The Everything Kids Cookbook
Author: Sandra K. Nissenberg
If you’re like many busy parents, trying to offer your children nutritious-yet-tasty food can seem like an overwhelming challenge. How can a parent convince their kids that healthy foods are delicious? The Everything Kids’ Cookbook by Sandra K. Nissenberg, MS, RD, gets your kids in on the kitchen action with simple, kid-friendly recipes, fun food facts, games and kitchen how-to’s. Best of all, you can rest assured the recipes all fit into a healthy, balanced diet, while keeping fun – and family – in mind. SuperKids Nutrition chatted with Sandra about her book, getting kids involved in the cooking process and how eating together as a family can take on a whole new meaning.
As a mother of two, what were the biggest challenges you faced in getting your kids to choose healthful foods and how did you solve them?
I wanted my kids to eat right from an early age especially because of my background. I first had to be a good role model. I can’t always say my husband was the “best role model” as he had selective nutrition habits, so I needed to compensate and be the “bigger role model.” I kept many food options in our home, even sweets, but not too many of them. We always had healthy snack options available.
When preparing meals, I always included a high protein source, starch, vegetable and usually fruit for dessert. I did not incorporate sweet desserts into the meal. I was all about variety. If my kids wanted a treat, they had options like frozen yogurt, popsicles, yogurt raisins, graham crackers, granola bars, popcorn, etc.
The challenges I faced were getting the kids to try new foods. I never made them eat the whole food, but it was necessary to take one bite. If they didn’t like it, they didn’t have to eat it. In time, I could see them come around and enjoy foods even more.
My son who would fight me all the time when it came to fish, recently said, after taking a bite of my teriyaki salmon, that he really liked the meal. You can’t imagine how many times I’ve served that exact dish when he would argue about taking a bite. But research has shown that sometimes a food has to show up at least 10-12 times before kids actually accept it.
Starting as early as preschool, mid-morning snacks are often loaded with white flour, sugar and salt. This is exactly when kids need long-lasting energy the most. How can parents and teachers influence their schools to make healthier choices for their kids to help encourage good health and prevent illness and future diseases?
It all starts with being a good role model. If you choose healthier options and keep them available in the home, these will be the snacks your kids will grow up choosing as well. Cut-up fruit, granola bars, whole grain crackers, string cheese sticks, yogurt-there are so many good options to keep on hand.
You do a great job of including snacks and dessert items in the recipe line-up. Would you explain how those types of foods can fit into a healthy diet?
Kids need to grow up understanding how to eat and being able to deal with society as a whole. It’s a fact that snacks and desserts are a part of life. Everyone can include them in their meal plan, but in the right portions. And again, make them good options, not just empty-calorie foods. Desserts can be made with fruits, low-fat frozen yogurt, graham crackers and the like, which gives them at least some nutrition.
Kids should learn that snacks are eaten between meals to keep them energized throughout the day, and desserts can be eaten after a meal, but not in place of a meal, in adequate portion sizes.
What are the top 3 popular foods or meals in your family that the kids enjoy, as well?
My kids loved to make their own smoothies. We kept frozen berries and bananas on hand, along with vanilla yogurt. They would add whatever they could find to make these smoothies their own. I bought several “sundae” glasses and large straws that added to the enjoyment of drinking them.
Pizza puffs and tuna rolls were also stand-by favorites. Using crescent rolls and adding pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese in muffin tins always brought about happy faces. And rolling tuna fish and cheese into crescent rolls, then baking were a huge hit, too. My kids learned to help make these at an early age and they still make them today, in college.
Caesar salad was also a favorite. My kids would always eat the salad when tossed with Caesar dressing, croutons, and grated Parmesan cheese. Of course, since we tossed it ahead of time, I cut back on excess dressing. And sometimes, we added grilled chicken and made a meal out of it.
Your book looks like kids would have a lot of fun with it. How can parents encourage their children to enjoy cooking and still enjoy the process themselves?
Too often, parents are in a hurry and the kitchen is off limits to the children, as a result. As understandable as this is, it’s still so important to acquaint children early to the kitchen and cooking, so that they learn their way around and establish good habits from early from an earlier age.
Kids can help with all sorts of things in the kitchen:
- Setting the table and filling the water glasses when it’s more hectic to helping with the actual preparation of the meal when there’s more time.
- As the kids get older, about eleven or twelve years old, you’ll find they can do, even more, all because you started when they were young.
