15 Chef’s Ideas To Help Kids Love Healthful Foods

You can make all of the healthful dishes in the world, but if your kids don’t want to eat them, it feels like you are spinning your wheels. As the Chef and Founder of Food & Health Communications, Inc., I am keenly aware of what foods my son and I need to eat for optimal health. I also know that this is easier said than done, even for me as a chef because it is hard to find the time.

My son, Nicholas, was one of the pickiest eaters around as a child. He didn’t want any foods on his plate to touch, he wouldn’t try anything “mixed,” he didn’t like any kind of sauce, he only liked a few vegetables, he wouldn’t try soup, and he wouldn’t even look at a salad. At first, the whole thing was baffling and I didn’t know where to start. I ate a wide variety of healthful foods, and I exposed Nicholas to them at a very young age because I made a lot of his baby food from scratch so how could he be so picky? I felt that I should do something to help him expand his repertoire and enjoy more fruits and vegetables. I did notice that whenever he helped me cook something, he was more likely to eat it, so that is where I started and just expanded to these projects:

1) We started a simple, inexpensive herb garden. Nicholas and I spent quality time together learning about herbs, buying them, growing them, harvesting them, and using them in our cooking. During the evenings and on weekends, we would stop and look at the garden, pick some herbs, or care for them. Before bed, I would read him a funny cooking book called Warthogs in the Kitchen. Herbs are amazing because they have a wonderful smell. Mint was like his gum; rosemary is like a tree; basil smells like pizza sauce; thyme is a little like the woods. I used the herbs as a way to get Nicholas to try new foods, and I was met with instant success. We made herb-flavored vinegars that could be used on salad, which prompted him to start eating salads. I also used the herbs in new and healthful dishes like beans and rice, taco salad, tortilla pizzas, stews, etc. When herbs from our garden were in play, Nicholas would usually try the new food that featured them. He didn’t like every dish, but I?never gave up on getting him to try healthful foods.

2) We started doing more physical activities together. I noticed that whenever Nicholas’s activity level increased, so did his appetite! Instead of watching TV after dinner, we went for a bike ride or a walk with the dogs. Whenever I ran, he would ride beside me on his bike. When I swam, he joined me for the last few laps. He even did a triathlon and won first place!

3) Healthful food was always available. I kept 3 or 4 different types of fruit ready to eat in the refrigerator at all times. Salad was always cut and ready, along with potatoes, frozen vegetables, and baby carrots. And fruit was served in the most creative desserts.

4) No bribes, just snack platters slipped in. I never bribed him to eat healthful food. Food is not a reward. It is nourishment. But I did slip a fruit plate in his room while he was playing video games  (screen time was never in excess, though, because we always had a lot of fun outside toys plus dogs to walk). A bowl of baby carrots usually appeared on his desk during homework. The best time for fruits and veggies is when they are busy and you just “make them appear.”

5) Food and meals were always pleasant. I didn’t force him to eat anything he didn’t like nor did I punish him for not eating a particular food. I offered a wide variety of healthful foods and he chose what he wanted to eat. I did not keep a whole pantry full of chips, crackers, cookies, and sweetened cereals, either. When we wanted to eat cookies, we make them from scratch. I did buy cookies or crackers as an occasional treat. That way, we established that those foods weren’t forbidden — they just weren’t mainstays. I always make a big deal about dinner – it takes little effort to set a beautiful table with placemats, cloth napkins, nice water goblets and bone china or any neat china. We have a candle that is battery operated and it comes on every night!

6) Let’s cook! He helped me with meal preparation on most days. This is not always easy when you are tired or in a hurry, but it does make a difference. Here is our special chocolate chip cookie recipe along with age-appropriate kids tasks.

7) Backups count, too. The after school babysitter had a menu and recipes so that she could prepare healthful snacks and meals. Our babysitter really loved the cooking lessons and she just wrote that she is getting married and she is so happy she can make so many good things!!

8) Shopping is a fun activity. We grocery shopped together and visited farmers’ markets, too. The focus was what to put on our list and we always stuck to it in the store.

9) Dine fancy. I took him to fancy restaurants and let him choose whatever he wanted. This is a situation that really promotes the opportunity to try new things because it is their choice. He picked the most adventurous things like stuffed zucchini blossoms when we were dining in Greens, the famous vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco! It makes the child feel special when  you take them to a nice place to eat. When he was young we dressed up and I would talk about how he was expected to act. It wasn’t always perfect in the beginning but now he is a perfect gentleman.

