It’s not easy to get kids to eat healthy, and it’s even more difficult to get them to understand why eating a certain way is important; children live in the now and are blissfully unaware of how their habits as children will impact them as adults.
The sooner you help kids to establish healthy eating habits, the easier it will be for them to adopt them for the long term. But before getting into the most child-friendly heart-healthy meals, here’s a primer on how to eat healthy, specifically with the heart in mind:
Heart-Healthy Eating 101
Heart-healthy foods are low in both salt and saturated fat (with zero trans fats). But that doesn’t mean that they are completely free of fat! Instead, heart-healthy foods may contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats — and that’s ok. Not all fats are bad, and it’s important to accept this fact if you intend to follow a heart-healthy diet. Of course, anything in excess can be harmful, so make sure to follow a balanced diet that includes proportionate amounts of nutrients.
The following represent some of the best heart-healthy foods, and how to use them in child-friendly heart-healthy meals.
The ChooseMyPlate website identifies grains as any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Luckily, it’s not too hard to get kids to eat grains — it’s just important to make sure that the grains they consume are nutrient-rich. Refined grains, like white flour, lose a lot of the best heart-healthy nutrients, while whole grains keep everything intact.
A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using whole grains:
- A bowl of oatmeal with sliced fruit
- A whole grain sandwich with lean meats (like turkey) and vegetables
- Whole grain pasta with pesto (the olive oil in pesto has heart-healthy fats)
Everyone knows vegetables are good for them, but certain vegetables are better than others for heart health. Specifically, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, and red peppers (and many other red, yellow, and orange veggies) are known as being especially heart-healthy.
The secret to getting kids to eat veggies (and getting them excited about it!) is often to hide them in something else, or draw attention to another part of the meal so that they barely notice the vegetables.
A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using vegetables:
- A veggie-filled omelette
- Chicken fajitas with red peppers
- Sweet potato and black bean salad (recipe)
- Smoothies — it’s easy to disguise the taste of carrots and spinach with fruit!
Most tomato varieties provide lycopene, vitamin C and alpha- and beta-carotene. Luckily, it’s usually not too hard to get kids to eat tomatoes.
A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using tomatoes:
- Tomato sauce with chopped veggies and whole grain pasta (two heart-healthy ingredients)
- Sloppy Joes made with salsa and ketchup, with lean ground turkey
Besides being delicious, berries are rich with heart-healthy phytonutrients and soluble fiber.
A few child-friendly heart-healthy meal ideas using berries:
- Yogurt parfait with berries
- Whole grain cereal with berries (two heart-healthy ingredients)
Two things you might not expect to be heart-healthy: wine and chocolate. As you should certainly abstain from giving kids wine, you don’t have to deny them a delicious dark chocolate dessert. The chocolate should be at least 70% cocoa to achieve heart-healthy effects, and is most healthy in its purest form (aka, not as part of a sugar-rich ice cream or multi-ingredient candy bar).
Knowing the right inputs will make it easy to create child-friendly heart-healthy meals. But it’s always nice to have expert help when teaching nutrition basics to children. SPARK’s Nutrition Services can help fill any gaps, and provide a foundation for teaching kids about nutrition.
What would you add to this list?