Tips for Raising a Healthy Eater

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By Martha Lee

Working with Paula Deen, it’s easy (and contagious) to share a love of food.  Collard greens, cornbread, and sweet tea have been staples around here, so when it came time to introducing solids to my youngin’, I figured it would be a breeze.  Certainly she’d share my love of food too, right?  It wasn’t until I talked to other moms that I realized it is easier said than done to get a lot of kids to eat their veggies.  I either heard enthusiasm or despair from these other mamas about their healthy eaters (or lack thereof).  It was at that moment that I set out on a mission to feed Naomi (Omi for short) anything and everything fruits and veggies that I could get my hands on.  Appropriately enough, she’s been dubbed our little “Omivore” because of it.  She gobbles up anything and everything we make for her and is now a lover of most things green!  Rutabagas seem to be her only form of aversion so far, and I don’t blame her a bit for that!  I’ve tried my best to provide healthy foods from the start, and I’ve come up with a list of 8 simple steps that will help parents provide healthier meals to their children from the start.

1. Start when he/she is ready – just because your neighbor’s baby started eating rice cereal at five months old, does not necessarily mean your child may be ready at that age.  Some babies aren’t ready until they are teething or closer to age one.  Don’t be pushy, and try to wait for a good time of day (like right after a nap) when your child is more willing and alert to try something new. 

2. Switch it up – variety, variety, variety.  Sticking with the rice cereal idea, some babies simply don’t prefer it.  There are other light cereals on the market (like oats or barley) to mix with milk and/or fruit, but be on the watch for allergies.  It’s a good idea to start with one or two foods for a few days before incorporating others to see if an allergy is present.  Banana and avocado are excellent starter foods too and can be mixed together to pack in lots of nutrients at once.

3. Keep trying – what your child may not like today may be a favorite tomorrow.  Don’t despair if he doesn’t like the meal you spent hours preparing (it’s hard not to though – I know!). Save that meal for a rainy day ahead – he may just surprise you!

4. Listen and connect – if he’s just not into it, go back to variety and think of what he’s liked in the past and have fun with it.  Pudding or yogurt on the tray, squishing avocado with his fingers, and other ways of experimenting with his food is fun and educational.  In the early stages, babies are not only learning that food tastes good, but they are learning what food looks, smells, and feels like too. 

5. Make cooking/eating fun – not only can you let your child have fun with his food, but you can also encourage a “big helper” in the kitchen.  Banging and clanking pots and pans are excellent ways to encourage children to enjoy the cooking process.  Teach him about what he’s doing like stirring with a spoon, and pretend to taste what he’s “prepared.”  If you are involved and excited about it, chances are he will be too. 

I also find it rather important to NOT use food as a reward, punishment, or threat.  Instead, I want Naomi to overhear me talking about what a good eater she is and how proud I am of her so that she will link the positive vibes with food rather than the negative.

6. Sit down as a family – Sitting down together teaches children that there is a significant connection made through food that’s special and nurturing.

7. Spice it up – Don’t be afraid to use them, but do try to use minimally. For instance, I’ve never liked squash without seasoning (too drab for me), but a little salt and pepper (and a smidgen of butter) can make all the difference.  Same goes for collard greens or kale – a little bit of seasoning (like garlic) goes a long way. Favorite seasonings at our house are Paula’s House Seasoning and all of The Deen Bros. Spices (especially the Funky Chicken spice!).  Lemon juice is a good alternative to salt as well.

8. Prepare well-balanced meals – the darker the fruits or veggies, the better they are for you! Dark leafy veggies, foods rich in omega-3s (like salmon and avocado), beans and legumes, fruits, and a good protein are great to incorporate at every meal.  These “power foods” pack a mean punch of vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients vital for our well-being. These health benefits include warding off illnesses and strengthening bones and immune systems.  These foods are intended to be eaten for the dynamic nutrients they provide.  If we eat them at home and model this positive behavior for our children, our kids will learn to eat and appreciate the food that we not only provide but that we eat as well. 

