As a parent, I strive to avoid labels. I don't want my son to be limited by outside perceptions and categorization. I want him to be free to define himself rather than creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is one of the reasons why I avoid the p-word in my vocabulary like the plague.
My son might have a slightly more narrow definition of deliciousness than I do, but I don't call him, or any other kids, picky. He likes broccoli and blueberries and edamame and lots of other healthy foods. Some days it just seems a little more difficult than others to move beyond the stereotypical kid foods and ensure adequate nutritional intake. Because if I let him, he would undoubtedly eat macaroni and cheese for every meal.
Tips from the Trenches
• Move beyond unbleached, enriched white flour. That stuff is seriously unhealthy. Instead, bake with a blend of white whole-wheat flour, quinoa flour, almond flour, chickpea flour or whatever other healthy alternatives float your personal boat. I also mix in some ground flax seed or wheat germ with my flour mixes.
• Doctor the marinara. Secretly slipping veggies into kids' food is kosher for some and controversial for others. If you're not morally opposed, tomato sauce has a strong flavor that can cover up a little bit of tweaking. If you have a blender or food processor, you can easily boost the nutritional value of those noodles with a little sweet potato or spinach hidden in the sauce.
• Choose to buy healthy food. If you only have nutritious options in the refrigerator and cabinets, then that is what your kids will eat. Stock up on healthier varieties of your old favorites. At my house, for example, we like the Annie's organic macaroni and cheese made with five-grain noodles.
Ways to Get Your Kids Eating Healthier
• Include kids in growing food, grocery shopping, planning meals and cooking.
• Eat healthy, whole foods during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
• Experiment with different colors, flavors, textures and cultures.
• Model healthy eating habits.
• Include kids in "adult" meals and mealtimes from a young age.
• Keep exposing your kids to healthy foods.
• Avoid using junk food as a bribe to eat healthy food. Instead, develop a simple mantra such as "dinner comes before dessert," and serve more nutritious treats made with fresh fruits and whole grains on nights when there is more on the menu than just dinner.
• Pack your own healthy, whole-food snacks and cool water when you are out and about.
• Use cute alternative names for foods. Sounds dumb, but research says it works. My son asks for green jellybeans (otherwise known as peas) in his lunchbox.
• Use a selection of interesting tableware, such as superhero cups, princess bowls, construction-vehicle cutlery, funny-face plates or whatever else will excite your kid.
• Limit the intake of juice and non-water beverages. Get everyone their own reusable water bottle to drink from throughout the day.
• Think of creative ways to incorporate more nutrition into your family's menu without sacrificing taste. Try chocolate zucchini bread, apple carrot muffins, pumpkin pancakes or avocado pesto.
• Shop the perimeter of the grocery store for non-processed food.
• Don't fall into the artificial sweetener trap, especially with kids.
Black Bean Brownies
(I won't tell if you won't!)
1 can low sodium organic black beans, rinsed
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 large free-range eggs
3/4 cup of sugar of your choice (I use local honey)
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1/4 cup ground flax seed
3/4 cup fair trade chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Put the black beans, coconut oil, unsweetened cocoa powder, eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and the ground flax seed into a food processor. Process on high for 45 to 60 seconds.
Pour batter into a lightly buttered or nonstick-sprayed 9-inch by 9-inch pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips.
Bake for 27 to 30 minutes, depending on oven.
To serve, heat in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds to get the chocolate chips all melty. Enjoy with a glass of cold milk.
A Few Easy Substitutions
Replace This —> With This
White pasta —> Whole-grain pasta
White rice —> Brown rice
Sugar (when baking) —> Unsweetened applesauce
Fruit juice —> Water or unsweetened herbal tea
Fruit snacks —> Fresh fruit
Chips —> Homemade popcorn (for kids older than age 5)
French fries —> Sweet potato wedges
Books for Grownups
"The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution," by Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw Hill, 2011, $17)
"Deceptively Delicious," by Jessica Seinfeld (William Morrow, 2008, $14.99)
"Real Food for Healthy Kids," by Tanya Steel and Tracey Seaman (William Morrow, 2008, $29.95)
"The Sneaky Chef," by Missy Chase Lapine (Running Press, 2007, $20)
Books for Kids
"Good Enough to Eat," by Lizzy Rockwell (HarperCollins, 2009, $6.99)
"Kids' Fun and Healthy Cookbook," by Nicola Graimes (DK, 2007, $17.99)
"Food Play," by Joost Elffers and Saxton Freymann (Chronicle Books, 2006, $16.95)
"I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato," by Lauren Child (Candlewick, 2003, $6.99)