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6 Tips to Transform Your Kid’s Nutrition

By Lauryn Lax

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April 13, 2015

What were your favorite foods as a kid?

Personally, growing up in the microwave and convenient foods generation, I loved Pop-Tarts for breakfast, a Hot Pocket or Lunchable for lunch, Chewy Granola Bars or Teddy Grahams snack crackers for an after school snack, Kraft Mac & Cheese or a Kids Cuisine (frozen dinner) on Friday nights for dinner, and always a little sweet treat, such as an Oreo or bite-size Snickers bar for dessert.

In short: A lot of packaged, processed foods.

Granted, no one really knew ‘better’ at the time. The childhood obesity ‘epidemic’ was not something that was talked about, childhood Type II Diabetes did not exist and kids still played outside.

Nevertheless, knowledge IS power, and today, more than ever, there is more awareness about nutrition—specifically kids’ nutrition—and a recognition that what we feed our kids can and does tremendously impact their health, behavior, cognition and all around quality of life.

Common inquiries and comments from parents concerning their kids’ nutrition include:

“I know they need to eat better—but they hate vegetables! How can I get them to eat more veggies?”

“They just want to snack, they’ll never eat a full meal at meal times.”

“At lunch at school, he buys Hostess Little Debbie snack cakes with the money I give him for a healthy snack.”

“We don’t allow soda or junk in the house, but every time she is out at a friends or a birthday party, she eats so much of it.”

“He won’t even try anything if it’s not chicken nuggets, cereal or spaghetti.”

The reality is that kids need just as high a quality of fuel as you—if not better—for optimal growth and development.

That means real food: Plenty of protein, veggies, fats and lots of water, along with some fruits and little starch.

Gluten, dairy, legumes (beans and peanuts) and sugar can wreak havoc on your kids’ health. Studies have shown that these inflammatory foods are linked to nutrient deficiencies, poor attention span, agitation and mood swings, allergies, constipation, ADD/ADHD, impaired cognitive function, digestive issues and even autism!

So what’s a parent to do?

Here are a few ideas for transforming your kids’ nutrition:

Baby steps.
The “cold turkey” approach to eating more real food is not the optimal way to make changes in your family’s nutrition. A sudden switch from the regular frozen pizza and daily Cinnamon Toast Crunch to chicken and broccoli omelets is unlikely to go over well. Instead, ease the kids into their new eating patterns. You might start by just cutting out gluten at one meal, or even just one gluten-containing food (such as breakfast cereal or pasta). Getting the kids used to eating eggs and bacon instead of their sugary cereal might be a baby step, but it’s a baby step in the right direction. Gradually replace ‘kid-food’ snacks like Goldfish, Graham Crackers and gummy fruit snacks with full-fat raw cheddar or raw almond butter and crisp apple slices, nitrate-free deli turkey/ham rolled around mini tomatoes and cucumber, tuna or chicken salad made with mustard, and homemade energy bars (almond butter, unsweetened coconut flakes, dates).

Get the kids involved.
Who doesn’t like autonomy? Bring the kids in on the fun and healthy lifestyle changes you are making. Have them help you make the grocery list, give them a choice between two healthy dishes you want to prepare, recruit their helping hands in the kitchen and give them choices in the healthy foods you are putting in their lunchboxes.

Make meals fun through how you present the food on the plate. Broccoli is just boring broccoli unless it becomes ‘trees in the forest’, perhaps sprinkled with some walnuts around them and drizzled with a little olive oil (nuts fell from the trees?). Bell peppers or tomatoes become ‘boats’ for chicken or tuna salad. Cut shapes in deli meats with cookie cutters. Sprinkle ‘ants’ (raisins) celery sticks spread with almond butter. You get the picture.

Flavor Water.
Even you get bored with water sometimes. Spritz water with citrus or other fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, strawberries, etc. Avoid artificial sweeteners or sugary juice boxes.

For practically every single food your kid likes, there IS a healthier substitute that tastes even better—especially when you’re the one that prepares it. Google can become your best friend to find recipes and substitutions for anything, from popcorn (switch out for cauliflower popcorn), to milk (switch for unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk ), to pizza, spaghetti and Pop-Tarts . For dessert, start to replace sweet treats with naturally sweet fruits, such as cinnamon baked apples, frozen grapes or bananas, and berries with a few unsweetened coconut flakes on top.

Don’t Stress.
Your kids will eat. And they are going to begin to regulate their bodies, and rewire their brains to thrive off of real foods their bodies were meant to live and grow from. Rest easy that your kids are getting better nutrients by eating real food than they would on a standard American diet. By removing gut irritants like grains, dairy, and sugar, your child is better able to absorb the nutrients that he or she is eating.

Kid-Friendly Recipe:
‘Chick-Fil-A’ Chicken Nuggets
*Inspired by the Primal Palate

2 lb Chicken Breast, sliced into 1″ chunks
1/4 cup Pickles, (pickle juice, not actual pickles!)
1 whole Egg, beaten
2 Tbsp coconut milk (unsweet)
1/4 cup Tapioca Starch or arrowroot starch
1 Tbsp Paprika
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 pinch Cayenne Pepper
¼ cup coconut oil for frying

1. Place the chicken chunks in a resealable plastic bag and add the pickle juice; marinate in the fridge for up to 4 hours.

2. Open the bag and pour out any excess pickle juice. The chicken doesn’t have to be perfectly drained, just not completely juicy. Add the beaten egg and the coconut milk, and mix together, then let sit for five minutes. Again, open the bag and pour out the excess liquid, if there is any. Texture is important; the pieces should be wet but not swimming in a soup of the liquid mixture.

3. Prep your dry ingredients by stirring them all together. Add the dry ingredients and mix them together in the bag through a combination of shaking, rubbing, and pleading.

4. Heat oil over stove.

5. ‘Fry’ the chicken pieces, flipping every few minutes, until nice and golden brown (6-8 minutes); Don’t overcrowd the skillet; it may take a few batches.

6. Drain the chicken pieces on paper towels as you cook the others and keep them warm in the oven at 170 degrees.

Crispy Sweet Potato Fries
Who doesn’t love sweet potato fries?

4 sweet potatoes (Garnet is the best for this), cut into 6-8″, 2-3″ in diameter wedges
4 tablespoons olive oil or melted coconut oil (drizzle on potatoes)
Optional seasonings (sea salt, pepper, cinnamon, paprika, etc.)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees and lightly grease two cookie sheets, or line with parchment.

2. Peel your sweet potatoes but do not rinse them, you need them dry so the oil adheres.

3. Slice your sweet potatoes into fries: Fries should be between ½” and ¾”.

4. In a large bowl, toss the fries with the olive oil and any seasonings you like.

5. Spread the fries out in a single layer on a cookie sheet.

5. Place no more than two cookie sheets in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes.

6. Remove cookie sheets and flip the fries over, they should be golden on the flipped side. Return the cookie sheets, switching out the cookie sheet positions.

7. Cook for another 10-15 minutes until the fries are golden and crispy.

Kid-Approved Ketchup
Avoid the added sugar and preservatives of conventional ketchup.

2 – 6oz Cans of Tomato Paste
2/3 cup Balsamic Vinegar
¼ Cup – Local Unfiltered Honey (optional added natural sugar)
1 Cup – Water
1/8 TSP – Salt
½ TSP – Garlic Powder
½ TSP – Onion Powder
¼ TSP Allspice

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Allow simmering for about 10 minutes to help all the flavors blend, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes, remove from heat, cover, and allow to cool. When cooled, place the mixture in an old ketchup container or a mason jar. Will store in the refrigerator for about three weeks.

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