Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tips and Tricks for Feeding Children

I believe there is a secret unwritten rule to cooking healthy meals for children.  It's called hide the nutrition in something they like to eat.  Am I right?  

The way we roll  with mealtime and trying to get our kids to eat healthy is as follows:

1) Hide Veggies in Everything and Anything

For example, here's what I put in my meatballs and meatloaf:

For every 2 pounds of meat (beef or turkey) I practically puree:
1 large onion
1 red pepper
2 carrots
5 cloves garlic
8 oz. sauteed mushrooms
2 big handfuls of spinach (or other leafy greens)

Then I throw those in the mixing bowl with the meat, add breadcrumbs and spices and 2 eggs and voila - healthy meatveggieballs!  And the kids love them!  The tomato sauce is another great place to hide more veggies (you can even pour some V-8 in there)!!

Of course this doesn't only apply to veggies, you can hide fruits in plenty of baked goods, a scoop of chocolate whey protein powder added to their milk, ground flax seeds and wheat flour can replace up to half of the white flour in a recipe without too much taste difference, gravy can be made by blending up the veggies that were roasted with a chicken or pot roast, greek yogurt stands in for sour cream, smoothies can be chock full of good stuff and the kids will never know!  

You get the point - deceive to nourish.

2) Call It Something Fun

When the kids were little we would tell them their spinach filled yogurt smoothies were "Irish Shakes" or that their fish sticks were "Princess Wands" or pretend that peas and carrots were Dora and Diego's favorite foods.  Don't be afraid to say things like "Superman might need a strong boy to help with his next mission, so you better eat your chicken!"  Whatever works to get the food doooooown.

3) The One Bite Rule
Simply put, they have to try one bite before deciding that they don't like it.  They can't tell just by looking at it.  No matter how much they insist that they can.

4) The Nothing Else Rule
What I make for their dinner is all they're getting.  If they don't eat what I put in front of them, they get nothing else to eat.  It's their choice to eat what's offered or go to bed hungry (and we reinforce that it's their choice).  We've had plenty of times that they have decided not to eat their veggies so they get nothing after dinner, which leads me to my next point.

5) Every Night is Dessert Night
We love dessert around here.  And sweet treats should be in rotation so that they are not a forbidden (therefore tempting) food.  We try to teach the kids a healthy attitude towards dessert by making about 4 out of 7 nights a week a healthy dessert.  Sliced bananas and strawberries, apples with peanut butter, grapes, yogurt, etc.  Then the other couple of nights are for the sweet treats - cookies, ice cream, cupcakes, etc.  I'm hoping they learn to see dessert as balanced and view nature's sweet treats (fruits) as a yummy dessert, and not something we force them to eat.  Also, knowing that dessert follows dinner is a great assistant in helping them finish their meal.

6) Manners Are a Must
These rules are not about nutrition at all, but we have found them extremely helpful.  First up, if you make something for dinner and the kids have nothing nice to say about it, they can go sit on the stairs until they can return to the table politely.  Secondly, my kids were constantly bopping out of their chairs before the meal was over. So we implemented the ask-to-be-excused rule and took away one minute from their daily TV show for each time they left their chair without asking to be excused.  They started sitting still very fast!

We continue to have some picky eaters and rude behaviors that go on around here, but these rules have helped us feel that we are doing our best to raise healthy kids.  I'd love to hear any tips and tricks you all have when it comes to feeding the masses!


  1. LOVE this! What else do you use your meat mixture for? Clare is allergic to tomatoes so I have to get creative!

  2. Good stuff. I like learning from veterans as we try to figure out this crazy parenthood thing.

  3. Love all of these! Re: #2- my mom used to trick us by calling carrot sticks "carrot candy." My siblings and I were suckers because it totally worked. :)

  4. These are all great rules to put in place! And I especially love the dessert night rule. I need to get better about making dessert. But the reason I'm bad about making it? Because I'm the one who usually ends up eating most of it. It calls out to me during the day and I can't resist. So my whole family suffers because I'm weak!

  5. I agree about the desserts.

    Letting kids help prepare the meals works here. Mine all love to mix and pour stuff and they love setting the table. I notice the days they help and set the table and make it fancy they are far better behaved and polite about things then the days they don't help.

    But mine choose to starve often. I totally do not understand that. I would rather eat something I don't like than starve. But, they would rather die than eat certain things.

    I think overall though things improve as they get older and just work themselves out. Dinner time now is usually pleasant but several years ago when everyone was little, it was a nightmare. It does get better ;)

  6. Great tips. We do a lot of that but I still admit dinnertime has lost all of its charm for me. My children and husband are such carb addicts. Come cook at my house please??

  7. Hi,
    Thank for your recipe! But will it ok if I add some more garlic? My child really likes garlic.

  8. My kids might not eat your food, but can I come over for supper? That looks sooo good!! I try to put ground flaxseed into smoothies, they always ask what's in it...and they can see the flecks.

    My 10 year old is my pickiest,(she's really the only picky one) as an infant, I told the doctor I couldn't get her to eat any veggies except Sweet potatoes (which she won't eat now) and he said "That attitude will take her far in life" That's all he said. She, as an infant, knew she didn't want veggies. How does that happen? She now, will eat corn and potatoes...nice, huh? Nice starchy ones, our little carb queen. She will eat no sauce on anything, so no tricking veggies into that....meatballs and meatloaf? Won't eat hamburger. Ever. She will eat chicken and turkey and even pork. (but not ground, like hamburger) My other kids eat pretty good, the 3 youngest girls love salads and veggies. We have kids a couple years older, right? We did the "one bite" thing for a couple years, and got so tired of the constant take over our meals control thing, the emphasis was so much on now we make what we make and there is almost always at least one thing she will eat and that's it. Like Taco night, she will put peanut butter on a softshell...That "one bite" thing was more to get her to try things I'd say in 2 years it might have worked on maybe 2 things. (hey, it's 2 more things she'll eat that she wouldn't before)

    Great topic!


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