- Here are our favorite ways for kids to help in the kitchen.
Keep the kitchen stocked with things you can use to “assemble” dinner:
- Eggs are a great go-to ingredient that is versatile and easy to work with, both for you and for the kids.
- Make your own pizza bagels with simple ingredients and pop under the broiler. The kids can add their own toppings from ingredients you’ve pre-selected.
- A baked potato stuffed with steamed frozen veggies and topped with a little low-fat cheese is a fine meal.
- The bottom line is, you don’t have to be fancy! In this day and age of “assembly cooking,” anyone can cook. No need to make Coq au Vin on a Wednesday night!
The Everything Kids’ Cookbook makes a great birthday gift for any kid. Add a chef hat, apron, wooden spoon, or measuring cups and spoons and the kids will love it. Ask your kids to pick out a recipe each week to make together. Here are some tips that worked for me:
- I gave each of my kids a day each week to select their favorite. Sometimes they worked together and decided what they both liked, and then they would help prepare the meal.
- The more they learn when they are young, the better prepared they will be in years to come. I always say it’s better to encourage kids to be in the kitchen, rather than ask them to leave you alone.
- If they want to help, consider it an opportunity for learning skills they can use in the future. Trust me, you won’t remember the spills on the floor, but you will create memories with your kids that will last a lifetime. It’s a win-win situation.
What inspired you to write The Everything Kids’ Cookbook?
At the time the first edition was written, I was a stay-at-home mom raising two children, ages 11 and 13 at the time, with a husband who traveled extensively. I spent a lot of time planning meals and trying different foods that the kids would enjoy. As a registered dietitian, with a Masters degree in public health nutrition, I had already authored six books, primarily in the area of kids’ nutrition, so the subject of nutrition came easily to me. The challenge was combining the concepts of good nutrition with foods that the kids would enjoy eating. I wanted to write a book that would be fun for kids and appealing to adults at the same time. I think that was accomplished in this book. It is now in its 2nd edition.
What’s new and exciting in this 2nd edition of The Everything Kids’ Cookbook?
I’ve added new recipes but kept many of the old favorites that everyone will look for. I have updated the nutrition information and added new fun puzzles and food trivia.
Your chapter “Get in Your Greens” emphasizes the importance of including veggies every day. How can a busy parent or educators entice their children to eat more vegetables and less sugar/ refined foods?
Kids won’t gravitate toward veggies if you don’t encourage them. Some ideas:
- Bring in a variety of vegetables into the home.
- Cut up raw veggies with dip.
- Put out a plate an hour before dinner, when hunger begins to hit, or even after school when the munchies hit, and you’ll be surprised how much they will eat! If it’s out and visible, likely it will be eaten. Children won’t request the vegetables; you need to make them available.
- Keep many options cut up in the refrigerator, ready to grab on the run.
- In the car, kids may enjoy some baby carrots or fresh bell pepper slices.
- Add veggies to a brown bag lunch.
- Cherry tomatoes are a perfect bite-sized snack.
- Try making zucchini bread or carrot cake and let the kids help you prepare it.
- At dinner each night, try different options. Broccoli, green beans, peas-find different vegetables that your kids like. Prepare them different ways.
- Start a garden. This will surely help the kids get involved. When they see their cucumbers or peppers growing, they will enjoy putting them on the dinner table even more.
Children more than likely won’t request the vegetables; you need to make them available. Try a little each day and you will end up seeing good results in the long run.
Many times, getting kids involved in the kitchen broadens their range in terms of food choices. Would you explain this concept to our readers?
Not only does preparing food increase interest in cooking as well as cooking skills, but it can be a lesson learned in science and math as well. Make the experience a fun one. Teach them about different foods, what they taste like, smell like and feel like. If you want to try making some muffins, talk about options that can go into them, i.e. do you want to make banana-nut, cinnamon-raisin, zucchini-oat or another type? As you prepare, sample some of the food. Take refrigerated pizza dough and cover with pasta sauce. Then cut up a variety of vegetables to top on the pizza with the mozzarella cheese. Let your child make his favorite. Would it be broccoli florets, pepper slices, chopped tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, or another type? These options help your child make independent food choices, but whatever they choose is a good choice. And they can have fun doing so along the way. Don’t be surprised if your child comes up with new creative menus on their own!
