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Food for Thought: Getting Kids to Eat Right

Moms Council members talk about their food favorites when it comes to feeding their picky eaters.

Does every meal turns into a food fight with your child?

Parents can often feel like short-order cooks when it comes to pleasing their picky eaters. The thought that always seems to linger in the back of parents' minds: Is my child getting an adequate amount of vitamins and nutrients to remain healthy?

Ninety-five percent of fussy eaters are between the ages of 2 and 4, and according to a study cited in a New York Times article, children’s aversions to trying new foods are mostly inherited.

Whatever may be the cause of picky eaters, the Castro Valley Moms Council weighs in on solutions.

CVP: How do you get kids to eat healthy foods (especially veggies and protein)?

Sophie Taylor: I'm struggling in this area as my son is somewhat picky. I frequently find myself cooking separate meals to ensure that he gets his protein. He gets a fair amount of protein from milk, but my biggest worry is iron, which is most easily absorbed from meat products. I've been known to hide veggies in his food, such as shredded carrots in meat sauce for spaghetti. I also give him multi-vitamins to help ensure that he gets what he needs.

Jamie Ireland: I did learn a trick: Put veggies on the plate in cooked form and raw form to see which they will eat. My 6-year-old eats everything, but my 3-year-old likes raw much better because she likes the crunch. We have salad with pretty much every dinner and sometimes that is all she eats, so I really can't complain. I know that you need to give a type of food to them many times before they will eat it. Sometimes just letting it sit on the plate can be a challenge, but maybe they will end up touching it, then gett it past the lips, then eventually eat it.

With proteins, I have found my younger daughter doesn't really like too many sauces. For her, plain is better. She usually eats small, cut-up pieces. Or we give them our favorite line: If you aren't hungry enough to eat the food on your plate, then you aren't hungry enough for other food. 

Kendra Galordi: When my kids were younger, from the time they began eating solid food, I provided only organic foods. It was much easier then because our family was smaller and the kids ate much less. Today, with a growing family of five, buying only organic is much more expensive and difficult, but I do my best. When they were young, I would take every veggie in the house and make a puree in the food processor and add it to everything. It was great in pizza sauce, pasta sauce, in quesadillas, eggs, muffins, etc. In addition, I have always served veggies so my kids would be used to them. They still eat veggies every day but they are much more picky about which ones. We eat a salad at least once a day.

I have always believed that even if kids refuse to eat certain foods, keep serving them, because eventually they will eat it. If you eliminate each food they refuse, you find yourself with only two or three foods that your kids will eat. I wish I could say that I serve healthy food all of the time because that is such an important value to me, but the truth is that I am a busy working mom of three and I am not the best meal planner, so we have a few "go to" meals, and many of them involve some sort of bread and cheese.

Dana Leipold: I've discovered that the best way to get my kids to eat healthy is for me to eat healthy. Not a lot of moms want to hear that, but I find it works for my kids. With that said, it is tough to get my kids to try new things. They tend to be creatures of habit when it comes to food. Our rule of thumb is try something three separate times before you decide whether you like it or not.

For example, we have been trying to get more fish into our weekly dinners, but the first time I presented my kids with tilapia, they looked at me like I was serving them dirt. I also had some of their old stand-bys on the plate, too, like rice with mixed veggies (broccoli is a family favorite). I told them to try three bites and if they didn't like it, they didn't have to eat it. Then I served it again the next week. They were not as taken aback the second time. I continued to serve it as a weekly dish, and now they eat it with no complaints. It helps to serve the food in a "fun" way. We now eat the tilapia in fish tacos and they really like it.

CVP: Any favorite recipes?

Sophie Taylor: Breaded chicken nuggets (not deep fried), meatballs and mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade cheeseburgers, corn on the cob, boiled carrots, hummus (not sure why my son likes that), mac and cheese (he wants it for breakfast, too). He loved any kind of cheese, including blue cheese.

Jamie Ireland: We lightly steam veggies or sauteed greens with ginger and soy sauce. I make spinach cheese squares.

Kendra Galordi: Here are some of the staples in our house:

  • Veggie and chicken potsticker stir fry with rice or rice noodles.
  • Chicken quesadillas, fajitas, taco salad (or Mexican food in general)
  • Rice pasta with sauce, chicken sausage and broccoli (or red sauce with ground turkey)
  • Chicken and vegetable soup with garlic bread
  • Panini sandwiches with salad
  • Pizza and salad
  • Mac and cheese with green beans
  • And of course...eating out!

Lauren Edwards: The other day, I made a lovely veggie pie with caraway seeds and dill for me and my husband (The Moosewood Cookbook), which I knew my almost-11-year-old wouldn't eat because she likes bland food. So she helped me make her a personalized "quiche" in a mini-loaf pan: broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, eggs, salt, with wheat-flour pie crust.

She eats salad greens (including arugula, endive, peppergrass, red chicory) as finger food, treating each leaf as an hors' d oeuvre in and of itself. No dressing needed. She also eats nori (Japanese seaweed usually used to make sushi) like potato chips.

Frozen blueberries are a favorite dessert. She pours them straight from the freezer bag into a drinking cup, and relishes the resulting purple teeth and lips.

CVP: What are your default meals and are you satisfied with them?

Sophie Taylor: I would say my usual go-to meal is spaghetti with meat sauce and meatballs, and just meat and potatoes in general. I don't have a sense of culinary imagination, so could really use some help in this area. I try a lot of new recipes, but few generally get into rotation. I recently went to the bookstore and picked up three new cooking books to get some ideas.

Jamie Ireland: Rice with tofu and sauteed greens. When I have leftover veggies or meat, I get a pizza dough from Trader Joe's and make a pizza or I take a tube of ready-made polenta and layer it with sauce, cheese, veggies, protein and bake it. It makes a lasagna-type dish that the kids usually eat up.

Kendra Galordi: The lunches I pack for the kids always include one fruit, one veggie (carrot sticks, celery, cut-up cucumber, small tomatoes, etc.), a snack such as yogurt, nuts or a granola bar, and a main item with a protein (turkey, salami, PB & J sandwiches, cheese, salami and crackers, left-over dinner, quesadillas, bagel pizzas, etc.).

I make all of my pancakes and waffles from scratch so I can use whole grains, flax and high-protein ingredients without added sugar and hydrogenated oils. 

When shopping I make sure to look at labels. It is easy enough to buy healthy foods if you look at the labels. For example, crackers and chips at the supermarket are loaded with hydrogenated oils, MSG, sugar, etc. However, at Trader Joe's you can buy crackers and chips that taste just as good, but do not have those added ingredients.

Lastly, we drink mostly water. I do not serve soda to my kids and very little juice (I prefer fresh fruit for the fiber, rather than drinking sugars). We all have a sweet tooth, so rather than eating or drinking sugary foods, we save sweets for a treat after a healthy-ish meal. My kids and I have started baking with agave and applesauce rather than sugar and it's very good!

Lauren Edwards: Apple slices with peanut butter for breakfast, well-steamed broccoli and baby bok choy with nutritional yeast on top at dinner. (A playmate now asks for yeast, too—"Can I have some of the yellow stuff?")

Kathy Mathisen June 01, 2011 at 09:19 PM
One way I have gotten my kids to try things again which they didn't like before was to ask them to see if "their tastebuds had changed." I tell them that when I was little, I didn't like strawberries (which they cannot fathom), and that the only cheese I liked was American. Needless to say, my own tastebusd have changed!
Dana Leipold June 02, 2011 at 08:22 PM
That's a good point, Kathy. My daughter used to not like mushrooms but now she loves them. Maybe I can use that example to get my son to try new things.

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