August is Kids Eat Right Month, a time to help kids learn more about nutrition and to give them the tools and skills they need to make better choices. As a dietitian you’d think my kids are the poster children for Kids Eat Right…but they’re not!
My kids love their sweets, prefer dessert over dinner, and could live off of snack food. Dinnertime is a challenge, trying to get them to eat anything except pasta with grated cheese or cherry tomatoes (whole – never cut! I learned my lesson). As a mom I do everything I can to get them into the kitchen with me, to help with dinner or assemble salads. Usually I lose to the television or iPad.
So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a brilliant way to get kids interested in exploring the kitchen and creating something delicious. And it involves no cooking and nearly no supervision. I wish I could take credit for this discovery, but alas it was an activity done in their summer camp/daycare that piqued their interest.
The theme for the week was Western, and my son made “cowboy chow” (otherwise known as trail mix). He brought home a white paper bag with a mixture of cereal, pretzels, raisins, dried cranberries, chocolate chips and marshmallows. For the next few mornings the kids wanted to make their own trail mix breakfasts, complete with cereal, whole-grain goldfish crackers, raisins, peanuts, almonds – whatever we had in the pantry. They explored, tried different textures (including taking a chewy granola bar and crumbling it up), mixed salty and sweet…and were completely self-sufficient.
While trail mix isn’t my favorite breakfast to serve the kids, and it certainly isn’t the most healthful choice in our kitchen, the lesson here was less about nutrition and more about discovery and self-reliance. It’s my job as parent (and dietitian!) to stock better-for-you choices in my pantry, and then my kids have the freedom to take it upon themselves to experiment. That’s what cooking – and creating – is all about: the discovery and the delicious final result.
You can make your own trail mix (or cowboy chow, or princess power food – or whatever will get your kids excited) with pretty much anything in your pantry. Let your kids explore and choose a few bite-sized finger foods, throw them into a bowl and see what happens. Ask them if they want it a little sweeter, a little more salty, or maybe a bit more colorful. When you go shopping, explore the dried fruits aisle and see if there’s something new your kids might want to try (try to avoid pre-sweetened or fried fruits, and opt for naturally-sweetened or dehydrated versions instead).
The clincher for me was the following Saturday morning. My kids were darling enough to let my husband and I sleep in, and when I woke up there were two very proud children with a buffet-like spread laid out on the kitchen table. They made their own breakfast bar for the family to enjoy!