Mary Walsh, CEO
My Healthy Kids Holistic Pediatrics and Family Birth & Wellness
Feeding my kids foods that will nourish their bodies is one of my greatest joys in life. I want them not only to be strong and healthy now as children but also to grow up and live healthy adult lives. I’ll do whatever I can to minimize the chances that they will struggle with autoimmune conditions, diabetes, or mental health issues later in life. Diet plays such a huge role in their futures.
When you introduce foods to a child for the first time, starting with the right ones can make a big difference in developing their palate and the foods they gravitate toward in the future. The latest science tells us that each person’s individual gut microbiome is “set” during the first three years of life and will be difficult to change as much as we wish after that. This particular makeup of living flora in each of our bodies plays a huge role in many health issues throughout life.
Some good first choices when starting foods include soft-cooked veggies, broths, pureed boiled meats, healthy fats like avocados, egg yolks, and cultured/fermented foods with live cultures in them like plain unsweetened kefir and yogurt. Save the sweets (even mashed bananas and lots of sweet fruits), grains, and starches for later. They are easy to love and become addicted to…and you have plenty of time to introduce them later.
Cultivate your baby’s love for finger feeding with tiny bits of soft cooked carrots instead of cheerios, for sipping on bone broth over fruit juice, and for shoving handfuls of avocado or soft cooked egg yolks into their mouth instead of cookies or highly sweetened yogurts. A great local resource that will help you decide what to feed your new eater step-by-step, and how to help prevent food allergies is Blooming Motherhood.
What if you already have a picky eater? What if your kid already loves sugar, pizza, and frozen waffles, and hates most veggies and soups, scrambled eggs and whole grains, and, well, practically anything healthy? Where do you start?
Start small… but be persistent.
First, get rid of some of the junky snacks and sweets that you have kept around so there are fewer unhealthy options at his/her fingertips. Pop-Tarts or Fruit Loops just don’t have to be a breakfast option anymore. Feeding them a bowl of soup for dinner instead of pizza may not happen right now, but perhaps you can cook your rice in bone broth instead of water to add some nutrition. Perhaps you can find a smoothie blend that they like, gradually decrease the sweet, and ever so gradually increase the healthy stuff you sneak into it.
My kids expect their smoothies to be green because I always put lots of fresh greens (like baby spinach) in them. The first time I introduced a green smoothie, I hyped it up ahead of time and named them “Green Grinch Smoothies” since they had just watched the Grinch movie. They thought it was something extra exciting since it was a tasty, fruity green drink!
My favorite healthy food to add to a smoothie doesn’t mess with the taste or texture a bit. It is a big heaping tablespoon of plain unflavored, unsweetened gelatin. You can use the Knox brand found in any grocery store or get a larger canister for a better price from any place that sells health foods. This adds 12 grams of protein per tablespoon and is loaded with gut-healing properties. If your kid struggles with tummy aches, bowel issues, allergies, or eczema, you may find this will help.
Maybe they hate most veggies. But, is there one they kind of like? Serve it often. Find fun ways to make other veggies more interesting. Maybe try a new dip or veggies arranged in a fun way. It is a good idea to encourage them to keep trying one bite (even if you allow them to spit it out in a napkin) each time a food is served. Keep reminding them that even though sometimes we don’t like a particular food or flavor, as we grow our likes often change and we start to like things that we once didn’t.
Don’t give up.
Blend some veggies and add to your meatballs… use chickpea or brown rice pasta instead of regular white pasta. Decrease the sugar in what you bake and throw in some ground flaxseed.
Remember, some days are a success and others aren’t. The more your children are exposed to a variety of flavors, the more likely they are to start liking some of them eventually. Two more of my favorite resources for kid-friendly healthy food ideas are Raising Generation Nourished and Kids Eat in Color.
Mary Walsh is a busy mom of three boys with boy number four arriving soon. She and her husband, Ben, own My Healthy Kids Holistic Pediatrics and Family Birth & Wellness Center in Springfield, Missouri. Mary is a midwife and a certified GAPS Practitioner. Join her on Instagram @myhappygutfood to find more of her kid-approved healthy recipes.
Easy Wholesome Protein Pancakes
Layer in the blender in this order:
2 cups of cottage cheese
Splash of lemon juice and vanilla (optional)
2 cups of rolled oats
1 Tbsp baking powder
Blend until smooth and creamy batter. Pour onto hot greased griddle and cook until golden brown. Serve with a lightly sweetened berry sauce or real maple syrup! Delicious!
Chicken Nuggets and Homemade Chick-fil-A Sauce
1 pound ground chicken or turkey
2 Tbsp soft coconut oil
2 cup finely shredded sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp coconut flour
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Mix everything together until well combined. Scoop up a heaping tablespoon, roll into a ball, flatten onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400° for 12-13 minutes. Flip over and bake another 12-13 minutes. From Renee Kohley at Raising Generation Nourished.
Homemade Chick-fil-A Sauce (without all the corn syrup)
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup BBQ sauce
¼ cup raw honey
2 Tbsp yellow mustard
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp t fresh lemon juice
Whisk all ingredients together. Store covered in the fridge like any other condiment. This tastes almost identical without all the unhealthy ingredients. @myhappygutfood
Fudgy Chickpea Brownies
The boys made these with very little help. I just had to supervise so they didn’t eat all the batter before they went into the oven! These brownies are seriously fudgy and so good with no weird flavor at all! Try not to eat the whole pan at once!
1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained
½ cup natural no-sugar added peanut butter (or other nut butter)
½ cup honey or maple syrup
1 Tbsp coconut oil or butter
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup almond flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup chocolate chips
Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Process all ingredients except the chocolate chips in the food processor until very smooth and creamy. (A blender doesn’t work very well.) Remove blade and stir in chocolate chips. Spread in greased 8×8 pan. Sprinkle with more chocolate chips if desired. Bake at 350 for 21-23 minutes.