10) Grow more. He planted a vegetable garden when he got older. The items to plant were his choice and he was so proud of his tomatoes, potatoes and huge zucchini.

11) Teach them to cook. He learned a whole repertoire of items he can prepare that included: cookies, salad, pizza, macaroni, bean quesadillas, salsa, pasta and much more. I bought kitchen equipment like quesadilla makers, bread machines and waffle makers that help him succeed. His favorite dish right now is a vegetarian pannini.

12) Chef’s table. He created a chef’s table in his room for my birthday and he planned the menu and cooked!

13) Summer camps can enrich knowledge. His last summer camp was at Stanford for 2 weeks where he and his classmates at Stanford’s OHS worked on a multi-disciplinary topic, “The Problem of Food.” They were required to read “An Omnivore’s Dilemma”, plan menus, visit farms, calculate kitchen math and cook for an audience. Other summer camps have taught him to program iPhone Apps and he is the programmer for Salad Secrets and Holiday Secrets, two of the food apps we made together. The important thing is to find one that a child will love.

14) His list, too. Now he helps me with the meal planning and grocery list. We have a list that stays on the refrigerator and whenever he requests an ingredient, he puts it on the list and I buy it! Usually his requests include black beans, tortillas, salsa and bottled waters, because he is still riding his bike to the pool and swimming!

15) Have fun and don’t worry. When he was a toddler he would eat watermelon for 3 days in a row. I likened that to reading the same book over and over. And once, when I was practicing for the ProChef II test, he discovered chocolate eclairs and wanted them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He even put them in his lunch box. That was the only time I made them and it a good memory.

As you can see, the possibilities for kids and food are endless. It usually only takes 10 more minutes each day to make something special for dinner together and the memories are priceless.

If you have questions, please click “Contact Us” from the link below.

By Judy Doherty, PC II

Chef and Founder

Food and Health Communications, Inc.

Communicating Food for Health

NutritionEducationStore.com

Judy is a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America and the Fachschule Richmont in Luzern, Switzerland. She spent over 20 years in foodservice. She was the executive pastry chef for the Grand Hyatt Westshore in Tampa, FL and The Hyatt on Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale, AZ. She has received the ACF Chef of the Year, ACF Bronze Medal and ACF Gold Medal. She holds the ProChef II Credential from the Culinary Institute of America. She has authored 12 books including Salad Secrets, Holiday Secrets, No Battles Better Eating, Cooking Demo Ideas and a new one coming up called the Art of the Lowcal Dessert. Her work has appeared in Chocolatier Magazine, Bon Appetit and Great Chefs of the West.

What’s Your Cooking Style?

Different things can draw people to participate in meal preparation. In the kitchen, there’s really something for everyone! Take a look at some of the examples below to find strategies for getting your kids involved with family meals.

  • The builder is like the engineer. She or he may become enamored with kitchen gadgets and equipment that does a specific job, so make the builder’s gadget requests and use a part of your time in the kitchen.
  • The artist, on the other hand, might not want to make a whole meal. Set him/her to work making an elaborate table setting, a beautiful plate for the main meal, or a pretty salad. Plating meals can be fun for artists too, especially if you have sauces in squirt bottles, ready to be “painted” on the plates.
  • Let the musician listen to music while cooking or choose the music that is played during dinner!
  • Have kids who are interested in writing make lists of meal ideas, write recipes, or create their own cookbook.
  • Allow the aspiring chef as much freedom in the kitchen as possible. You may be amazed at some ingredient combinations or gourmet preparations.
  • Give the gardener opportunities to grow herbs or vegetables for the kitchen.
  • The shopper might like to buy pots and pans, kitchen equipment, plates, or neat produce at the farmers market.
  • The social butterfly might like inviting friends to dinner and posting pictures of meals on Facebook.

Excerpted from No Battles Better Eating, by Chef Judy Doherty, PC II

Strawberry Time Somewhere

It’s strawberry time! It’s hard for this Ohio girl to say this in May.

No, I don’t have special strawberries that ripen early, I’ve moved south and I’m just getting accustomed to having foods ripen earlier than I’ve known my whole life. Needless to say, no matter what the date, when they’re ripe I like to get out and pick a few pounds for fresh eating and put some in the freezer.

Picking my own strawberries is an annual excursion and a great feeling of accomplishment. I love being in the outside in the patch enjoying the weather and smelling the fresh fruit. I also feel good about buying locally because the fruit is fresher and I support my community. Pick-your-own prices around us have been about $1.30 a pound. I always wonder if it’s cheaper to buy the already picked quarts selling at the farmer’s market or to do-it-myself.

