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Simply Nutritious, Quick and Delicious

Want Your Kids to Eat Healthier? Get Them in the Kitchen!

This week's blog post is written by University of Illinois student intern, Brett Loman.

Sometimes it's just easier to have your kids play in the other room while you throw dinner together, but are you making the right choice? Recent research suggests that kids who are involved in meal preparation are more likely to eat the foods that they make, consume more fruits and vegetables, and maybe even maintain a healthier weight.

Cooking with your kids may seem stressful at first, and undeniably there will be a time investment upfront. However, you may find that once they get the hang of things, having your children help with simple tasks in food preparation may leave you with more time to do everything else. Tasks that children can help with include spooning and sprinkling ingredients like shredded cheese on foods, stirring and combining, or setting the table. Older children may be trusted to cut up fruits and vegetables if you take the time to teach them proper knife skills.

Everyone has witnessed a child's refusal to eat or even try a food if it looks remotely suspicious to them. Unfortunately, this often leads to parents trying to force children to eat their vegetables saying "two more bites of broccoli and you can have dessert" or "you can't leave the table until you finish your broccoli." But these tactics don't always yield the desired results. In reality, children may have to be exposed to a specific food up to 15 times before they accept it.

Kids look to their role models to make decisions, so lead by example. Think twice about making that sour expression while biting into green beans. Offering rewards or punishments for eating may not work in the long-term either, as this sets up expectations that mealtime choices are negotiations. You choose what goes on the table; let them choose what goes into their mouths.

Choosing a simple and familiar recipe that your children can help with maximizes your chances of getting them to eat healthier options, such as whole grains, low fat dairy, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Try something like the kid-friendly quesadilla below, and remember to have fun. Now you're (all) cookin'!

Kid Friendly Quesadilla (Printable PDF)

½ pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, diced to ½ inch or smaller pieces

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

¼ packet taco seasoning

½ medium onion, chopped

5 (10-inch) whole grain tortillas

½ jar (15.5 oz.) of your favorite salsa

5 oz. low-fat shredded cheddar cheese

5 oz. low-fat shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat oven or Panini press to 350? F. Heat oil in a large skillet while dicing the chicken breast. Add the chicken to the oil and cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add chopped onion to the chicken and cook until translucent and soft, about 3 minutes. Place the cooked chicken/onion and all remaining ingredients into their own small bowls and set out in an assembly line. Have each family member move down the line adding their preferred amount of each ingredient on one half of the tortilla. Fold the tortillas shut and place on a baking sheet in the oven until the cheese is melted (about ten minutes) or press until outside is lightly toasted. Cut into 4 wedges with a pizza slicer or scissors. Serve and enjoy together!

Yield: 5 servings


Nutritional analysis per serving: 350 calories, 13 grams fat, 55 milligrams cholesterol, 1140 milligrams sodium, 29 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams dietary fiber, 28 grams protein