Quick but Healthy Meals
It's easier to keep track of what your family eats when you do the cooking, but who has time to make everything from scratch? There are lots of shortcuts that make a meal just as quick to prepare as ordering takeout or microwaving a ready-made entree. The upside: your dishes will be lower in fat and sodium.
Zied suggests this bean burrito recipe, which her 4-year-old likes: open and rinse one can of black beans; spread 1/4 cup on a tortilla (try whole wheat); sprinkle with shredded cheese and microwave for 30 seconds. You can also make boil-in-bag brown rice, adding frozen vegetables during the last five minutes of cooking; then drain the rice and veggies together, and toss them with cooked chicken breast, plus a splash of low-sodium soy sauce. Ilyssa Rubenstein, of Manalapan, New Jersey, mom to Sofia, age 2, makes whole-grain mac 'n cheese and then hides steamed veggies in the dish. Cooking tip: whole-wheat pasta mixed with evaporated skim milk and shredded cheddar cheese is just as fast to make as boxed macaroni and (powdered) cheese.
By sticking with whole foods most often and eating fast foods only on occasion, you're providing a nourishing diet for your child that's easier to keep in balance. And when you do have to fall back on convenience foods, select those with the shortest ingredient labels -- they usually contain fewer additives and preservatives.
Gently Introduce Nutritious Foods
If your child's diet is a bit unbalanced -- she eats too many refined carbs and not enough fruits or vegetables -- you can gradually tilt it in the right direction. Start by focusing on making the fare she eats better. Instead of white bread or spaghetti, give her one of the new whole wheat white breads or pastas (a mix of whole wheat and refined flours).
Another tactic: "Gently introduce new foods along with foods kids already like so you don't create a battle around food," says Elizabeth Ward, RD, mom of three and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler(Alpha). Use chicken soup as a vehicle for veggies by adding diced frozen carrots, peas, and baby corn. Spread mashed avocado on turkey sandwiches. Or mix lentils or beans into noodles and meat sauce.
And what should you do when you face the inevitable challenges? "Stay cool and flexible," Ward says. If your child is always asking for dessert, sneak a healthy component such as mango chunks on top of low-fat ice cream. If too much juice is the issue, try using boxed waters instead, or make ice cubes out of 100 percent juice and add them to water. When junky snacks are a problem, "just don't buy them, so your child will have to choose something healthy that you do have," advises Ward. Dried fruits, such as cranberries, raisins, and apricots, are great alternatives; they're sweet yet offer more vitamins than gummy fruit snacks made from corn syrup. (Note: Some small, chewy foods might be a choking hazard for kids under age 4, so if you want to give these snacks to younger children, check with your pediatrician first.)
Breaking bad habits isn't easy, but it's worth it. I try to balance my son's diet now so that he might order broccoli instead of pepperoni on his late-night pizza in college.