(Photo credits: Alex Green)
|Written By Casey Bloom
In today’s fast-paced world, convenience often takes priority over the more important things in life, like health and nutrition. From fast food restaurants to pre-packaged meals, modern technology and transportation have made accessing a wide variety of food options easier.
However, many of these “quick” meals are highly processed, loaded with calories, saturated fats, sugars, and lack the essential nutrients that growing children need.
Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to ensure that children get the proper nutrition and develop healthy eating habits.
Although preparing healthy meals for kids can be challenging, with suitable recipes and ingredients, it’s possible to create nutritious meals that even picky eaters will love.
It’s not just kids - there are healthy meal options for infants, too! Growing and storing your own baby food allows you to know exactly what is in the jar. Skip the preservatives and give your kids nothing but the best. Common store-bought options often lack nutrients lost through the preservation process.
Let’s explore the importance of preparing healthy meals for children, incorporating creative food prep ideas, and involving your children in this process.
The Importance of Healthy Meal Options for Children
Healthy eating habits are essential for children’s growth and development. Unfortunately, millions of children suffer from poor nutrition, which leads to long-term health and developmental problems.
Although lack of food is a significant contributor to these issues, especially in underdeveloped countries, consuming the wrong types of foods or excessive amounts of unhealthy options can also lead to poor nutrition.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity is a severe problem in the United States.
This is where the value of providing children with a balanced and nutritious diet comes in. A report from the CDC suggests that children who regularly eat various fruits and vegetables have a reduced risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.
Aside from physical health benefits, good nutrition also plays a role in a child’s mental and emotional development.
A study on the relationship between food and mood suggests that healthy eating habits can improve mental well-being and mood.
Healthy Meal Prep Ideas
Preparing nutritious meals for your children can be challenging, especially if you have picky eaters. However, a bit of creativity can go a long way.
For breakfast, try whole-grain waffles or pancakes. An article posted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says using whole grains instead of refined grains substantially lowers cholesterol and insulin levels.
Whole-grain foods are also a great source of fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients often lost in refined grains. Don’t know where to get good-quality whole grains? Plant them!
You can provide a sweet and satisfying start to your children’s day by topping their breakfast with fresh fruit or Greek yogurt.
For lunch, a turkey or chicken sandwich packed with vegetables can provide protein and healthy fats, which children need for physical development, such as height and weight.
Adding plenty of vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles ensures your children have a well-balanced meal. Adding sprouts and microgreens is a great alternative to standard leafy greens as they are packed with more nutrients than their mature leaves. According to the USDA, broccoli sprouts and microgreens can boast up to 40 times the nutrients of the standard florets. Not only are they healthy, but also easy and fun to grow.
With a bit of creativity and patience, it’s possible to make healthy meals fun and exciting for children. But whatever you do, do not make the mistake of using your parental authority to force them to eat nutritious foods like vegetables.
If your child doesn’t like a vegetable, offer it in small amounts with another healthy food that they like. Or you can give them “Did You Know?” fun facts like telling them that watermelons, cucumbers, and squashes all belong to the melon family.
You can start “decorating” their dinner plates with colorful vegetables carved or sliced to look like a flower or an animal. Tell them they taste as good as they look and that they should take a bite to find out.
For dinner, try giving them grilled fish with a side of roasted vegetables - a simple and satisfying option to lean protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Add variety to your meal prep ideas. Studies show that a diverse diet results in better health outcomes, including reduced risk of allergies and other chronic diseases.
Involve Children in Preparing Meals
Did you know that children involved in meal prep are more likely to eat healthy?
According to a study, children who participated in meal prepping ate 76% more salad, 27% more carrots, and 11% more green beans than those who weren’t involved.
Suffice it to say involving your children in meal prep is an excellent way to encourage them to try new foods and develop healthy eating habits.
Fortunately, involving your children in meal prep doesn’t have to include knives and fire. Here are some simple tips:
Let Your Children Choose
Giving your children the freedom to choose ingredients for the meal can help them feel more involved. Allowing children to make choices also promotes feelings of closeness and belongingness, an essential aspect of mental well-being.
Allow Kids to Help With Simple Tasks
Teaching children how to correctly and safely handle kitchen tools, such as knives and stoves, can help them feel more confident and aware in the kitchen.
In addition, assigning them age-appropriate tasks like washing the fruits and vegetables, stirring the ingredients, or setting the dining table can help develop their motor skills and give them a sense of accomplishment.
Make It Fun
Counting calories or ensuring that your meals meet your child’s dietary needs can be dull. But it doesn’t always have to be.
Consider playing music or using colorful tools like measuring cups and cookie cutters to create fun shapes with fruits and vegetables.
Meal prep can be time-consuming, so many parents often resort to “quick” meals that aren’t healthy for their children.
However, ensuring that your children receive proper nutrition is crucial for their growth and development. So be patient, even when they make a mess.
|Casey Bloom, Freelance Writer
Casey Bloom’s field of studies is concentrated in language and literature. Before her stint as a writer, she was an advertising creative. She is a vegan advocate who believes in the healing power of CBD. Casey aspires to become a mother who raises a naturally healthy family. You can find her insights at Motherhood Community. Apart from her love for nature and wellness, Casey also believes that veganism has improved her well-being. She has recently taken an interest in what happens inside the body and how our bodies change. Casey writes for W-Radiology regularly.