It’s easy to do some quick math to answer that question. It’s not exact, due to the moisture, size and variety of the strawberries, but usually you get about 1.5 pounds of berries in every quart. Give or take a few. So, if you’re picking your own, you can multiply the cost per pound by 1.5 to get the amount per quart of the berries. At $1.30 a pound, pick-your-own berries are a little less than $2 a quart. Don’t forget you should also consider your time, gas and energy as part of the cost. But sunshine and physical activity are also the benefits!

I remember a couple years ago I stopped by a local discount store after picking berries and the price of their berries per quart were less than what I picked per pound. But, I felt good about buying my local berries. I had a wonderful outside activity, too. I knew my pick-yourself berries were fresher, tasted better, and had more nutrition. I was supporting a local farmer and economy. If you’re interested learning about the value of purchasing locally, the University of Nebraska Lincoln has a great resource on the topic, check it out at:  http://food.unl.edu/web/localfoods/why-buy-local

A couple tips if you’re picking your own:

  • The berries should have a full, red color, bright luster and firm, plump flesh.
  • Choose only fully ripe berries—unlike some other fruits, berries do not ripen after being picked.
  • Get the berries home as soon as possible; don’t let them set in the trunk of your car while you do other errands. If you need to be out longer consider bringing a cooler to store them until you can get them home.
  • For longest shelf life, take them out of large buckets and pails and gently arrange in shallow containers and put in the refrigerator immediately.
  • Don’t wash or remove the green cap until just before you’re ready to use.
  • Use berries as soon as possible after getting them home.

No matter where you live, when it’s strawberry time,   I highly recommend getting out and enjoying it!  If the pick-your-own growers allow, take the kids or grandkids with you to help.  What a great way to show them how food is grown.  Just think how proud you’ll all be when they say “I picked these myself.”

Here are great berry recipes

A favorite is Berries with Custard Sauce – so easy to make and so rich!

Berries With Vanilla Custard Sauce

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Check out the beautiful fruit and veggie posters in our store:

Your bananas, my bananas…Yonanas!

Banana Date Yonananas

Banana Date Yonananas

We’ve had a lot of fun with Yonanas! Don’t know what I’m talking about? Yonanas is a small kitchen appliance that takes frozen bananas and other fruit and quickly processes them into a creamy frozen dessert-type product that looks like it came out of the machine of your favorite frozen yogurt place.

We had friends over for dinner one evening and we pulled out the Yonanas machine to make dessert. The friend admitted that she thought to herself “there’s a sucker born every day, what is this thing?” But after eating the Yonanas she wanted one for herself.

The joy of Yonanas is you’re eating pure fruit. Although the name implies bananas , you can use any fruit or combination of fruit. It is recommended to use a banana every time because it helps make the creamy consistency— I personally  like the combination of bananas, mango and strawberries. The combinations are endless and it comes with a recipe book.

Just think of all the calories and fat calories you can save by eating Yonana instead of ice cream? Two bananas, 1/2 cup strawberries and a half of a mango makes more than enough Yonana for three people for only 112 calories each. Yonanas satisfies the craving for ice cream without the added cream, sugar or preservatives. It’s a fun way to encourage kids to eat more fruit. Plus bananas are a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, manganese and vitamins B6 & C.

A couple tips: the fruit needs to slightly thaw (5-8 minutes) before putting through the Yonana machine to get a creamy texture. It doesn’t take long. If it thaws out too much, your final product will be mushy. The machine also comes with popsicle forms to refreeze any leftover product. I haven’t been real successful with this; you may need to experiment a little.

Another plus…it’s a great money saver. Fruit that would otherwise get tossed is now saved for the Yonana! Simply freeze those very ripe bananas or buy the “mark down” bananas for Yonanas. No more wasted fruit or feeling the need to make even more banana muffins or nut bread. Plus kids can come up with their own flavor concoctions or toppings. It would take an older child or adult to push the fruit through because some exertion is needed.

A word of caution: as with any small appliance, it’s only good if you’ll use it. It’s easy to clean. I put it in the dishwasher.

Check out their website at www.yonanas.com (note: you can get a refurbished machine for 20% off with Amazon’s Warehouse Deal).

Banana Yonananas "Ice Cream" Tropical

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Check out the savings:

Food: Calories per half cup: Fat (g) Calories per week for a year:
Yonanas 112  0  5,824
Ice cream 250 16 13,000
Savings  82 16  7,176