I grew up in a middle-class Midwestern family during the 60s. Back then, many families lived off one income and had to stretch every dollar. To offset expenses, my mom planted a garden and we picked fresh fruits and veggies before each meal. At the end of each season, we spent countless hours preserving remaining crops so we would have homegrown food throughout the fall and winter months.
At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to grow up on healthy foods. It wasn’t until I had my daughter that I understood the precious gift mom had given me. Not only did she instill healthy eating habits, she also taught me how to grow my own food and how to cook on a budget.
Helping kids develop healthy food relationships is one of the biggest challenges parents face today. Everywhere you turn there are advertisements for convenience foods, grab-and-go foods, sugar-laden foods, and the ever-popular fast foods packaged with plastic toys.
Once kids travel down the junk food path it can be difficult to rein them in. However, there are a few tricks that can help kids develop a desire to choose nutritional foods over junk food. Encouraging kids to dig in the dirt and play with their food are two strategies that rarely fail.
Dig in the Dirt
One of the best strategies to spark an interest in whole foods is what I refer to as ‘Seeds to Plate’. I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t enjoy planting a seed and watching it sprout. One of my fondest childhood memories was helping mom plant our family garden each spring.
Every day I would check to see if a plant had poked its head out of the dirt. Watching the plants grow and produce vegetables and fruits was the highlight of my day. I loved those plants and cared for them every day to make certain they had water, vitamins and minerals. Tending to their daily needs helped me develop a healthy relationship with, and respect for, the foods I grew.
While many families have limited gardening space, herbs, vegetables, and fruits can be grown in containers placed on the front porch or rear deck. Encouraging kids to choose their favorite seeds and helping them plant in container gardens is a great way to spark their interest in whole foods. When kids tend and harvest foods they have personally nurtured they develop a great sense of accomplishment and pride.
Ignite Culinary Creativity
Another way to help kids develop healthy food relationships is to bring them into the kitchen. Most kids love to help their parents prepare a meal. Depending on their age, kids can help chop vegetables, bake cookies, make desserts, or cook an entire meal.
Teaching kids how to cook is one of the greatest gifts parents can give. Cooking with your children not only provides bonding opportunities, but also provides them with life-long skills.
One of my favorite cookbooks is “Gadgetology: Kitchen Fun with Your Kids” by Pam Abrams. This award-winning book teaches kids about nutrition, math, and food history through easy-to-prepare recipes and fun food experiments. Gadgetology also includes food handling and safety techniques, along with food crafts.
Incorporating high-tech gadgets can make cooking in the kitchen fun and entertaining. One of my favorite gadgets is the Demy Digital Recipe Reader. This electronic tool lets users select an ingredient and locate hundreds of recipes that use that specific ingredient. This digital cookbook provides endless possibilities for your kids’ favorite food choices while igniting culinary creativity.
Playing with Food
Who doesn’t enjoy playing with food? My sister and I used to build mashed potato forts and flick peas at one another from behind the white walls. Mom wasn’t too thrilled about the pea flicking, but we often convinced her to join in the fun. While I’m not encouraging food fights, there are plenty of healthy ways to play with food.
For example, celery is one of the most versatile foods to play with. It can be topped with peanut butter and raisins or cream cheese and cranberries. Celery can be turned into a dessert by adding apple butter and apple bits and sprinkled with cinnamon. Give your kids a few stalks of celery along with diced fruit, nuts, and various condiments and let them indulge their creative side.
Mini pizzas are a great way to play with food. Kids can create personal mini pizzas using freshly chopped vegetables and freshly grated cheese. They can make dessert pizzas using jellies, jams, fruit curds, peanut butter, cream cheese, chopped nuts, chocolate spreads or chocolate chips.
A really great source for teaching kids about nutrition and having fun in the kitchen is Rachael Ray’s YUM-O! website. Kids can find a bounty of recipes submitted by other kids, submit their own recipes, and play interactive food games including food trivia, memory cards, and matching games.
Teaching kids how to make sound food choices is a priceless gift that can reward them with abundant health and plenty of brain fuel. Helping kids to develop healthy food relationships can reduce their risk of diabetes and obesity and provide them with nutritional guidelines that can be passed along to their children.
Gadgetology: Kitchen Fun with Your Kids
The “Demy” Digital Recipe Reader