Healthy Children - September 2015

Teaching Kids to Eat Good Food

When her three children were in elementary school, my friend, Cindy Davis of Springfield, had a great solution for getting them to try new foods. Cindy would go through the coupons, take them to the grocery store on Sunday afternoons and each one would get to pick out a fruit or vegetable that was new to them. Later that evening, Cindy would include it in the week’s meal plan.

“I’d pick an aisle at the grocery store and tell them they could choose anything they wanted – as long as they hadn’t eaten it before,” said Davis. “Sometimes it would be something fresh, sometimes it would be canned.”

When the night came for one of the children’s new food, each one would have to count and eat the number of their age.

“If they were seven, they’d have to eat seven peas, even if they didn’t like them,” said Davis. “When they turned a year older, they’d have to eat eight.”
It worked. Her children, now ages 34, 32 and 28, will eat nearly any fruit or vegetable, from beets to mushrooms.

“Even Alexis [her youngest], who was the least likely to be a cook, is now cooking up a storm. Christmas this year, we were all together, and we cooked the entire day. We made Dover Sole, a cheese soufflé was wonderful. Chris [her oldest son] always loved to chop and stir and season from a young age. Now, he frowns on using recipes; he loves to experiment.”

Davis did her part – planning family meals, including her children and giving them “ownership” of a meal, and teaching them to enjoy the experience of trying new foods.

Today, they still have a love for new foods.

Davis also made family meals a priority – even with school activities and work schedules.

Why is it so important to eat together as a family? According to The Family Dinner Project, researchers have been looking into the benefits of eating together as a family for more than 15 years and have confirmed that sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. In fact, regular family dinners are associated with lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and better self-esteem – not to mention lower rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.

With all the reasons why we should eat together, still many American families are challenged with meeting this goal. Time is an issue as well as budget. Here are some simple strategies to help make family meals together a success.

  1. Put your family first – Look at your schedules and try to plan several meals together as a family for the week. Remember that meals don’t necessarily have to be the dinner meal. If breakfast is the best time to eat together as a family, that is perfectly ine.
  2. Make it simple – Meals do not need to be difficult to prepare. Planning ahead is key. Take inventory of your pantry and fridge and see what you already have on hand. Check your local grocery store ads to see if there are additional food items you can purchase on sale to complement the items you already have on hand to complete your family meals. This will help save you time and money. Write your meal plan in your calendar or on a chalkboard to display for the family so everyone knows what is being served throughout the week.
  3. Make it fun – Mealtime together as a family can be stressful – but if you keep in mind eating together as a family can be fun and a way for the family to reconnect, the stress will melt away and your family will learn to enjoy mealtime together.
  4. Get the kids involved in choosing menu options and with meal preparation. They can even get involved in the grocery shopping.
  5. Come up with a menu theme for the week such as “Mexican Week” or “Grilling Week.”
  6. Have a friendly cooking challenge between members of the family to see who is the better family chef.
  7. Play a game or tell a story that relates to the food items you prepared for meal.
  8. Explore a mystery food of the week and incorporate that food into several dinner dishes.
  9. Pretend your dining room is a restaurant. You can even use special dinnerware and tablecloths to add to the ambiance of the room to make it an extra-special meal. Have the kids pretend they are waiters/waitresses.They can take orders and help serve dinner.


Parmesan-crusted chicken tenders

Serves 4. Active time: 10 minutes | Total: 30 minutes
• Canola or olive oil cooking spray
• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 large eggs
• 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
• 1 cup coarse dry breadcrumbs, preferably whole-wheat
• 1 pound 100 percent natural fresh chicken tenders
• 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup marinara sauce, heated

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a large wire rack on a baking sheet and coat with cooking spray.
  2. Place flour in a shallow dish.
    Lightly beat eggs in another shallow dish. Combine Parmesan and breadcrumbs in a third shallow dish. Toss tenders with Italian seasoning, garlic powder and salt in a medium bowl. Coat each tender in lour, shaking off any excess. Dip in egg and let any excess drip off. Then roll in the breadcrumb mixture. Place the tenders on the prepared rack. Generously coat the top of each tender with cooking spray.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn each tender over and coat with cooking spray. Continue baking until the outside is crisp and the tenders are cooked through, about 10 minutes more. Serve the tenders with marinara sauce for dipping.


Zucchini muffins

Makes 24 servings
• nonstick cooking spray
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose lour
• ¾ cup almond flour
• 1 cup packed brown sugar
• ¾ cup oat or wheat bran
• 3 tbsp. chia or flax seeds
• 2 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
• ¾ cup buttermilk
• 1/3 cup cinnamon applesauce
• 2 tsp. vanilla extract
• 3 cups grated zucchini, drained (about 2 medium)
• Chopped walnuts, optional

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly coat mini muffin pan with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flours, brown sugar, oat bran, chia seeds, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon; set aside.
  3. In another large bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, applesauce and vanilla. Stir in zucchini, mixing just until combined. Stir in flour mixture just until combined. Do not over-stir.
  4. Spoon 1 tbsp. or batter into each muffin cup. If desired, top with walnuts. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove muffins to a wire rack. Cool completely. Repeat with remaining batter.