• by Jenn Farmer •
Walking in the garden today was one of the loveliest experiences of the summer. I cannot think of a more wonderful thing than eating veggies straight from the garden after a quick rinse. Right now the garden is bursting with ripe, healthy goodness. The smell of the soil, the brilliant green foliage, and bright ripening vegetables makes me happy even on the worst of days. The smell of the tomato leaves is probably my favorite, and I always inhale deeply as I gently pick each tomato. It is sort of like a free all natural attitude adjustment. It’s aromatherapy at its finest.
My son, on the other hand, has different ideas about the garden. He, too, enjoys our time there, but he darts through the maze of plants, stuffing his mouth as he pulls off handfuls of grape and cherry tomatoes, and somehow between mouthfuls manages to also stuff his pockets full of them too. He is known for eating all the peas when no one is watching and for picking green beans and carrots (which he usually shoves into his mouth dirt and all—no remorse).
I am always stunned at how much he enjoys the vegetables in the garden, yet the very same vegetables on his dinner plate are frowned upon—that is until recently. He will eat the vegetables, but he does not exactly relish them—it usually takes coercion to get him to eat them. I recently found a way to get him more interested in eating his vegetables at every meal (other than taking him to the garden for 3 meals a day, plus the 3+ snacks he eats daily). It is a similar approach to one I think nearly every parent has ever tried: “don’t you want to get big and strong like your Daddy? Like your Uncle?” or even the implausible “like a superhero? Well then eat your vegetables…”, but have taken it one step further. I explain WHY they are important, on a scientific level. I am not just talking “Milk makes bones strong” kind of conversation, but a more detailed one. “Calcium is necessary along with other vitamins and minerals to help build healthy bones, especially while they are growing. Did you know that milk, strawberries and spinach all contain lots of calcium” are more along the lines of the conversations we have. I bust out the science books and encyclopedias, and show him, in addition to explaining why they are good for a growing body.
He is young, but he typically understands far more than I expect. I find him spewing facts about protein and vitamins at the dinner table. I find it hilarious, because the way he presents it is like he is teaching me about it, even though I was the one who just read it to him. The best is when he starts lecturing the adults at the table on how they should eat more broccoli or tomatoes, because it’s important. He is right, but the tone he takes is that of a prestigious professor. It serves a double duty: science lesson and clean plate all in one.
Being sort of sneaky about when these lessons take place has been helpful also. We tend to read about nutrition and food, near meal or snack times for the greatest success. So far it is working well, and he is even suggesting trying foods he was not interested in a few weeks ago. Also allowing him to select makes him feel like he is in charge, not me. The key to letting him chose is only allow two things to select from at a time, more choices is confusing,( and can take all day deciding). On occasion he will say, “I don’t feel hungry for those foods, but can I have carrots instead?” and that makes me very proud.
Another way to entice him to eat healthy is giving him his own kid’s cookbooks. We have several with good recipes, and if he gets to pick the dish and help make it—he will almost always eat it. I think parents sometimes forget that kids take a lot of pride in their accomplishments, and “cooking dinner” is exciting for them. The same goes for packing his lunchbox for school. Often he helps me decide the night before on one or two of the items in it, and I can almost always count on him eating them.
Gluten Free Chicken Tenders
- 1 pound skinless and boneless chicken thighs and breasts
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese; black pepper
- 1 egg
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Cut the chicken into 2 inch pieces. Whisk the egg well, put the chicken in the egg mixture and set aside. Mix the cheese and the pepper in a large sealable plastic baggie. Let the chicken pieces drain, then in batches, shake the chicken pieces in the cheese mixture to coat the chicken pieces thoroughly. Bake the chicken in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked. Serves 2-3
Honey Cranberry Mustard Sauce
- 4 tablespoons honey; 4 tablespoons mustard (your choice)
- 1 tablespoon cranberry juice
Mix together, refrigerate if you are not serving immediately. Serves 2-3
Additionally, I have found he will more readily eat if the food is served in a fun manner. For instance, I have some parfait glasses are his favorite to have cherry tomatoes, diced watermelon, or even plain yogurt with sliced fruit as a layer and on top, served in. He eats far more and often requests seconds. Of course, don’t forget kids love food cut into different shapes or sizes or even made into animals or smiling faces. Be creative.
Food served in smaller portions may also work. A plateful of something a child is unsure of will usually be left without even a sample taste being taken. If the portion is small, they will more likely try something new. With a small portion there is less waste if they do not eat it, and they can always have seconds if they so desire. These little gems are a great way to use up small amounts of leftovers. Bits of cooked hamburger, chicken or turkey are favorites, along with sliced mushrooms, and even kernels of corn. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Individual Tortilla Pizza
- Small whole wheat flour tortilla (or pita)
- 1-2 tablespoons pizza sauce
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced or small diced toppings
- 1-3 tablespoons shredded cheese
Assemble the pizza by allowing the child to smear pizza sauce on the tortilla. Then stack it with their favorite toppings, then cheese. (With adult supervision) heat a sauté pan to medium, and add a few drops of cooking oil to it. Carefully place the tortilla in the pan, and cook (adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent burning) the pizza until it is crispy on the bottom and the cheese is melted. This can also be cooked in a toaster oven or conventional oven if it is assembled on a pan first. Allow it to cool for a minute before cutting, and serving. Serves 1 (or two smaller kids).