Six Ways to Hook Kids on Real Food

6 Ways to hook kids on real food

With the world (meaning, food marketers) trying their best to hook your kids on their junky packaged foods, you’ve got to fight back hard! And we know – you’re already busy just trying to get your kids to school/practice/lessons/play dates/etc. … you don’t have time to give them food lectures (and lectures don’t work, anyway)!

Here are 6 fun, simple ways to help break the hold the food companies have on your kids, and instead hook them on healthy, amazing, REAL food:

1. Grow Food: Even if you only have room for a small pot of herbs in a city apartment, involving a child in growing has been shown to pay lifetime dividends in vegetable consumption. A child who helped grow the parsley will HAPPILY urge the whole family to taste their very own parsley salad.

2. Introduce kids to “ingredients” in their native form: If you’re making soup, keep little bits of the raw ingredients aside for a “tasting session,” then have them try to identify the celery, the onion, the carrot, etc. in the soup. Discuss how cooking changes the texture and flavor of the ingredients.

3. Keep herbs/spices and interesting condiments on the table, and encourage experimentation: I learned this when I left cinnamon on the table, and my son added it to an almond butter sandwich. It turned out to be a great flavor combo, and he gobbled down the sandwich that “he” had made. Hot sauces, flavored oils, fun spices like ginger and vanilla, and other tasty add-ins will help build interest and creativity around the whole foods you’re serving, and help kids personalize their food.

4. Build a family cookbook: Encourage kids to take pictures of their favorite meals/dishes (get family members in the pics, too!), name the dishes together, and keep them in a photo album. Keep it in the kitchen as a frequent reminder of the great real food family times you’ve had, so your kids learn to associate real food with great moments.

5. Celebrate with Real Food! Don’t fall prey to the seductive marketing message to use celebrations as an excuse to eat junk. That sends exactly the wrong message: that these foods are “rewards,” and these false “rewards” become anchored in the pleasure centers of your child’s brain. Instead, celebrate by making extra-beautiful, extra-fresh meals together during the holidays and other special days.

6. COOK TOGETHER: Nothing else will make your child more immune to the marketer’s siren song about “convenience” than this. When your child knows that an egg can be cooked, a salad can be tossed, a veggie can be braised, or a smoothie can be blended in literally minutes, you give them the tools and the tastebuds they need to resist the call of the microwaved Frankenfood that marketers want them to buy.

Most of all, make real food a centerpiece of loving family moments, and kids will grow up associating real food with great family feelings.

Six Ways to Hook Kids on Real Food, by Jennifer Silverberg, Eat Yourself Well

The Power of the Plate

The Power the PlateResearchers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on medications and other medical interventions for diseases that your body is already fighting every single day. To quote from one of my favorite Ted Talks, William Li, “Can we eat to starve cancer?“:”Autopsy studies from people who died in car accidents have shown that about 40 percent of women between the ages of 40 and 50 actually have microscopic cancers in their breasts, about 50 percent of men in their 50s and 60s have microscopic prostate cancers, and virtually 100 percent of us, by the time we reach our 70s, will have microscopic cancers growing in our thyroid. Yet, without a blood supply, most of these cancers will never become dangerous. Dr. Judah Folkman, who was my mentor and who was the pioneer of the angiogenesis field, once called this ‘cancer without disease.'”

For the most part, our bodies can handle foreign invaders and internal threats, as long as:

1. They are identifiable as an invader – meaning they aren’t some new bacteria/virus/compound that the body can’t identify, or to which it hasn’t developed a response. This is why new chemicals, GMOs, and such have the potential to be so problematic.

2. The body isn’t already so compromised from dealing with known invaders, injuries, etc. that it is too taxed to fight back. This is why it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including clean foods, regular exercise, stress management, etc.

Right this very minute, probably the best thing you can do to support – and thank! – the amazing systems that keep your body healthy is to go find the darkest, greenest, leafiest organic vegetable around, and eat it. Then in an hour, do it again – and throw in some cooked tomatoes – and blueberries for dessert. The beautiful thing is that you have 3-4 opportunities to do this every day, and every one can be health-supporting, beautiful, and absolutely delicious!

Why I am in a Food Fight (against Junk!)

I will not stop ... until filling her with junk food is just as socially unacceptable as giving her a cigarette.

Why do we not give cigarettes to kids? Because while they may like the feeling for a moment, we know it will end badly.

Why do we not let them drive a car? Because while they may like the feeling for a moment, we know it will end badly.

Why do we not give them drugs? Because while they may like the feeling for a moment, we know it will end badly.

Why do we not send them off to school full of toaster pastries (candy disguised as breakfast?) Because while they may like the feeling for a moment, we know it will end badly.

Oh, how I wish that last one were true. But somehow our culture has slipped, we have lowered our collective bar, to the point where we don’t even think it’s odd any more to:

And when a parent tries to call foul on this bizarre behavior, he/she tends to be viewed as “extreme,” and to be hear they should “let kids be kids.”  OK, pass them a cigar – they may like that, too.

Instead, what if we could find a way to tune out the words of the food marketers (whose job it is to increase consumption of their brands – not to increase your health) … and to instead make independent, informed choices for what to feed our families and ourselves?

