As parents we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to set the stage for our kids’ futures. And that includes what they eat. I’m talking about creating smart habits and healthy preferences – and starting young – so that the stage we’re setting is one that nurtures their growing bodies and brains.
It only takes reading one article about the connection between a child’s nutrition in the first couple years of life and their future physical health and cognitive development to understand the responsibility we have.
According to the Institute of Child Nutrition,
“Undernutrition and the resulting negative effects on brain development during pregnancy and the first two years of life may be permanent and irreversible.”
During the age of 0 to 5, the human body goes through its most rapid growth. As parents, we have to seize the opportunity to fuel our little ones’ bodies and minds with the best possible nutrition we can give them – and that they’ll accept of course! Think real food versus processed food, organic and GMO-free foods, foods that are low in sugar, high in healthy fats and omega 3s, free of additives, preservatives and food coloring – and of course an abundance of vegetables.
The topic of toddler nutrition is extremely broad so for the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on how we encourage Ellie to eat green vegetables, full of vitamins and minerals and super nutritious. I wrote a post about a year ago that shared what we were doing with Ellie and food at that stage and the “tricks” we were learning – and for the most part, they still apply.
Our go-to green vegetables are still broccoli and peas. She also will eat zucchini and cucumber and sometimes asparagus but others are hit or miss. We love making zoodles, we still make green mac & cheese with a ton of spinach and we love to make green juices and soups (more on that below).
Here are a few general rules we’ve adopted surrounding meals:
- No dessert every night – just because we have become accustomed to this bad habit doesn’t mean Ellie needs to think dessert after dinner every night is the norm.
- Dessert is a treat – and is usually fruit, if anything. Frozen blueberries are Ellie’s favorite “dessert.” Strawberries and other fruit can be just as exciting. She doesn’t get fruit on her plate with the rest of her meal. It comes later – if at all. We try to be very mindful of sugar and she seems to get more of it earlier in the day.
- Something green with every meal (lunch and dinner). Usually that means peas or broccoli or maybe zucchini – but if we don’t have any of those cooked, avocado counts too.
- No option of eating “something else” if she doesn’t like what’s on her plate. We do our best to make sure she’ll be excited about at least one thing served to her and encourage her to eat the other items, or she can be done with dinner. This rarely happens. I’ve read that “bribing” your child to eat the healthy items isn’t a good idea but I have to admit that we DO do some bribing. “Eat the rest of your chicken and you can have more sweet potato mash” – that kind of thing. It works so … yea.
- Modeling good eating habits ourselves. We eat as a family most evenings and during other meals as much as we can. We eat the same meals as Ellie (with the exception of certain things she may not eat) and she notices that. She sees us enjoying vegetables and never sees us eating dessert – which we do after she goes to bed ;).
The best, most exciting and healthy ways to get a ton of greens into Ellie is via soup or green juice. She’s obsessed with both.
Ellie’s favorite meal is “green soup” which couldn’t be easier to make – or healthier for her. The recipe calls for 3 ingredients: kale, leeks and chicken broth. It sounds boring but it’s REALLY good. So good that Ellie has been known to choose green soup over macaroni and cheese each and every time she’s presented with the choice. It’s pretty cool.
Here’s a behind the scenes of Ellie blending and eating her favorite green soup (two videos, taken at a little over 2 years and 2 1/2 years old). We love our Vitamix:
We recently got a new Omega juicer and we’re ALL enamored with it – especially Ellie. We throw everything green from our fridge into the juicer, we have yet to follow a recipe, and it always turns out delicious. Just watch:
You’ll see in both videos that a lot of the fun of eating healthy can be in the making of the food. We’ve learned that by involving Ellie in the cooking and creating process, she’s much more likely to enjoy, and be enthusiastic about, the healthy meals.
As kids get older and develop more opinions and preferences, parents need to continue to stay committed and in a lot of cases, get creative – as we’ve found to be true!!
A highly recommended book related to this topic is The Dirt Cure: Growing Healthy Kids with Food Straight from Soil
In this “carefully researched, compellingly written game-changer for children’s health” (Mark Hyman, MD), integrative pediatric neurologist Maya Shetreat-Klein, MD, reveals the shocking contents of children’s food, how it’s seriously harming their bodies and brains, and what you can do about it. And she presents a nutritional plan for getting and keeping children healthy—that any family can follow.
What “tricks” do you use or habits do you instill to get your little ones to eat healthy and green?