Eating well with kids

A day in the life of eating well: family edition

Kids need the right fuel at the right times to help them develop and focus on learning. As a parent, you might be finished growing, but you also need to eat well to be healthy and live well.

The best way to make sure your kids eat a nutritious breakfast is for you to eat one too! When grocery shopping, consider stocking up on a few different breakfast options for the week. It’s easy to get stuck in a breakfast rut. The more choice they have, the more likely your family will eat breakfast.

On weekends, have kids help prepare breakfast for the whole family. Start with something simple and get more advanced as they learn their way around the kitchen. Here’s a list for beginners:

  • homemade oatmeal or other grains made without sugar and topped with yogurt and fruit
  • whole grain toast topped with peanut or other nut butter, with fruit and a glass of milk on the side
  • yogurt and pre-cut fruit and nuts
  • fruit smoothies
  • scrambled eggs and toast, with a side of fruit
  • whole grain cereal and fruit

Get your children involved. They can help you prepare lunches in the morning or the night before. Kids can clean out their lunch bag, wash veggies and fruit, help cut them up and pack them as healthy snacks.

Sandwiches – Try cutting them into different shapes. Or you can swap sliced bread for whole wheat pita, tortilla wraps or bagels. The same old fillings will taste better if it doesn’t look like a sandwich!

Hot lunch – Fill a thermos with soup, pasta, veggie-fried rice, curries and other leftovers for a quick and wholesome meal.

Salads – Assemble a filling salad with plenty of lettuce, veggies, nuts, protein (like tuna, a hard-boiled egg or leftover meat). Fill a small container with a vinaigrette dressing to pour over the salad at lunchtime.

Bento box – Using small containers, pack a little bit of everything. Try to get something from each of the food groups, like:

  • crackers and cheese, grapes, carrots and a muffin
  • pita wedges with salsa or guacamole, apple slices and assorted raw veggies
  • leftover chicken or beef, sliced peppers, clementine and pretzels

With their small stomachs, younger children can’t always meet their nutritional needs at mealtimes. Even older kids and adults need energy in between meals to keep going. Healthy snacks can give us all a boost, especially after school or when going to and from activities.

Keep healthy snacks and drinks handy – pack them in your bag or backpack and on car journeys. You’ll be less likely to be tempted by unhealthy processed foods like chips, chocolates or candy.

Healthy anytime snacks:

  • bite-sized vegetables (carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets, celery sticks)
  • whole wheat pita with hummus or bean dip
  • whole grain toast with fruit spread or nut butter
  • cheese and whole grain crackers
  • a bowl of whole grain cereal and milk, topped with berries
  • yogurt with granola topping
  • fresh fruit or fruit cups
  • yogurt smoothie
  • popsicles made with puréed fruit or yogurt

The end of the day is hectic for most families. Good news! Your dinners don’t need to be fancy to be healthy. Planning ahead and having all the ingredients in your kitchen makes it easier to get a simple meal on the table quickly.

Dinner ideas:

  • stir-fries
  • whole wheat pasta and sauce
  • meat or vegetarian tacos with toppings like lettuce, tomato, avocado, salsa and cheese
  • curries with rice
  • grilled, roasted or baked fish, chicken or beef with at least 2 sides of seasonal veggies
  • homemade pizza with lots of veggies
  • stews or soups – pop these in the slow cooker before you leave in the morning to arrive home to dinner in a flash

13 ways to get more veggies and fruit into your kids

Canada’s Food Guide recommends that we all eat plenty of vegetables and fruit each day.

This can sometimes be challenging with kids. How do we make sure they get enough?

Serve bite-sized pieces

Sliced apples, carrot sticks and small broccoli “trees” are more inviting to smaller hands and appetites than whole fruits and vegetables. They’ll be more likely to try new things and eat more of what they like!

Offer an array of choices
Kids like to decide. They also like to crunch! Try to give them a few choices of raw veggies and fruit for snacks. And offer a couple of options at mealtime too.
Just add dip
Plain yogurt-based dips or hummus are great to add flavour and excitement to veggies and fruit.
Serve them with a side of fun
Cut fruit and veggies into shapes or turn slices into a happy face on a plate.
Offer veggies in different ways

Raw, fresh, dried, canned and frozen offer slightly different tastes and textures. If your child won’t eat cooked peas, serve them raw and see what happens!

Grow your own
Kids are more likely to be interested in food they’ve helped nurture along. Container gardening is easy and can be done almost anywhere.
Visit your local farmers market
You’ll get the freshest, best version of seasonal fruit and veggies. Plus, chatting with farmers is a great way to learn about where food comes from.
Add more veggies to your recipes
Dishes like soup, stew, pasta sauce, curry, chili and shepherd’s pie can always use more veggies than recipes call for. If you think your kids will resist kale or broccoli in spaghetti sauce, pop some in the blender and then stir it in.
Make baking more nutritious
Puréed fruit or shredded veggies can be added to muffin and pancake batters for extra flavour and nutrition.
Make popsicles

Mix vanilla yogurt and fruit like strawberries, mango or banana in a blender. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze.

Create your own trail mix
Combine nuts, seeds, wholegrain cereals and a serving of dried fruit such as raisins, figs or apricots for a healthy snack.
Make smoothies

Smoothies make great on-the-go breakfasts and snacks. Combine fruit, vegetables, yogurt and ice along with milk, soy milk or rice milk in a blender. Blend until smooth and enjoy.

Offer whole fruit instead of juice
Even 100% juice is full of sugar and calories. Whole fruit has the benefit of fibre and can be just as thirst-quenching. If you serve juice, make it a small amount and dilute it with water.
A family preparing a meal together in the kitchen

How to encourage good food habits in your kids

We all want our children to get the nutrients they need to grow and develop. But this can be challenging. Not only is it hard to fit healthy choices into busy days, there is a wide array of processed food and sugary drinks tempting kids almost everywhere they go.

Helping your kids eat well now will make them more likely to eat well as they get older.

A family preparing a meal together in the kitchen

Some proven ways to help your kids develop healthy eating habits

Make healthy eating choices yourself

Kids model their parents’ actions and values. If you reach for vegetables more often than potato chips, they will too.

Be patient with their tastes

You may have to introduce your kids to a new food many times before they decide to try it. Try introducing a new vegetable or fruit in a variety of forms, such as chopped, grated, blended, cooked, raw and baked.

Involve your kids in grocery shopping

Ask them to pick out a vegetable or fruit. Talk to them about why they chose it and let them try it as a snack or suggest how to use it at mealtime.

Show your kids how to read a food label

Explain to them what to look for, including serving size, sugar, fat and salt. Teach them that the % Daily Value shows whether the serving size has a little or a lot of an ingredient – 5% or less is a little and 15% or more is a lot.

Sign them up for cooking classes

Many grocery stores and community centres offer classes for kids. See if yours are interested in learning how to cook.

Set regular times for meals and healthy snacks

Kids tend to snack more when there’s no real schedule and are more likely to reach for sugary or salty treats.

Plan to eat at least 1 meal together as a family every day

If this seems impossible with a busy activity schedule, be creative. Try a picnic after a game or practice. Set aside at least 1 night a week as family dinner night when you can take your time and enjoy food together.

Encourage your child to eat slowly

When we eat too quickly, our body thinks it needs more food to feel full.

Get the kids involved when you’re cooking

They can help with simple tasks like washing vegetables, stirring soup or putting toppings on pizza.

Remind kids to drink fluids, preferably water, throughout the day

Save drinks like pop and juice for special occasions, not every day. Buy them their own water bottle and decorate it!