With children’s active lifestyles it’s hard to get them to sit for a meal, especially one that is healthy. The distraction of friends, sports, and SpongeBob often takes priority over eating. Rather than expecting my kids to sit for a five course meal, I have learned to make healthy eating part of our daily activities. Here are some ideas for adventurous meal planning for your busy family:
One of my favorite summer activities is gathering berries with my kids. Being out in the open air provides them with exercise as they learn about agriculture. Most orchards are open from early spring until late fall. Some have ray rides leading you to the berry fields while others offer U-pick for berry gathering. Check for which fruit is in season. Typically strawberries season starts in June. This is shortly followed by raspberry, cherry, peach, and blueberry season. As we head into fall, apples trees are overflowing and pumpkins are sprouting on the vines. I love gathering all types of fruit but my favorite is straight-off-the-vine blueberries. Whichever fruit strikes your fancy, even fickle fruit eaters cannot resist the aroma of a late summer harvest. During my numerous visits to the orchard, I have yet to see a child whose cheeks were not fuller than their buckets.
Visit a Farmer’s Market
If I take my kids shopping at the supermarket, they immediately head towards the candy aisle. But if I take them to a farmer’s market, they are immediately drawn to the colorful, eye-catching fruits and vegetables. The first time I took my son to the market I was impressed by the selections he made. My little “cookie monster” grabbed an eggplant off the shelf and gleefully put it in the cart. He was enamored by its purple color and insisted I make it for dinner that night. That evening, I honored his request. I put away the mac n’ cheese and served my two-year old son lightly breaded, sautéed eggplant. This is not to say I believe in depriving your kids of their favorites (it would be absolutely cruel to abolish chocolate from your household!) But I have learned my child’s eating habits stem from what foods my husband and I choose to buy for our family.
Set up a “grocery store" in your home
If your child dislikes shopping, bring the “store” to the comfort of your family room. Gather some empty cardboard boxes and set up shelves. Stock the boxes with bananas, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, bread, cereal, and other healthy choices. Make signs to label the sections of your grocery store. When you are finished setting up your store, start shopping. Use a baby stroller for your “cart.” Set up a check-out station with a play cash register and fake money. Place your groceries in paper bags. Carry your groceries “home” to your kitchen just in time to enjoy a hearty lunch.
Set up a taste testing station
When fall rolls around my “real job" as a stay-at-home mom winds down, and I head to my “day job” as a preschool teacher. For one of our daily lessons, I cut up apples for the kids to taste and decide which types they liked best. I used juicy red gala apples and tart green granny smith apples for the taste challenge. I placed them into two separate bowls and labeled one “sweet” and the other one “sour.” Even though most kids had a strong preference towards one type or the other, it was interesting to note the kids finished all of the apples on their plates. This lesson taught me children are more willing to eat foods when presented with a choice. Although it may be tempting for parents to dictate what our children should eat, it’s important to teach children to make healthy decisions, too.
Last summer, our kids were having an evening play date with our next door neighbors and did not want to come in for supper. My neighbor and I decided to create a “restaurant” in our driveway. We set up card tables and retrieved lawn chairs from our garages. My neighbor brought over some left over beef brisket, and I cut up some tomatoes and cucumbers. We were amazed at how well our children ate their dinners. My daughter, who refuses to eat any meat but hot dogs, devoured her beef sandwich. Her children, who normally will not touch veggies with a ten foot pole, readily polished off their plates of produce. Seeing what other families are having for dinner helps children realize parents are not being “mean” by insisting on healthy choices. And the best part is, healthy food tastes good, too!