Over the past few years momentum has been gained in the fight against diet-related diseases. Health food and vitamin sections are multiplying rapidly as the reality of processed food repercussion sets in. This movement, while indicating a growing number of people interested in more healthy living, has also given rise to a loud counter-voice. There is a cultural consciousness that says healthy foods are unpleasant to eat, and that we should rather live life to the fullest by indulging in the fatty, salty, and sweet than torture ourselves with the drudgery of nutrition.
Foods that are good for you don’t have to be bad for the taste buds; I think we all know that deep down. Yet there’s popular belief that making healthy food taste delicious, or even decent, involves Herculean feats unrealistic of modern man. There is also a belief that only the wealthy can afford to eat well. These are misconceptions that must be dismantled if the movement against unnecessary disease and death is to have effect. The best place to start this revolution of dietary consciousness is at home with your children.
If you’re struggling to convince a picky child to pick better foods, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, be gentle in your methods and stay close to your child’s comfort zone initially. Expecting a child to transition from boxed mac-n-cheese to a vegetable stir-fry over night, for instance, may be unrealistic. Here you’ll read about two ways to comfortably introduce new and “strange” foods into a diet. Second, children’s taste buds differ from yours. HowStuffWorks tells us that kids have a heightened sense of taste for sweet foods. Their tongues sometimes steer them in an unhealthy direction. While this fact may appear to doom your efforts, I’ll tell you a few ways in which it can actually be used to assist you.
There are two main methods of incorporating new foods into a picky eater’s diet: 1) Take the person’s favorite dishes and add a healthy twist to them and 2) take familiar, well-liked ingredients and make them the focus of new themes. For an example of the first approach, let’s take macaroni and cheese. If you’re accustomed to the boxed variety or using processed cheese food in a homemade version, I recommend trying this Baked Macaroni and Cheese Recipe featuring cottage cheese, sour cream and the cheese(s) of your choice. It may sound strange, but it is as cheesy and creamy as other versions and tastes even better (I think). You may want to mash the cottage cheese up a bit before adding it to the other ingredients so your child is not turned off by the chunks. Add ham and vegetables to this dish if you want.
The second approach involves a bit of creativity. Recipe-by-ingredient websites like Supercook are helpful. I went to the site and thought of something I loved as a child, mashed potatoes, and something I did not enjoy, broccoli. I typed these two in and a slew of recipes incorporating the two were displayed. You can even choose to emphasize one ingredient, which I did with the potatoes. You’re bound to find inspiration here. Another example is to take an familiar favorite, like potatoes, and make them in an entirely unfamiliar way. Curries are great vehicles for introducing new flavors and ingredients into a diet. Of course, remember that we’re not straying too far from comfort zones; avoid super hot curries. Start with something simple and mild that features just about any savory ingredient your child enjoys. Curries often have the familiar consistency of a stew, which is inviting to kids. They are also full of spices that smell fantastic!
Making Sweetness An Assistant
One of the best lessons you can teach your child is that sweetness doesn’t have to come from refined sugar and corn syrup. There are naturally sweet foods available that not only gratify the cravings of the tongue, but fortify the body.
I was an avid vegetable hater as a child. The only ones I loved to eat were beets. My parents brought out the sweetness of this vegetable in various ways, and it tasted more like dessert to me. I liked them just fine with a dollop of butter, but my favorite way to eat beets was in an orange sauce. You can find many different recipes for this preparation, and don’t be afraid to make substitutions. If a recipe calls for sugar, try adding a little honey instead, or leave it out and see how you like it with just the sweetness of the orange and beet. If orange beets are a hit at your table, you can eventually move toward other similar preparations, such as beet and orange salad, or an orange vinaigrette as opposed to a butter sauce. Just start simple and see where it leads you.
Zucchini breads, banana breads and carrot cakes are age-old ways of incorporating nutritious ingredients into delicious sweet treats. Unfortunately, many recipes for these potentially healthy foods are loaded with fats and refined sugars, which cancels out the benefits. This is where substitution comes into play. Here is a list of my favorite, tried and true substitutions for baked goods:
-Yogurt or sour cream for mayonnaise
-Applesauce for half or all of butter/margarine
-Whole wheat flour for half or all of white flour
-Brown sugar, honey, raw sugar, turbinado, or maple syrup for white sugar (amount can often be reduced, too)
-Oats for a small portion of flour
-Wheat germ for a small portion of flour
Note: Substituting less solid sweeteners like honey for sugar takes some practice, but you can usually add a touch more baking powder and flour or oats to make up the difference.
You can also add sunflower seeds and flax seeds to recipes to give them extra texture, nutritional value and flavor.
As a final example, I highly recommend trying out my new favorite way to eat carrots: Indian Carrot Pudding. You can easily hold off on some of the brown sugar this recipe calls for as the raisins and cardamom make for plenty of sweetness. It works very well with black raisins if you prefer them to golden. This special treat is a bit time consuming with the shredding of carrots; recruit the assistance of your child and the reward will be well worth the effort.
Children are especially susceptible to the prejudice against healthy foods, a fact that was epitomized in a commercial I saw for a healthy pasta product recently. The ad portrayed two siblings digging into a messy plate of pasta, discussing how delicious and bad for them it was. The mother, a sneaky voice in the background, uttered a sinister “…and they’ll never know!” If you’d like to make every meal a secretive ordeal and have your children grow into adults who think they don’t enjoy healthy foods, this strategy is perfect. However, if you’d like to teach your children fruitful truths, the trick is to make it only a partial trick. Only fool your child if doing so is necessary to get him or her to take an open-minded bite. Once the verdict has been given, talk about what is in the dish. The point is to defy the cultural stigma against healthy foods, not reinforce it by pretending that delicious, healthy dishes are full of junk.
If space and time allow, plant a small garden with your child. Discuss what is going in the ground and watch your food grow together. Harvest it and find appealing ways to prepare it. For a child, creating something beautiful and useful in the world is a source of great pride. This act alone will change any child’s association with produce.
If an outdoor garden is not an option, you can create an indoor herb garden together. Watching sprigs shoot up, smelling and tasting them will attune your child’s senses to ingredients which may have gone unnoticed or unappreciated before. In addition, his or her perception of all foods that grow from the soil is likely to take on a positive light.
Most importantly, take time to cook with your child whenever possible. Most kids would happily help prepare a dessert. The act of grating a zucchini or carrot can be pivotal to a child’s perception of food, particularly when he or she gets to revel in the end product. With the right recipe, or the right substitutions, you can prepare a dessert with your child that doubles as a suitable breakfast and opens your child’s mind to what vegetables can be. It is only a small step from this to the understanding that healthy food is not inherently yucky.