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Gina Kruml
From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 5-6, 2009, pp. 70-71

Healthy Eating with Children

Good nutrition for our children is usually very simple for the first six months of life: breastmilk as an appetizer, breastmilk to drink, and breastmilk for the main course. When babies start to eat solid foods, the menu is still relatively simple: a bite of applesauce here, a spoon of ground up chicken there, and for the main course ... breastmilk! Research has found that with all this breastmilk, babies learn to experience a constant variety of flavors, courtesy of the mother's varied diet. Babies who are breastfed therefore tend to be less picky eaters as children.

Now that our children are sitting at the table with the rest of us, how do we build on the good nutrition they had as babies? What if our kids do have a tendency toward pickiness, start to reject entire categories of food, or develop new dislikes? These are all possible challenges. Add to that the fact that the health of our own diet is sometimes not as good as it should be, and we have a recipe for possible nutritional deficiencies.

Luckily, there are many positive strategies for interesting our children in healthy eating. Cooking with our children and involving them in mealtime preparations not only tempts them to try healthy new foods, but you also have a lovely time together.

Fun Ideas for Children in the Kitchen

  • Sew or personalize an apron for your child. This can be as simple as using sparkly fabric glue to write the child's name on the front.
  • When planning a shopping list, ask your child to write each item for you. If she is just learning how to write, you might be surprised at how much fun this is for her. It is a perfect challenge, and she knows what she is writing will actually be useful. Let her suggest and write healthy items, too. Older children can be encouraged to write items on an ongoing shopping list as they are used up.
  • A variety of cookbooks, which can be a very good buy at used bookstores, can help to inspire both you and your child. Just be careful to look through them first to look for natural ingredients, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Try to avoid cookbooks where recipes seem to consist mostly of fat, sugar, white flour, and processed food. Ask your child to help you choose pictures of new recipes to try.
  • When cooking, let your child do any little thing that would be safe for her to do. Stirring, measuring, fetching, setting the kitchen timer, turning on the oven light, chopping (with a child's safety knife for smaller children) ... all of these help your child feel involved.
  • Special dinners, with a holiday theme, or from another country, can be embellished with the right music, either while cooking or eating. Even turning on a classical music station from the radio can make the food seem more exciting and authentic.
  • Planting a garden helps get children excited about eating their produce. Salad greens are some of the first seeds of the season to plant, and can even be grown in pots or window boxes. Carrots are also easy to grow, and fun for children to pull up.

Hummus Dip

You may have noticed that some children will eat just about anything with "dip" on it. Here is a recipe for a very healthy one.

1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup tahini (ground sesame seeds)
1 clove garlic, pressed
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Optional:
salt, paprika, cayenne pepper, sumakh, chopped cilantro

Method

1. Drain the garbanzo beans, rinse very well. Your child could help to remove and dispose of the garbanzo bean skins. (This takes a little while! He will feel very involved by the time this is done.)

2. Mash the garbanzo beans or blend them in a food processor.

3. Gradually add the lemon juice, garlic, and tahini and mix or blend well.

4. Your child can help you check the taste and texture. Does it need a little more time in the food processor, or a little water to make it more of a dip-like consistency? Does it need a little more lemon juice or an optional herb or spice?

5. Serve drizzled with olive oil. You could sprinkle something colorful on the top also, such as paprika, cayenne pepper, sumakh or chopped cilantro.

6. Your child can help you look through the cupboards and refrigerator for something to serve with the hummus: crackers, raw vegetables, pitta bread, for instance.

If your family likes this recipe tahini and olive oil can often be purchased cheaply in large quantities at Middle Eastern or other specialty grocery stores. Tahini stays fresh because of the oil that naturally rises to the top, so be sure to stir it up before using.

Cranberry Pecan Bread

A colorful and festive bread, good for breakfast, a snack, or a special occasion. For a child who's not too sure about cranberries, you might try putting in fewer. If you are hoping to "sneak in" the nuts you might try chopping them very fine. If you like this recipe you might want to stock up on frozen cranberries during the winter, since they are usually not available at other times of the year.

Ingredients

1 1/3 cup rye flour
1 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon non-aluminum baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, slightly thawed, chopped coarsely
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 tablespoon orange zest (be sure to grate only the orange part, not the white part)
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups orange juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Method

Sift together the dry ingredients, including the brown sugar. Add cranberries, pecans and orange peel. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, orange juice, and oil. Add to the dry ingredients, and stir just until they are combined. Bake at 350F in two 9 1/2 x 5-inch loaf pans for 45 minutes or until done. Let cool on a cooling rack.

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