Kids Cook

Popular advice for parents from professionals includes offering healthy choices and allowing kids to choose what and how much. This is good but if you really want to increase a kid’s likelihood of eating fruits and vegetables, get him or her involved in shopping and preparing the food. Here are some fun ideas and tips for parents, teachers and caretakers:

Making easy meals and snacks

• Potato bar - Have children wash potatoes and help you pierce them with a fork. Allow them to place them in the microwave and operate the buttons to turn it on with adult supervision. While potatoes are cooking, prepare bowls of nonfat sour cream, steamed broccoli and shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese. Allow them to stuff their own potatoes.

• Salad bar - Make a salad bar using lettuce and a mixture of fresh vegetables. Have children help with washing and draining the lettuce, putting cut veggies in dishes and placing dressings nearby; they can even set the table. Allow them to make their own salads. Praise them for their creations and encourage them to eat a variety of colors.

• Fruit sundae - Kids can wash the fruit and even cut the easier ones, like bananas or strawberries, using a plastic knife. Have them place various fresh fruits in bowls. Give them each a bowl of nonfat yogurt. Allow them to make their own sundaes using nonfat yogurt, fruit and light chocolate syrup. You can add colored sprinkles.

• Garden spaghetti - Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Make the sauce in the blender with a lower-sodium pasta sauce, frozen vegetables and a little tomato paste. Have an adult supervise using the blender and pureeing the sauce. Heat the sauce and serve over pasta.

• Tortilla pizza - Use a tortilla as the crust for a pizza. Add a variety of chopped veggies and reduced-fat shredded mozzarella. Bake in a toaster oven or regular oven until the vegetables are heated and tender, about 20 minutes. Cut into quarters and serve. We recommend making a salad while you are waiting for the pizza to cook.

Food projects

• Food diary - Have kids make a diary of foods they eat every day. This can be for one week or just one day. Help them count how many servings they are eating from each group in MyPlate. Use this to determine if they need to adjust their eating habits.

• Plan for 5 A Day - Have kids draw a chart with 4 sections - one for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Children can write or draw pictures of fruits and vegetables they will eat at each meal period to get to 5 A Day.

• Snack designer - Assemble a variety of healthy foods like peanut butter, apples, raisins, celery, carrots, bananas, whole grain crackers and yogurt and have kids create artwork using these items. Adults should cut the fruits and vegetables. Kids can make happy faces, animals, flowers, butterflies, fish and more with these items. Best of all, they can eat their creations. To get them started, you can create a butterfly using a banana cut in half lengthwise, yogurt and sprinkles.

Author’s note: I have been visiting farmer's markets and stands to collect good produce for various recipes I am working on. My son, Nicholas (age 5), said he wasn't going to have any vegetables. He started helping me in the kitchen to shuck some corn and the next thing I knew, he ate 2 ears of corn and 1 whole cup of steamed broccoli with his dinner. We had fresh strawberries and watermelon for dessert!!

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