Reboot Your Kids' Eating Habits for 2010

Healthy KidsFor all you moms out there, grandparents with tots in your lives, or anyone who's interested in feeding our kids in a better way, there's a fantastic website you really must bookmark, SuperKids Nutrition. I love it. It's run by a dietitian who's a mom, is loaded with real life advice and tips, and if you do one thing in 2010 to reboot your kids' eating habits, it is to start incorporating some of this stuff into your routine and your shopping cart.

I recently did an interview with SuperKids Nutrition, about simple, everyday changes families can do to pack more planet friendly eating. Below is a variation of that interview, with a few blog-friendly edits. I hope these tips help you and your family move towards leaner, cleaner, greener eating, one snack at a time in the New Year!

How can busy moms look beyond packaged foods to allow them to still have quick snacks on hand and be able to put quick meals together?

Focus on one-ingredient foods as the mainstay of meals and snacks. It is still fast and easy, but more nourishing in every sense. And it helps point you toward greener choices, too – what's not to love?

So, let's review the "one-ingredient" food list.

One ingredient foods may include oatmeal, canned beans, chicken, almonds/nuts, fresh or dried fruit, or frozen single vegetables (such as "frozen peas", no added sauces), bulk couscous, a bag of rice, a box of pasta, tofu, canned pumpkin, or even eggs. This simple philosophy immediately starts clearing the clutter from your food choices.

Do you have some ideas or tricks to get through the grocery store with less packaged food in your cart?

Registered dietitians always say, "shop the perimeter" but I think that's not so true anymore; marketers are catching on. Plus, there are some great things in those inner aisles: whole grains, brown rice, heart-healthy oils, to name a few. So I would say to be sure that you have about two-thirds fresh items in your cart (fruits, vegetables, poultry, dairy, tofu/soy, fresh-frozen fish) with about one-third packaged food items. This will allow you to have more real food and less packaged foods.

So, folks can limit packaged food but can still use some in a pinch?

Yes. "Packaged foods" is a super-broad category and you can find some great options to help you in a pinch. In general, my advice is to ignore the front label packaging (that's where all the hype is that the manufacturer wants you to see), and read the ingredient list. It should read like something from your kitchen, not a food lab. In general, choose packaged foods that have 5 ingredients or less, all of which should easily look like things you'd find in your home.

How can moms or dads help children understand the importance of "real food?"

Connecting our kids to food is so important. For instance, I was recently talking at a mom's event where a mom told me her child that would not eat a whole apple "because it turns brown". The child was used to only eating apple slices from a snack bag! Educating our children about nature and its variability is an important part of showing them the true experience of real food.

In your book, you talk about the idea of reducing our "carbon footprint." It's great to know we can make a large impact very easily.

Convenience not only costs more, but also adds carbon to the atmosphere. Cutting back on disposable items alone can have a huge impact, as can simply including more one-ingredient foods in your pantry. Aim for progress -- not perfection -- and focus on one change at a time. For example, you can try reducing your reliance on individually packaged snacks or choose to cut up your own fresh vegetables to start you on your way to eating greener. Maybe you feel that individual drinks are a must for the cooler when you go on a picnic or a hike. Save this convenience for those times and use pitchers of water, juice or beverages at home; it's a great way to save money too!

So what types of "one-ingredient" snacks can we offer?

Seeds, nuts, fruit (fresh or dried), edamame (i.e., cooked baby soybeans), fresh snap peas, fresh berries, and cherry/grape tomatoes are some options. You can also combine some of these to make a snack (think trail mix).

How can parents get their kids involved?

They can offer age-appropriate responsibilities for snacks. Consider using large, airtight jars with scoops for dry goods. Provide a "snack drawer" or have some chopped veggies ready to eat, bagged in the fridge. Right now my 3 year old loves it when I give him a bowl of pistachios, still in their shell, to open and eat while I make dinner (disclosure, Paramount Farms Pistachios is a client of mine). They love to participate!

Any tools we can use with our kids?

My favorite tool around "Edible Education" comes from Field to Plate. It is a great worksheet series you can do with your child to help map their palate and develop a real roadmap, based on taste and flavor, towards step by step healthier eating habits.

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Got other ideas to reboot kids' eating habits in 2010? I'd love to hear them!