When exploring how to feed our kids right and make healthful choices for them, in the first part of this article The Health Consequences of Raising Carb Kids I wrote about how many childhood conditions can be due to deficiencies in diet or excess of the wrong kinds of foods, just as we see today how many adult health conditions are linked to poor lifestyle. I went on to describe the epidemic of ‘carb kids’ – a generation of children raised on a diet that is largely based on grains, much of which are processed.

With all the seemingly contradictory information available from books, TV, and the internet, what is truly the healthiest way to feed kids? The bottom line is this: as long as meals and snacks are vegetable and plant-based primarily and full of variety, you are on the right track. So no worries whether you are a meat-eater or a vegetarian, the key is to have vegetables take center-stage.

When it comes to fruits, most children generally have no problems eating the right amount when served. However what is lacking in most children’s diet is not only eating enough vegetables but enough of a variety. Many parents often state that their child has a few favorites, such as carrots, peas, potatoes, maybe broccoli if it is cooked and covered in cheese sauce for example. Each vegetable has its own unique composition of various vitamins and minerals and eating the same ones all the time is not as health-promoting as having variety.

Remember that there is no sense in trying to get a child to eat a certain way if it isn’t led first by example from the parents. So an unfamiliar vegetable like endive or an avocado salsa will probably not be eaten if included in your child’s lunchbox suddenly one day. Instead, it should be a new addition alongside a family sit-down dinner and even if met with disdain at first, everyone must at least try a small amount. I read somewhere that food dislikes are more to do with unfamiliarity than with true taste. Raise your hand if you’ve had your child say ‘no’ just based on looks before even trying something. Keep introducing the foods regardless because who knows, on the 12th try your child may actually like steamed purple cabbage and asparagus!

Meal Ideas for Healthy Habits and Picky Eaters

To get away from the processed carbohydrates that your child may be eating too much of, really look at how much of their meals and snacks are made up of the following: cereals, waffles, pancakes, toast, bagels, or English muffins, granola bars, crackers, muffins, cookies (or other baked goods), sandwich bread, noodles/pasta, and pizza. Then calculate how many vegetable servings your child eats. If there is a huge imbalance (or lack of variety), change is needed but it will take time to unlearn these habits – not only from the standpoint of the child but also as a parent to learn to find healthier substitutions and offering no other choices when a child doesn’t want to eat what is put in front of them (parents who cook a separate meal for a picky eater take note).

Start with replacing some of the familiar grain or sugary snacks with some of the following options:

  • sweet potato fries (baked in the oven with herbs and any spices your child may enjoy)
  • hummus with raw veggies such as carrots, celery, cabbage chunks (red or green), broccoli, or kohlrabi slices
  • a handful of sugar snap peas with a handful of nuts
  • radishes and endives with cashew cheese sauce
  • avocado and salsa mixed together with cilantro to eat with organic corn chips
  • mashed squash with steamed cauliflower and a side of organic cornbread

As you can see, the variety is endless and what a healthful way to eat!

Move on to adding more veggies at dinner times. Having your child take part for example in salad preparation will help with eating it. Adding a few cut up strawberries on top can also help. Leafy greens (like kale or spinach) can be steamed or sautéed with garlic and a dash of organic soy or tamari sauce for a tasty side dish – but start with just a spoonful on your child’s plate the first time.

Leafy greens are also easy to add to soups, chili, or spaghetti sauce, adding just before serving to retain the nutrients since they cook so quickly. Another way to get greens into even the pickiest of eaters is to make green smoothies for breakfast. A banana, frozen berries, half an avocado, a spoonful of almond or peanut butter, a dash of cinnamon, and a few leaves of kale, spinach, or chard mixed in a blender with a bit of water is unquestionably better for your child than a bowl of even the healthiest cereal in the grocery store.

The key to transforming the eating habits of your child is for you the parent to lead by example. So the green smoothie for your child is not just for him, but for your breakfast as well. Eating healthy also means thinking ahead when shopping and investing time in your health by way of meal preparation. Have fun with food and always be open to trying something unfamiliar.