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.