Below, I’ve listed a favorite recipe from our house that carries lots of nutrients and is oh-so-delicious! Hope you enjoy!

Veggie Lasagna: Even my meat-eater of a husband enjoys this dish (without the meat)!
-10 lasagna noodles
-1/2 C chopped onion
-1 garlic clove, minced
-1 Tbs. olive oil
-1 C grated raw carrots
-2 C sliced fresh mushrooms
-1 15oz. can tomato sauce
-1 6oz. can tomato paste
-1/2 C ripe olives, black or green
-1 ½ tsp. dried oregano
-2 C cream style cottage cheese
-2 10oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and drained. Or use fresh!
-1 lb. sliced Monterey Jack cheese
-1/4 C Parmesan cheese

- Cook noodles – 8-10 minutes, drain. Spread noodles on towel. 
-Sautee onion and garlic in olive oil, add carrots and mushrooms. Cook until tender (about 4 mins.). Stir in tomato sauce, paste, olives, and oregano.
-Oil 9x13” pan. Heat oven to 375.
- Layer ½ noodles, then cottage cheese, followed by spinach, then sauce and vegetable mixture. Top with 1/3 of Monterey Jack cheese.
- Repeat layers, topping with remaining 2/3 cheese.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan.
- Bake 30 minutes, or until melted and bubbly.
- Let rest 10 minutes before cutting, and enjoy!
 
**In the picture above, Naomi snacks on a quick favorite around here: banana slices with natural peanut butter and blueberries on top.  Organic, low-sugar yogurt is a good alternative to peanut butter if an allergy is present.

Martha Lee and her husband began working for Paula Deen Enterprises in 2006 until Martha left to pursue a degree in Special Education. She takes a cue from her 1-year-old daughter, Naomi, leaving tiny footprints on the planet. Her blog shares practical, earth-conscious ways to live and parent in the 21st century. Born and raised in beautiful, soulful Macon, GA, Martha and her family now lives in Savannah, where she can be found outside hula-hooping and performing handstands daily.
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Reader Comments:

54321

My children are very healthy eaters because I put vegetables on the table every night and insisted they only had to eat 1 piece. Eventually, they asked for 2 and then 3 and so on. I also made them cook with me. They were very excited to try the food they cooked. Here is a short video of them in the kitchen. Please check it out.http://youtu.be/yFtm3cbw2Wo

By candy on January 10, 2012

54321

What are your tricks to keep your kids from being picky eaters? When our kids were small we'd get them to eat their veggies by putting a small amount on their plate and if they complained we'd tell them they had to eat 10, if it was something they really didn't like we'd end up negotiating down to say 5. This way they'd feel like they had some control and learned to either like the veggie or at least tolerate it. My son was terrible about eating his peas. My husband came up with the idea of having pea races. It worked like a charm and most of the time my son would win the contest Sometimes kids don't like cooked veggies. Example carrots. I'd make cooked carrots and my daughter hated them, so I would give them a choice of cooked or raw. They'd eat the raw ones. We always eat together as a family. When the kids got older, they knew it was non-negotiable to miss dinner unless it was extremely special. Fuuny thing is, which I found later, their friends thought it was cool that we all ate togehter. Today everyone still gathers around the table. All of the above ideas are now working on the grandkids!

By Brenda on August 03, 2011

54321

My kids were never picky eaters...as toddlers they would argue over who got the most pickled artichoke hearts. They love brussel sprouts. I got them to like a variety of foods by giving to them and by not forcing them to eat what they didn't like. I tried to make the food into small interesting shapes that can be easily picked up and eaten in one or two bites. I tried to keep it colorful and balanced. My 1 year old granddaughter has been introduced to many foods. She loves her veggies also. She will choose broccoli over chicken nuggets. She loves colorful, small, cute and tasty foods that she can feed herself. She does not like bland,neutral colored or slimy foods. She loves green veggies,spaghetti,all berries,all fruits except peaches,carrots,cheese,corn,salmon,some chicken,squash,some steak,bread,milk,juice and some crackers. She does not like mashed potatoes or things that need to be eaten with a spoon. She is so proud of being able to feed herself...she does not want to be fed. I am sure when she is older and can use a spoon she will begin to eat even more foods. Last night she sat beside me and was watching my fork. I gave her a little fork and she ate a piece of strawberry with a baby fork all by herself. She was so proud (and so was I). She is doing great!!

