When my husband was out of town, I thought I would give the kids a treat and take them out to eat. When I asked them if they wanted to go, they all shouted, “Yay! A picnic!” They grabbed a table cloth and ran outside to wait for me to bring the food. I quickly put together a picnic with food that we had on hand, and we sat outside eating dinner and playing for the rest of the evening.
Since then I have thought about how much healthier we would all be if we went “out” to eat more often–if more families thought about going out to eat as a picnic in the park instead of eating unhealthy food at a chain restaurant. As parents, we can influence the attitudes our kids have about healthy eating and physical activity, and create a healthy nutrition environment at home.
- Eat meals together as a family. Try to eat one home-cooked meal together with your family each day. Studies show that family meals are associated with improved intakes of fruits, vegetables, grains, calcium-rich foods, protein, iron, fiber, and vitamins A, C, E, B-6 and folate. Family meals are associated with a lower intake of soft-drinks and snack foods. Additionally, disordered eating in girls and overall childhood obesity may be decreased with frequent family meals.
- Cook more often, and let the kids help. Home cooked meals are almost always more nutritious than going to a restaurant to eat. One of the best ways to introduce new foods is to let the children help you make them. When you cook with kids, they can expand their palates while learning how to prepare food. Children of all ages love to cook. Try to find jobs for them while you are preparing food. Even the youngest children may like to watch you cook, so bring those in highchairs over to watch you prepare their meal!
- Grow a garden together. Homegrown fruits and vegetable taste delicious, and when your family works together to grow a garden, your kids will want to try the results. Gardening is also good physical activity. Be sure to plant some finger-sized produce so your kids can go out to the garden and have a healthy snack right off the vine: blackberries, grape tomatoes, or sugar snap peas.
- Teach your family that all foods can fit into a healthy diet. Rather than label certain foods as “bad,” teach your kids about “sometimes” and “special occasion” foods. Promote healthier options more often and buy “sometimes” foods only when they are going to be used for a specific occasion. Also, be aware of portions sizes and encourage children to notice their body’s natural cues of being satisfied.
- Try some meatless meals, at least a few times a week. A diet rich in plant based foods has an abundance of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber, with low levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. It can be as easy as having a bean burrito or meatless chili or as adventurous as adding tofu or tempeh to your stir-fry.
- Keep healthy foods readily available and appealing, so it is easy for kids to make good choices.
- Available: prepare snacks and put them in the front part of the refrigerator/cupboard/counter. For example, a fresh berry and yogurt parfait right in the front of the refrigerator is more likely to be chosen than strawberries that are unwashed and uncut and a yogurt hidden in the back of the refrigerator.
- Tasty and visually appealing: include foods in meals and snacks you know your kids will eat and present it in a fun and attractive way. You do want your kids to try new things, but introduce new foods with foods that they are familiar with, like a new fruit, such as mango, cut up with a familiar fruit such as apples.
- Portable: have healthy food pre-packaged in baggies or cut up in small containers for cars, lunchboxes, or backpacks. For example, make small bags of healthy trail mix: whole grain cereal, dried fruit, and nuts.
Going “Out” Granola Bars
A healthier alternative to cookies or other sweets in lunch boxes or as a snack.
- 1 ¾ cups old fashioned rolled oats
- 1 ¼ cups brown crisped rice (regular can be substituted)
- 1 Tablespoon flax seeds
- 2 Tablespoons wheat germ
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup canola oil
- 1/3 cup honey
- ½ cup dried cherries (unsweetened), chopped
- ½ cup pecans, chopped
- ½ cup chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the oats on a cookie sheet and toast until fragrant, about 6 minutes. Combine all dry ingredients (the first six ingredients: oats through salt) in a large bowl. Combine brown sugar, oil, and honey in a small sauce pan on the stove and cook over medium heat until boiling. Continue to boil and stir for 1 minute. Pour hot mixture over dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add cherries and pecans and stir. Pour into an 8×8 pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top and press down with the back of a spoon. Let cool completely and cut into 16 pieces.
*Recipe adapted from Nonuttin’ Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars at http://www.wholeliving.com/recipe/nonuttin-chocolate-chip-granola-bar