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
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 meat
veggieballs! 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!