Just last week, I served up lunch for my 4 year old. Her response, “Mom, this isn’t very much food.” She was right, it was towards the end of the week before I went grocery shopping again and I was trying to use up the leftovers in my refrigerator. I sort of snickered to myself because even at 4 years old she knows about variety on the table already (I gave myself a pat on the back for the one, he he). It got me thinking, how often does what parents serve get in the way of what our children eat?
Having variety on the table can help everyone do a better job nutritionally.
First and foremost, the variety of food should be served family style in the middle of the table. Children need to see the variety, if they can’t see it then it wasn’t served in their eyes.
When you start to plan a meal think about what you have on the table. It should include:
Contrary to popular belief starches aren’t our enemies and quite frankly for growing little bodies they are essential. Starches are quick energy to help satisfy the appetite rather quickly. For your very active kiddos they give them the energy to keep going. So often people tell me how great protein is for muscle, which it is. Did you know though, starches give you the muscles the energy to actually do the activity. Starches are great sources of iron, B vitamins and fiber to name a few.
Examples: cereal, rice, potatoes, quinoa, pasta, crackers, cookies,
While starches give us quick acting energy, protein allows us to sustain blood sugar control. In easier terms, it helps us to stay full for longer. As carbohydrate is used up for energy proteins kicks in. Protein also acts a building block for our muscles. Protein gives essential nutrients such as B vitamins, Vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium.
Examples: chicken, fish, cheese, eggs, beans, red meat
Back in the early 90’s and even up to today many people were afraid of fat. Fat makes us fat, right? Nope! Fat, just like protein helps to keep our blood sugar stable to prevent getting too hungry too fast. Most importantly, fat gives us satiety…that feeling of being satisfied and full. Have you ever been done a meal feel full, but still craving something with fat in it after (cookies, chip, etc…). It could be why if you aren’t getting enough fat.
Examples: butter, avocado, full fat salad dressing, nuts, mayonnaise
Milk is great addition to every meal with kids. It gives kids something else to fill up that has all the major nutrients. If you choose to serve a 2% or whole milk, which I recommend, it contains protein, carbohydrate and fat. It’s a win win. Milk also contains fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E and K.
Fruit and/or Veggie
Fruits and Veggies, yes we know they are healthy foods. They have so many different vitamins and minerals it’s hard to list them. In order for children to eat them, they need to be exposed to them. Remember, exposure starts with serving them on the table. Fruits and Veggies also make a great addition to the meal, they can help round out a challenging meal and allowing pickier children to find something to enjoy.
Bread (of any kind)
Yes, bread! Now you might be thinking, “bread is fatty”or “I already served a starch.” It’s something I often hear from my clients, but the reality is bread is an easy food for kids to fill up on. If all else fails and your child can fill up on bread, butter and milk ,they have gotten all their essential macronutrients at that meal. If you haven’t served it regularly in the past, yes, in the beginning they will REALLY enjoy it, but it will get old after time.
Now, this list might seem overwhelming and feel unrealistic, but let me give you a few simple meal ideas the encompass all the components:
Breakfast: cereal, whole milk, banana, english muffin, butter
Lunch: bread, turkey, cheese, mayonnaise, apple, potato chips, milk
Dinner: Spaghetti, Meat Sauce, Salad, Salad Dressing, Bread, Butter, milk
These are just one example for each, but you get the picture. You don’t have to overcomplicate the process. You serve it family style and then allow the whole family to pick and choose from what is served.
Give it a try and let me know how your kids respond! I can’t wait to hear!