Finding dinners that make every family member happy is a feat that many of us moms and dads battle daily. As kids get older and gain their "food independence," it often gets trickier and trickier to please fickle food preferences. While likes and dislikes may change on a weekly basis, some things should be consistent. Healthy food options. Provide, provide, provide. Do not let your kids' defiance beat you down. It is your home, and you decide the culture of it, not them. Make your home a healthy one. Even if your kids choose to not eat these foods now, being exposed to them will pay off. I often tell my clients that even if their children don't love spinach now, keep providing. Years from now, they'll sleep well now knowing their kid is choosing spinach in the college cafeteria.
My client recently said to me, "I have been doing what you said and putting veggies on Stella's plate every night. Even though she doesn't ever touch them, I put them there every night! Then, one night we were super rushed and I just gave the kids baked chicken tenders and leftover rice, and she said, 'Hey, mommy where are my veggies?'" My response? "Excellent progress!"
But what do you do when they just aren't "biting?" Try getting your kids involved—it works. Get those little rugrats involved in preparing, shopping, and cooking! If you haven't included your children before, make 2013 the year you do. Getting your kids engaged in the kitchen can help improve their health and reduce mealtime stress (for you and them)—not to mention its educational value. Showing your children the different ingredients in a meal makes them more aware and interested, and it just may lead to eating new foods.
Besides involving my kids in the kitchen, another must in my home is family meals. While they may seem like a way of the past, I'm a firm believer in sticking with this tradition, no matter how busy we are. Studies have shown that family meals have plenty of benefits, especially for children. Some research shows that kids who eat at least five dinners per week with their families were at a lower risk of developing poor eating habits, weight problems, and alcohol and substance abuse. These children performed better in school when compared to their peers, had better conversational skills, and learned proper manners. Schedule your family meals for the week, and remember that they don't have to be dinner. In our house, we're partial to the weekend brunch.
As a Boston native, I braved my fair share of brutal winters as a kid, but having a hot bowl of chili after a long, cold day made it all a little easier. Now I share this tradition with my kids during the brisk, gray New York days. Rex, Maizy, and I are all big fans of this vegetarian chili, made with fiber-rich beans, fresh vegetables, and flavorful spices. Many children tend to avoid beans (maybe it's because of that little ditty "beans, beans they're good for your heart, the more you eat them the more you..." you know the rest), but this chili is a great way to introduce these foods to your kids. Plus, it's super easy to get them involved, and as a bonus, it teaches them that meat-free meals can be yummy too. We love to gather around the kitchen table, ladle out this steaming chili, and swap stories from the day. The smell alone will have your kids asking for more, and hopefully your family can create warm memories around this recipe just like mine has.
[See Smart Snacking for Kids]
● ¾ cup onion, chopped
● 3 cloves garlic, minced
● 1 teaspoon olive oil
● 2 tablespoons chili powder
● ½ teaspoon basil
● ½ teaspoon oregano
● ½ teaspoon cumin
● 1 ½ cup zucchini, chopped finely
● ½ cup yellow squash, chopped finely
● 1 cup carrots, finely chopped
● 42 ounce canned low-sodium tomatoes, diced
● 1 can (16 ounces) light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
● 2 cans (16 ounces each) dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
● Cheddar cheese for topping, optional
1 In a large stockpot, saute onion and garlic in olive oil. Cook until soft (several minutes).
2 Add chili powder, basil, oregano, and cumin to the stockpot and mix.
3 Stir in zucchini, squash, and carrots; blend well. Cook for 1-2 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally.
4 Add tomatoes and kidney beans.
5 Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until thick.
6 If desired, add cheddar cheese to each serving of chili before serving.
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Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice based in New York City, and Nutritious Life Meals, a gourmet, healthy, daily diet delivery program available across the country. She is a member of Women's Health Magazine's advisory board and has authored Slim Calm Sexy Diet, The O2 Diet, and The Snack Factor Diet. Her fourth book, The New You and Improved Diet, will be released in December. Her expertise is regularly featured on the Today show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live, among others, and she hosts "A Little Bit Better" on YouTube's Livestrong Woman channel. Read more of Keri's tips every day on Facebook!