Stealthy, healthy nutrition for kids

By Rebecca Zuspan - Meigs Health Matters

In a perfect world, we would all have enough time in the kitchen to prepare healthy, tasty, and picture-perfect meals for our families. Additionally, fresh, unprocessed foods would be affordable and accessible for all families, and our kids would prefer cauliflower to candy! In reality, we grab convenience foods and take-out, and our kids are picky eaters with a taste for fried fast food, chips, and sugary drinks—with nary a green veggie or red tomato in sight.

Poor nutrition choices have been shown by research to affect kids physically, emotionally, and academically. For example, a regular diet high in sugar not only can lead to damage of the kidneys, eyes, blood vessels, and nerves, it also causes irritability, lethargy, and attention/focus issues. Additionally, diets that are high in saturated fats have been shown to negatively impact memory and learning, while increasing childhood obesity rates. We know what our kids NEED to eat to be healthy, but making that happen poses a challenge…the struggle is real!

Healthy eating habits in kids start long before birth. During pregnancy, flavors from mom’s healthy diet reach the unborn baby in the womb, and this makes infants accustomed to flavors and different foods. When babies are breastfed, they continue to be exposed to the flavors in mom’s diet, setting the stage for acceptance of varied solid foods when babies are ready for them.

Once children reach the toddler stage, picky eaters are not uncommon, and this can be downright frustrating for parents. Take heart, it’s usually a phase, and with some creative and easy culinary tricks, you may be surprised at what your kids will gobble off their plates. It’s actually pretty easy to add healthy ingredients on the sly to many meals to fool the pickiest of palates. Take note, keep these tips under your hat. Instead of

struggling with your fussy eater, make small changes, stay consistent, and avoid argumentative conversations about picky eating behavior.

Many of your kids’ go-to foods can be easily made healthier with the addition of vegetables. Get your blender out of the cupboard and try these stealthy, healthy meal modifications at your house:

– Macaroni and cheese: Stir in cooked, pureed carrots, cauliflower, or squash to add fiber and vitamins.

– Hamburgers: Mash up some canned black beans when making hamburger patties to add fiber, potassium, and iron. Just enough to not be detected by your picky eater!

– Spaghetti: Most kids love “puh-sketti” and this family fave can be made much healthier by adding pureed vegetables like broccoli, squash, peppers, or cauliflower to the sauce. Additionally, you can add some mashed black beans to the ground beef when making meat sauce.

– Cakes and cupcakes: Add some pureed pumpkin, sweet potato, or squash to enhance cake recipes and boost nutritional value.

– Pancakes: Pureed pumpkin or sweet potato are great additions to this breakfast favorite.

– Mashed potatoes: Mix in some cooked, pureed cauliflower to add vitamins and potassium.

– Muffins and quick breads: Add some pureed zucchini, spinach, or squash to blueberry muffins or pureed pumpkin, squash, or carrots to banana bread to give these sweet treats a healthy kick.

– Pizza: Blend up some spinach, peppers, broccoli, or other veggies into the pizza sauce to ramp up your family’s veggie intake on the down low. .

– Brownies: Another easy place to hide veggies like pureed spinach or black beans.

– Smoothies: My family’s favorite healthy treat—seriously! Mix your favorite frozen fruit chunks, skim milk, some fresh spinach if you have it, and a little sweetener in the blender until smooth. Enjoy this frozen smoothie instead of ice cream or milkshakes. Guilt free and so yummy!

When dealing with the picky or unhealthy eating habits of your youngsters, the most important thing to remember is to keep mealtime positive, structured, and consistent. Don’t focus conversation on weight, unhealthy habits, and finicky food fixations. Instead, bring new foods to the table without fanfare, and let kids see you eating and enjoying the same foods. At dinner time, offer choices (“Which would you like for dinner, broccoli or cauliflower?”) and let kids help in the kitchen, in the garden, and in the grocery produce aisle. Sit around the table at mealtime, turn off the TV, put away the phones, and serve the same meal to kids and adults to model good eating habits to them. Only introduce one new food at a time, serving alongside family favorites, and don’t give up! Kids don’t always take to new foods right away, so keep trying. I can attest to this as my own son has discovered many of his new favorite foods after a dozen or more tries.

The summer months are the perfect time to explore healthy food options in Meigs County with your kids. You may have a garden in your backyard, a vegetable stand in your neighborhood, or a farmer just up the road. Meigs County is blessed with an

abundance of fresh produce options this time of year, so take advantage of opportunities to pick, prepare, and partake with your kids. Your family can also find locally harvested goods at the Meigs County Farmers Market at 100 Main Street in Pomeroy Saturday from 10am to 1pm from May through the end of October.

Make a point to try some new and healthy foods this summer with your kids, and don’t be afraid to fly under the radar to incorporate healthy ingredients into their everyday favorites. Success is the result of small efforts every day, so don’t give up!

By Rebecca Zuspan

Meigs Health Matters

Rebecca Zuspan, Ph.D., is Director for the Creating Healthy Communities Program at the Meigs County Health Department.

Rebecca Zuspan, Ph.D., is Director for the Creating Healthy Communities Program at the Meigs County Health Department.