Healthy cooking for kids: a (mostly) thankless job
Meal planning has to be one of the most challenging things about parenthood. My first born was always a great eater (except for that pureed chicken, yuck). She would try anything and liked most things. Her go-to snack choices continue to be copious amounts of fruits, vegetables and nuts. I was very self assured and dare I say cocky in her early food eating years: “If you don’t give kids “kid foods” like chicken nuggets, etc… they won’t know what they are missing and they will eat a nice variety of food! Duh! Right? Um, no, me from 8 years ago, so much no! Ugh, first time mom me was insufferable!
Along came second baby. He had low muscle tone and didn’t even really start eating solids until after 12 months. We had to give him awful medicine when he was hospitalized at 8 months and in desperation, put it in anything we could think of such as chocolate syrup. I was so desperate to have him eat because it would help his condition, that I offered him anything and everything but he was, and is, fairly picky.
We joke that he constantly suspects that we are poisoning him when we offer him new food. He looks at us suspiciously, assuming that he will hate it. He is better (sometimes) at trying new things but continues to prefer those “kid foods” most of the time. And red meat. He’s a steakatarian but I don’t cook red meat or pork because I haven’t eaten it since I was 11 and wouldn’t have the first idea how to do it. Daddy grills on the weekends for the win! But seriously; cheese pizza and chicken nuggets anyone?
I’ve concluded that their tastes really have nothing to do with me. My daughter was a great eater from the get go because she was born that way. I fully support trying to get as much healthy, vitamin filled, organic food into kids as we can, but they also need to eat so that they don’t turn into hangry monsters. And my son will straight up NOT eat if he doesn’t like what we have given him. That old doctor’s saying, “They will eat if they are hungry,” does not apply to kids with sensory issues.
Recipe Ideas: A few that work in our family
Over the years, in my desperation and guilt about not having a supremely healthy diet, I’ve found a few things that they will eat and that pack in the greens at the same time: Avocado/Basil Pesto, Pizza with pureed spinach (in the sauce) and smoothies with greens and fruit.
Avocado/Basil pesto is pretty easy. It’s just basil pesto with avocado and lemon juice. You can put it on anything. Our preference is good old fashioned pasta but you could certainly put it on potatoes, gluten free pasta or even zucchini noodles. With a food processor you puree one whole avocado (or half to your taste), a large package of basil, 1-2 garlic cloves to your taste, a pinch of salt, ¼ cup walnuts, juice of half a lemon or so, also to your taste, and stream in olive oil while it’s pureeing to your level of thickness. I like it on the thicker side rather than oily. Then add ⅓ cup of Parmesan cheese. My kids absolutely love this and my picky eater requests it regularly.
Pizza is a weekly treat in our house. I buy whole grain pizza dough and make it myself. My picky guy actually requests it even over restaurant pizza! When I’m feeling like I need to boost the nutrition in this meal, I add tomato sauce to the food processor (or use Nikki’s Weeknight Marinara Sauce recipe) and puree spinach or kale in with the sauce. You can even add carrots or other veggies to the mix. Then you spread it over the dough and add cheese and whatever toppings you like.
Finally, another good trick is to mix in some greens when making smoothies. It can turn the smoothie different cool colors depending on the fruit you use. Just use your favorite smoothie recipe and add the greens. You just may have to add more honey or another sweetener to cut down on the bitterness of the greens.
The takeaway: Do what works and have those go-to recipe’s that are family favorites a couple days a week.
I’m not sure what will happen with baby number 3. She’s having breast milk and formula right now (breast is best but fed is better right?!) and I assume that I will start introducing solids around 6 months. I’m certainly not going to stress about food “perfection” because it doesn’t exist. All kids are different. The truth is that we all have food aversions and things that we love. My big kids tend to like opposite things which keeps me busy in the kitchen (I try not to be a short order cook but it definitely happens more often than I would like). I’m assuming that this little one will also have her own likes and dislikes.