Preparing a lunch to take to school can be an especially challenging task for parents who are busy themselves in the morning. What are three tips you can give to parents so they can send their children off to school with a lunch everyone is happy with?
Parents need to keep in mind that even if they feel they have packed the “perfect lunch,” it’s not perfect if their child doesn’t eat it. Make the lunch one your kids will eat-something that all the other kids will envy. This will make your kids want to eat it even more. Make it a “fun lunch.”
Cookie-cutter-shaped sandwiches, fruit and cheese kabobs, mini muffins, chicken drumsticks, cereal-for-lunch, character napkins-there are so many ways to make a fun lunch. Add a joke, a special message or a puzzle and you’ll get a smile every time.
The lunch should include a high-protein food, a starch, fruit and/or vegetable, a treat, and water or milk beverage. Offer small portions of each-don’t overwhelm your child with large amounts of food. And, be sure to keep them appropriate for your child’s needs, i.e. no whole apples or hard bagels if your child has loose teeth or braces, for example.
Pack the lunch the night before when cleaning up from dinner. Use dinner rolls for buns-make a turkey sandwich, or use cut up veggies for kabobs. Pack it up and it’s ready to grab in the morning. Then if you oversleep or get frazzled in the morning, you don’t have to pack the lunch, so you are one step ahead. Or better yet, have your child pack his or her own lunch. They’ll be more likely to eat it if they pack it up.
Another book I’ve written is called Brown Bag Success: Making Healthy Lunches Your Kids Won’t Trade. This book helps those parents get the most out of this experience.
So many parents can’t get their kids to eat anything on their plates. What is the most important piece of advice you would give to the parents of a “picky eater?”
Kids will try to control their parents by being a “picky eater.” It’s one of the only ways they can show their independence. What a parent needs to do is to understand this and not feed into it. If a child gets his way through food, he will continue to use foods as a means to get his way.
Parents should not fall into being a short-order cook. Make a meal, offers various options and let your child choose from the options available. For example, if a dinner consists of grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, green beans, breadsticks and fruit cocktail, tell your child that they don’t have to eat it all, but they need to select 3 of the 5 options available. So even if they choose breadsticks, fruit cocktail, and sweet potatoes, they are getting a variety. Or encourage them to take one bite of each food, but don’t force them to eat it all. Tell them if they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it. So even if they get one bite of each of the five foods offered, they will likely find something they like.
Don’t scold or punish your child with food, i.e. “No dessert or snacks if you don’t eat.” Also, don’t use food as a reward, i.e. “Eat your broccoli and you can have cake.” By doing so, you are trying food into rewards and bad behavior. This can cause many problems with food as your child grows up.
Parents need to realize that food is fuel for growth and living. But at the same time, they need to be responsible for offering their children with the proper food choices and options to grow. At the same time, it is their child who is responsible for eating the food. You can’t force a child to eat. Remember that it is rare that a child will go hungry for long. Be a good role model, offer good food options and be patient. Once a child realizes who is in control, they will find other ways to fight for their independence.
At the end of each chapter is a section called, “What’s Cookin’ at Your House?” What are 3-5 tips you could give to families looking to be more creative in the kitchen?
Give each family member some choice in family meals. Or if you like, do it as a team. Make meals that everyone enjoys.Have kids start their own personal cookbook. Let them save recipes they enjoy, type them up, or cut them up and put them into a scrapbook. Add a picture of the finished product. This will allow your child to select this recipe again and learn to make it over time. Think of theme nights for dinners. Whether it is pasta night, leftover night, pizza party, breakfast for dinner, or whatever. The point is to make it fun! Get everyone involved by adding their favorite side dish. Enjoy the experience! Remember that your kids will grow up with great memories of cooking and sharing these experiences with you. Make these fun memories that will last a lifetime. I always say to moms that they shouldn’t worry about a mess in the kitchen-there will always be a mess in the kitchen and messes can be cleaned up. But these memories last forever and that’s what’s important, after all.[/sknli][/sknnumbers]
For even more great reading suggestions, check out our Recommended Reads!
Sandy Nissenberg, MS, RD has had over 30 years experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics. Following several years as a nutritionist, Sandy joined the staff of the American Dietetic Association and its Foundation. After starting her family, she decided to venture into the field of writing. Over a period of 16 years, she authored 13 books, primarily in the area of childhood nutrition. Now, with her children both in college, Sandy serves as Senior Editorial Director for Publications International in Lincolnwood, IL.