National Childhood Nutrition Day on October 16 recognizes and celebrates the need to raise awareness of hunger, nutrition, and obesity in our country's kids. With that in mind, we chatted with registered dietitian Frances Largeman-Roth, author of Eating in Color, about educating families on creating healthy meals with kids in the kitchen.
Parents.com: We hear you’re partnering up with Quaker and Common Threads to provide Family Cooking classes! Tell us more about that.
Frances Largeman-Roth: I’ve been a supporter of Common Threads, an organization dedicated to fighting childhood obesity by teaching kids to cook, since the group first came to my home city of NYC. I love the organization’s mission to empower families to eat well through hands-on learning in the kitchen. Quaker teamed up with Common Threads to fund its Family Cooking Classes for the 2016-2017 school year and helped create its first-ever breakfast education lessons to teach families about the importance of nutrition and a nourishing breakfast. With three young kids at home, I know that getting them off to a great start with a healthy breakfast in the morning is so important.
Why is it so important to bring kids into the kitchen?
FLR: There is a temptation to just keep the kids out of the kitchen because cooking with them does take more time—something that most of us don’t have enough of. But it really is rewarding to see your kids appreciate food and get comfortable handling it and helping to prepare it. In the long run, having a child who knows how to make their own nutritious meals is incredibly valuable. Not only will they be self-sufficient, they’ll be able to control the health of the food they eat rather than relying on fast food or expensive take-out when they live on their own.
What are some easy ways moms can get kids more involved in dinner?
FLR: Make the family meal a team effort by having kids set the table, assemble a salad or fill water glasses. It’s also great to get them involved in menu planning—that way they’ll feel ownership of the meals they’ve chosen.
When someone makes the choice to eat better, one common challenge is that healthy and organic ingredients aren’t the most affordable or accessible. What are good ways to incorporate healthier choices without breaking the bank?
FLR: It’s true that some healthy ingredients are expensive, but many of them are affordable, like canned and dried beans and whole grains. Save money by buying ingredients in bulk and then storing them in airtight containers. Take care of those higher priced items and they’ll take care of you! For example, store nuts in the freezer and keep olive oil away from heat and light and it will last much longer.
Let’s talk about snacking. What are your go-to healthy snacks for when your kids want something to munch on before dinner starts?
FLR: There is always that 45 minute or so window between the kids coming home and dinner being ready. I always have mini cucumbers, bell peppers, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and other “easy” vegetables at the ready to be served with hummus or a yogurt-based dip that I can whip together. I also serve up pitted olives, so I guess it’s like a Mediterranean mezze.
What do we do about extremely picky eaters who refuse anything with vegetables in the dish? What are some ways to introduce new foods on the table?
FLR: I do think that using vegetables in dishes that kids already like is a great way to encourage them to eat more of them and try new ones. For example, my oldest daughter (she’s the pickiest) loves lo mein noodles. I can add some chopped scallions and bok choy to the dish and hopefully she’ll twirl some up with her noodles. It’s certainly challenging, but it’s really true that you may have to offer a kid a new food up to 20 times before they’ll actually try it. Keep offering and let them surprise you!
Mornings are not always easy, especially when you have kids! Do you have any recipes you can make quickly, or perhaps even prepare ahead of time the night before?
FLR: Mornings can definitely get derailed by so many things (oversleeping and stubborn toddlers to name two), so prepping breakfast ahead of time is really smart. We love making overnight oats because the recipe is so customizable and it’s ready to go when you are. This recipe for Blueberry Banana Overnight Oats with Coconutis super easy and older kids can even help with toasting the coconut. The oats provide slow-burning carbohydrates to help keep us fueled until lunch. I created this recipe to be nut-free so that anyone can enjoy it, but you can certainly stir in nut butter or add chopped almonds, pistachios or walnuts right before eating to keep it crunchy.
Makes 4 servings
¼ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 cups rolled oats
1⁄4 cup chia seeds
Pinch of salt
2 cups milk, or non-dairy alternative
1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons honey, divided
1 banana, sliced
1 cup blueberries
1. Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 325° F. Spread coconut out on a lined baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes, until golden. Let cool.
2. Place the oats, chia seeds, and salt in a bowl. Mix well and transfer ½ cup to each of four Mason jars or other lidded containers.
3. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk the milk together with 1 tablespoon of the honey. Pour ½ cup of the milk over the oats in each jar.
4. Distribute the banana slices into each of the 4 jars. Top with ¼ cup of blueberries and a tablespoon of the toasted coconut. Drizzle each jar with ½ teaspoon of the remaining honey.
5. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Stir and enjoy!
Recipe by Frances Largeman-Roth for Quaker and Common Threads. For more recipes from the new Family Cooking Classes, plus recipe-driven games for your kids, check out www.commonbytes.org.
Shanon Maglente is an intern in the lifestyle department at Parents. Follow her on Instagram.