What would our meals look like?  What would our kids’ snacks look like?  And what would be the impact on our collective health?

I believe we can reverse the trend in child obesity rates, which have quadrupled, from 5 to 20% in the last 30 years, along with hospitalizations of children due to obesity complications.

I believe we can reverse the highly related Type 2 Diabetes crisis (healthcare costs of $110 billion in 2011, projected to rise to nearly $157 billion by 2017).

And, call me crazy, but I think this can and must happen quickly, overnight, even.  Let’s effect a culture shift that makes healthy choices the norm … the “default” behavior, and makes unhealthy choices uncomfortable.

If you are a parent, you can help be a driver of the shift.   Bring beautiful, healthy snacks and meals when called upon by your school.  Demonstrate that in-season fruit, water (maybe flavored with some fresh fruit?), and veggie snacks will be gobbled up as quickly as junk food, but with FAR better long-term results.  And at home, cook, or at least assemble!  If you start with whole ingredients like vegetables, grains, eggs, etc., and keep the focus more on vegetable sources, it is incredibly hard to make unhealthy meals.  It’s the so-called “convenience” foods that come pre-packaged, pre-measured, pre-sliced that are most dangerous to your family’s health.  Think:  making your own chips vs. buying them in bags.  You may have them from time to time, but the volume would be drastically reduced.

If you are an educator, make your classroom a “marketing central” for a healthy lifestyle.  Kids who look at appetizing pictures of fruits and veggies all day tend to choose and eat more of these foods at meals!  And for goodness sake, please ask parents to send only snacks that support health.

If you are a doctor or nurse, PLEASE don’t be afraid to suggest that families limit their foods to those made from fresh, whole ingredients.  It’s not “fringy” or “crunchy” … it’s based in science and just makes sense.  Years ago, a few words from a pediatrician helped call my attention to a dietary choice I was making (for “convenience”) that compromised my children’s health.  He made a huge impact on our lives.

If you are an influencer of others – and this includes all celebrities, athletes, journalists, bloggers, etc. – please wield your influence wisely.  Since you have to maintain high energy for your high-impact life, you probably already make awesome food and lifestyle choices.  Be public – very, very public – with them.

And whoever you are, for yourself, as you go through your day, ask yourself whether each food choice you’re about to make supports or damages your health.  If it is damaging, exercise this opportunity to hold yourself to a higher standard … to tell yourself a new story about your value, and what your body deserves by instead choosing foods that are healthy and life-affirming.

It really doesn’t take many good choices before they suddenly start to be the easy norm for you … and even those around you!

Eating Out Healthfully: New Research from RAND Corporation

en:User:Rdikeman / Food Photos / CC BY-SA

Based on a recent study of the top 400 Chain Restaurants (by sales) published in the Cambridge University Press, it looks like eating out healthfully (at least at the most popular chain restaurants surveyed) is still a challenge.  But even where it’s hard to find a great choice, there are still some choices that are better than others.

Key findings

  1. Appetizers had more calories, fat and sodium than all other item types.
  2. Children’s menu specialty beverages had more fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates than comparable regular menu beverages.
  3. As few as 3% of entrees were within limits for sodium, fat and saturated fat.
  4. Main entrées had significantly more calories, fat and saturated fat in family-style restaurants than in fast-food restaurants.
  5. Restaurants that made nutrition information easily accessible on websites had significantly lower energy, fat and sodium contents across menu offerings than those providing information only upon request.

Better Bets

So, the message is to skip the restaurant if it doesn’t provide nutrition information.  Skip the appetizer. DEFINITELY skip the kids drinks.  And if you’re in a family-style restaurant, choose a veggie salad or share a main entree with others.

Better yet, skip chain restaurants altogether, and patronize a restaurant that offers clean, fresh, healthy food for your family – usually local establishments with owners truly invested in the health of the community they serve.

Or, cook at home, where you have full control of the ingredients.  For less than the cost of a restaurant meal, you can buy pre-prepped veggies that can be quickly steamed or sautéed  then tossed over quinoa or other grains … give a new herb or spice a try once a week or so to keep things interesting and add a boost of health!  If you’re looking for healthy, simple recipe ideas, check out list of Vibrant Health Recipes or (if you’re really out of time) our list of Super-Quick Meals and Snacks.


Study Cited:  Helen W Wu and Roland Sturm (2013). What’s on the menu? A review of the energy and nutritional content of US chain restaurant menus. Public Health Nutrition, 16, pp 87-96. doi:10.1017/S136898001200122X.

Great Family Food Resolutions, from Stacy Whitman

Noodle Bowl
Yes, your kids WILL eat it … if they help make it!jazzijava / Food Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Looking for ways to make 2013 healthier for your family?  Granted, the world doesn’t make it easy, with endless messages about convenient, cheap foods full of sugar, rancid fats, and salt … but when you look around you and see where that has gotten the “average American,” you want something better for your family, right?

Check out this great article on Family Food Goals, by Stacy Whitman from the blog School Bites: One Mom’s Crusade for Better Nourished Kids at School (and at Home!).  Start with one change, and aim to make them all within the next few months.