucepan, heat oil on medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and sauté for a few minutes until softened.
Add garlic, basil and cloves, if using, and sauté a few minutes more, until fragrant.
Add tomatoes, stock and sugar and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and simmer at least 15 to 20 minutes (longer if you have time).
After removing from heat, add cooked noodles or grains and stir. (If preferred, soup can be pureed to desired consistency before noodles or grains are added.)
Season with freshly ground pepper and top each serving with "sprinkles" of parsley and Parmesan.
Makes 6 servings.
CHOCOLATE PUMPKIN OAT GRANOLA BARS
You can use different kinds of cereals or add dry fruits, nuts, chia seeds or whatever you have in the pantry to these versatile and kid-friendly bars.
500 ml (2 cups) large-flake oats
125 ml (1/2 cup) raw pumpkin seeds, sliced nuts, sunflower seeds or coconut
125 ml (1/2 cup) mini chocolate chips
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) crispy rice cereal or other puffed whole-grain cereal
15 ml (1 tbsp) brown sugar
75 ml (1/3 cup) honey
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
50 ml (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 ml (1/2 tsp) vanilla extract
In a large bowl, stir oats, seeds, chocolate chips and rice cereal together; set aside.
In a small saucepan, melt brown sugar, honey, salt, cinnamon and butter together over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Reduce heat to low and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.
Pour melted mixture over dry ingredients and mix well to melt chocolate and moisten all ingredients. Pour oat mixture into a greased 20-cm (8-inch) square pan and press down evenly with back of a spoon.
Let cool in fridge for at least 1 hour before cutting into 2.5-by-5-cm (1-by-2-inch) bars. Wrap bars individually and store in fridge.
Makes 32 bars.
KITCHEN SINK SEEDY SNACK COOKIES
These cookies are a great way to use up ripe bananas, are low in added sugar and packed with protein, fibre and heart-healthy fats from all the nuts and seeds. You can substitute crispy rice or other puffed cereal for some of the oats to give extra crunch. These freeze well.
1 large or 2 small bananas, mashed
125 ml (1/2 cup) peanut butter or seed butter
50 ml (1/4 cup) maple syrup
50 ml (1/4 cup) hemp seeds
50 ml (1/4 cup) chia seeds
30 ml (2 tbsp) sesame seeds
50 ml (1/4 cup) raw pumpkin seeds
50 ml (1/4 cup) flaked unsweetened coconut
50 ml (1/4 cup) mini chocolate chips
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) large-flake oats
30 ml (2 tbsp) whole-wheat flour
2 ml (1/2 tsp) baking powder
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
5 ml (1 tsp) cinnamon
Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F).
In a large bowl, mash bananas. Stir in peanut butter, egg and maple syrup until well blended.
Add seeds, coconut and chocolate chips and stir until combined. Mix in oats.
Put flour in a small bowl and stir in baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add this mixture to batter and stir until evenly distributed.
Put spoonfuls of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and flatten each one with the back of a spoon until cookies are the size and shape you want. These cookies don't rise or spread much during baking.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until nicely browned. Let cool on a rack.
Makes 8 to 10 jumbo or 20 to 30 kid-sized cookies.
Source: Janet Nezon, www.rainbowplate.com