By Joy on August 03, 2011

54321

My kids were never picky eaters - we always told them they needed to try at least a bite of everything and if they didn't like it they could spit it out. My daughter was sucking a crawfish head when she was 4. We just never made a big deal out of meal time. Everyone in the family knew that I only cooked one meal and if they didn't like what I was serving then they had to make their own. It also helped that the two kids next door were the pickiest eaters I have ever seen and my kids saw our reaction to their food requests and so I guess they chose to eat what was put in front of them.

By Barb on August 03, 2011

54321

When my son was little, he would only eat pancakes, so I made Oatmeal cookies with honey, peanut butter and shredded carrots!!! It worked, I got some good nutrition in my little guy and all is happy!! Sincerely, Renee' Wauldron

By Renee' Wauldron on August 03, 2011

54321

I cook potatoes and carrots together then mash them and tell them they are golden mashed potatoes and they love them with butter

By faith morse on August 03, 2011

54321

When my kids were young, I would grate or finely dice up carrots and zucchini and add them to spaghetti sauce, meatloaf or chili. I would also use a variety of beans in chili. I don't like peas but I do like pea soup or peas in tuna macaroni salad, that is how I got my kids to eat peas. I would make homemade vegetable soup and use fresh and canned veggies of every kind, it would be a very dense thick soup, kids loved it. Dinner was always an important meal, it consisted of meat, potatoes/rice/pasta, veggies, salad, bread, and either cottage cheese or applesauce or cranberry sauce. Everyone was required to sit at the table, tv was OFF, phone calls not accepted and friends knocking on the door were told to come back later. It was family time. My kids were allowed to have friends for dinner, but they followed our ritual. Dinner was not a time for yelling, jumping up and down, fighting, but to find out how everyone's day went and what we had going on. Even as the kids were getting ready to go trick or treating....we had pizza and they had to sit at the table, even if it was just 1 piece of pizza. I don't see this ritual of dinner in many families anymore and it is sad. Some of my kids continue this ritual. I don't care if you are just having a PB & J sandwich, if that is all you can afford, take the time to be together and share your day.

By sherry on August 03, 2011

54321

In my house it's just never been a choice. You eat what we eat and if you don't you go hungry. Now I can say that easily because my 3.5 year old eats everything. She has from day one. Her first food was avocado and she ate an entire one off my finger. I get her involved by letting her cook. She loves fava beans right now. She sees them in the grocery store and asks for them. People (even in Colorado where the eatin' is healthy) in the Whole Foods always do a double take and will ask "how does that happen in your house?" She's three and is asking Santa for a real pink knife. Pink because it's her favorite color. A real one because the one in her kitchen set doesn't cut mushrooms like mine does. Also, letting her grow veggies in the garden has been a big help. Even when there isn't a vegetable on the first of the green leaves she knows what it is. I don't know what an eggplant bush looks like. But, she does. My husband every night raves about my cooking and makes sure to have our daughter compliment and thank me. I think it's giving her a different appreciation for food in general. I have a 9 month old and let me tell you I already know we are in for it. I hope he wants to be just like his sister. We shall see. We do not eat any fast food in this house. Or processed food for that matter. And honestly I think by keeping our food organic or natural has helped to keep her taste buds in check.

By Nicole Mulvany on August 03, 2011

54321

Ian has turned out to be like his dad and will eat anything, especially if he sees us eating it first. I hope that continues, but glad to have these tips in my back pocket if I need them!

By Lisa the Admin on August 03, 2011

54321

I love the blog and the ideas make such wonderful sense! keep your ideas coming!

By Susan on August 02, 2011

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Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You Mary Ann
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
in Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes on August 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
Melissa in Taste Testing 101 on August 13, 2014 at 8:36 am

Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
Carol Bryant in Love at Last on August 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm