I think this is the number one question I get from just about everyone! How is it that I have time to make fresh healthy meals and mostly, how do I get my kids to eat it.
I have thought a lot about this because this is not something I think a lot about 😉 We eat what we eat and I don’t stress much about it. I think if you are relaxed about food your kids will follow suit. Actually my biggest stressor comes from my kids wanting what other kids are eating when we are out. Or from their crazy ice cream and chocolate obsession! But then I remember that they are 6 and 3 and that is pretty normal.
So how do I have time to cook such fresh healthy foods. Well, right at this moment I am on maternity leave with my third baby boy. However I cooked this way even when I was working full time. And really 3 kids is pretty equivalent to a full time job and then some! For me, meal plans have never worked very well. Mostly because we are a bit spontaneous regarding seeing friends or wanting to go out of the house for an outing. So what are my tips and tricks for making healthy meals and how do I get my kids to eat them… read on!
Tips for healthy food for busy parents:
- Buy foods you like to eat. If no one eats swish chard don’t buy it. Food waste is a serious issue nowadays.
- Now that you have food, my next tip is to LOOK INSIDE your fridge, yes thats right! Before i decide on dinner I always look inside my fridge and see what veggies need to be used up. Then I build a meal around that. This always helps with the dinner idea and reduced food waste. This also brings me to the next few steps to make easy dinners….
- Have a few good recipes for protein. For us thats baked tofu (find recipe here), or roasted or spiced chickpeas, or cooked lentils. There are a few recipes I know well and cook often. This also helps with picky eaters because they know what to expect (more below).
- Have a few carb recipes you love. For us that is steamed rice, oilless french fries (recipe here), rice noodles or just plain pasta.
- Figure out what veggies your family love. This can be tricky for picky eaters but I have a few pointers below.
- Build your meals around points 2-4!! Mix it up, that way it doesn’t get boring. This will also be good because as you get comfortable with your staple recipes you can experiment slowly with switching flavours or adding in a new ingredient.
- Don’t try and complicate your life with elaborate meals. Like I said simple but flavourful is key. You don’t need to cook up 5 different veggies, or an elaborate curry or casserole, do you really have time for that. If you do great but if your coming home after a long day then some steamed broccoli, frozen peas and carrots over rice with a side of baked tofu topped with avocado is just perfect.
Start simple. Learn these staple recipes on the weekend or on weeknights where you don’t have other activities. Healthy fresh meals don’t have to be complicated. They also don’t have to be boring or flavourless. Have a few yummy pasta sauces in the pantry, even if that is store bought. When you have time make a few delicious sauces to add to a rice or noddle bowl. This works well for us because my husband, and my kids have different preferences for flavour. So I can make a spicy sauce for my husband, a sweeter sauce for my kids and a savoury one for me. I keep them in the fridge and then when we have rice or noodle bowls it is easy to drizzle on top.
Stick to number 6! Figure out what works for busy days. For me that is putting all I can in the oven or using my instant pot because I don’t have to watch the stove. You can get a full meal by throwing tofu (or chickpeas), fries, and beets in the oven and making rice in the instant pot. In the winter I love one pot curry or stews (check my instagram (here) for tons of recipes). You literally throw it all in the instant pot and it cooks itself. Here is the instant pot I use (here).
Tips for picky eaters, how to get your kids to eat veggies:
Ok so a bit of a disclaimer, we have always been big veggie eaters. Even after we had our first kiddo, despite eating loads of animal products and unhealthy packages or processed foods, we still consumed a lot of salad and cooked veggies. So our kids grew up watching us eat veggies and always had veggies on their plates. This will be the BEST thing in terms of getting your kids to eat and enjoy veggies. The term monkey see monkey do applies here even if they are not super interested right away. Jaden would not eat a salad until he was 3 years old despite us offering it to him at every dinner.
If however this is not your current situation that’s OK. Your not doomed and it is never to late to change or adapt your child’s diet. My son Avery is still the picker eater of the group. He can flat out refuse to eat something and will pick out a minuscule piece of onion from any dish.
Ok so here are tips that I found helpful:
- Explain to them why eating veggies and fruit is healthy. They may not seem interested at first but most kids are curious. They like to know WHY we are making them yucky veggies and asking them to eat it. I tell my kids how spinach and broccoli helps to build bones and how beans build muscle. Sometimes this sparks conversations into the food-body connection. I love this because it gives me a chance to make an impression on the relationship my kids have and will have with food.
- Take you kids grocery shopping! I love this one because you can give your child some control over what they eat. I always stick to the produce section when I bring my kids that way they only pick fruits and veggies. Avery always gets super excited about picking his own food. To maximize this I also let me kids help me cook dinners on some nights. Or I make tacos or bowls and as them which toppings they would like. The rule is you have to have a protein and 2 veggies. This always works well because when kids have a choice they feel empowered.
- You don’t have to like it but you have to try it. This doesn’t always work but I try. I explain to them that sometimes we wont be eating for taste but for nourishment. Food wont always taste amazing. I try my best to make dishes my kids like but as their palate changes and develops this wont always align. So when they try it even if they just lick the veggie or food it is enough for me. The important thing is to get them to be confident and adventurous with food. It is also critical that you do not overly force them. I strongly believe in this because you will teach your child to trust their bodies and also respect their own boundaries. If you make a battle out of eating broccoli you not only show your child how much power they have over not eating food but you create a negative environment around food. You do not want to cause a connection between stress, anxiety, and food. This leads me to my next point…
- I never force my kids to finish food. This connects to the above point. We need to trust that our children know what is best for their bodies. Some kids like to eat smaller meals more times throughout the day. My son Avery is like this. So save half their dinner for a later snack. OR better yet give them small portions so it is not a battle. HOWEVER, I am not referring to kids that eat 1 spoonful (see the next point for that), my kids know they have to eat enough so they are not asking for a snack 5 minutes later. It is important to let your child self regulate with food. The point is to create a healthy relationship with food and this starts at a young age. You dont need to waste food to make this point, be smart about portion size, leftovers and compost.
- If your child wont eat more then a spoonful this could be very frustrating. Avery went thru this phase for a short time and the key for us was to not make a big deal out of it. As frustrating and aggravating as it was we tried to not give him power over dinner. What we did was save his dinner and offer only that for the rest of the night. Your child wont starve. The main point here is to not make a big deal out of it food. I never saved their dinner for breakfast or got super mad (althouh I did have to take a break in the bathroom or get my husband to take over). Another important point here is to make their portions small enough that they finish quick and get the message. Once they ate enough I would followed up with a healthy snack a bit later to make sure he was getting enough good food in. Again try not to make any of this a big deal, if you stay calm and cool your child will see that food is not a battle and move on. Trust your child and their cues.
- If all else fails make a smoothie. Start off by making it with fruit they love. Frozen banana and some berries or even a plant based yogurt. Add it into their daily routine. For us that’s when my kids get home from school. I actually bring it to the bus stop so he walks home drinking it (also helps distract him if I add a weird flavour). Car rides also work well. Then slowly start adding in some veggies like spinach, kale, spirilina, dates, etc.. Start with a small amount and work to your child’s desired flavours. Jaden hates spinach in his smoothie but loves kale. This doesn’t need to happen overnight. Take your time.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY, don’t worry so much about this! All my kids went thru a ‘picky’ phase. I tried my best to not get overly emotional or upset by this. I made dishes they liked (to a point, you are not going to cater to them all the time) and I served them smaller portions and made sure to give them healthy snacks during these fussy times. The main idea is to teach your child to trust themselves and have a healthy connection to food. It is not what they eat in a day but what they eat in a week that matters!
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