Friday, May 3, 2013

Savor your veggies: how to help kids eat healthy foods

Healthy eating can be done in two different ways: Out of fear of disease, gulping down as many recommended ingredients as possible, hoping that the magic concoction will delete any possible disease from our hardware; or out of pleasure, a deep belief that fresh, wholesome and pure ingredients taste better. 


The first option creates stress, guilt feelings and the fear that perfection may never be reached. The second option relaxes the body, turns cooking and eating into a creative and joyful experience, and does not seek anything else besides living in the moment and savoring every bite.

The table is the sacred place where the tablecloth warms the room, the beautiful china rests next to the full set of silverware. There is soft music in the background, my favorite: Chopin. The meal is not rushed. A fresh serving of vegetables or salad makes its appearance first, before any eyes see the main dish. Why to set dishes for competition and blur their unique appeal?

The boys practice with their eating utensils. How to hold the fork and the knife does not come naturally but as walking and talking, it is a process, not a goal. As well tasting each and every ingredient, because it takes time to tune ones palate to different flavors, an ever ending journey of discovery.


However, how to navigate all this romanticized dinner experience inside a culture that values speed and results? It helps the process when one day of the week is set aside to chop and steam, or roast ingredients, maybe fresh out of the farmers market, like broccolis, mushrooms, zucchinis, peas, corn, kale, sweet potatoes and even some fish and chicken. While some ingredients soften to the steam, there is plenty of time to wash and chop into individual containers, herbs like basil, parsley and cilantro, and succulent cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. It does not hurt to go ahead and chop also enough for the week: onions, carrots and garlic. 


The result is a refrigerator full of fresh and ready to use ingredients for the week just waiting for creativity spikes. Special names written at the menu entice the children: "Rainbow in a Bowl", for some cooked grains like rice, buckwheat or quinoa with favorite toppings. "Wrap the Power Burrito", with the leftover grain, some beans and the previously prepared vegetables. The options are endless: "Omelette to the Rescue", "Planetarium Pizza", "Treasure Dive Soup", and more. 


It does not hurt to finish with a pleasant dessert like baked apples with some sugar and cinnamon or yogurt with frozen red fruits. Real foods that create real experiences.

When meals are restricted to the table, including the snack time, there is conscious eating, focused on every bite, not multitasked. There is healthy eating, yes, but that is not the goal, it is the consequence. 


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