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Can you relate to this? You work hard all day running the kids here and there, have a full day of work appointments and then rush to pick the kids up by the end of the day. You get home and immediately start making a balanced meal for the family. You're working as fast as you can because you know that your kids are hungry and ready to eat. Then someone says, "Oh, mom! I don’t like that. Could we just have [insert unhealthy option] instead?”
You take a deep breath and wonder, "Why am I going through all this effort while I am so tired at the end of the day, and they don’t even appreciate it!?"
I hear about these types of scenarios all the time in my office when meeting with families — although, the scenario above was actually in my home not too long ago.
So, what to do? Instead of completely caving in, try having a "MyPlate Night" using leftovers and items from the pantry and refrigerator. This is how it goes: Kids choose what they want to have for dinner, but they must use the MyPlate components to build their plates. Print the MyPlate graphic and put it on your fridge as a guide.
Protein choices could be leftover lean meat, fish or poultry, and they also can be eggs, peanut butter, nuts, beans, lentils or tofu.
Grain choices can run the gamut from whole-grain cereals or crackers to leftover rice and pasta. The recommendation is to aim for at least half of our grains to be whole, so it is not necessary for every choice to be whole grain. In our home, 99 percent of grains we eat typically are whole grain, so most likely my kids' choices will be as well.
Veggies can include raw and cooked varieties, including fresh, frozen or canned. If your children are limited in what they like and pick the same vegetable every time, let them do it. Praise them for including veggies on their plate and it will encourage them to do it again. And, maybe next time, they will be encouraged to try something new! Kids love positive reinforcement.
Fruit can be served with the meal, or you could give them the idea to have fresh fruit as their dessert. My kids love mixed berries with whipped cream or even fresh pineapple as a sweet ending to their meal. Have many different fruits for them to choose from. Canned and frozen fruit is OK too.
Dairy is a key component of a healthy diet for proper growth. I see many kids in my private practice who are not getting three servings of dairy each day, and this could put them at risk for vitamin D deficiency and poor bone growth. If your child does not like the taste of cow's milk, has a milk allergy, or if your family practices a vegan diet, consider alternatives such as calcium and vitamin D-fortified soy milk or almond milk. Remember that yogurt and cheese contain calcium, too.
"MyPlate Night" is meant to be an empowering activity for your kids, so try your best to not be critical. Remember, your goal here is not necessarily for them to pick perfect items for that particular evening, but to build their confidence to make healthy choices throughout their lives.
Finally, remember that feeding children is not something we do to them, it is something we do with them. Be sure that you are also participating in "MyPlate Night" and show your enthusiasm when enjoying healthy foods.