Getting your kids to eat healthy is often a struggle. Let’s face it – even the most well-meaning, health-conscious parent caves to the demands of picky toddlers every so often (and sometimes daily).
I have a discriminating 4 year-old and a pretty omnivorous, but distracted, 18 month-old and I have found one thing that without fail can bring them to the table and get them to focus on their food – dips.
It seems to be a universal truth that kids like to dip their food. Parents can use that to our advantage (ha hah!) in two ways:
1. Use a tasty dip to get kids to eat healthy foods they don’t love, which might be raw or steamed vegetables, chicken, whatever they tend to push to the side of their plate. Ranch dressing is the classic example for this technique.
2. Use nutrition-packed dips with foods that kids already like, including tortilla chips, waffles, pancakes, rice cakes, and other snacky types of foods. The kids like the act of dipping, and you can get additional nutrients into them that may be otherwise tough to include, like calcium, protein, and good fats.
For all three of the following dips, I’m employing both tactics at once! Kids generally love fruit and will happily eat it up for breakfast or a snack, so it’s a great way to get other healthy ingredients into their diet at the same time. For example, if you have a kid who begrudgingly drinks his milk, this delicious dip is a fun way to make sure he’s getting the calcium he needs for his growing bones. I’ve also sprinkled in some hemp seeds to boost the nutrition. Hemp seeds (which don’t contain any THC) have high levels of ALA omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, fiber, protein, and essential amino acids. If you haven’t tried them yet, hemp seeds taste nutty and slightly grassy, akin to flax, but hemp seeds have a much softer texture, making them less offensive to picky eaters.
As far as what to dip into this creamy goodness, there’s nothing better or naturally sweeter than seasonal fruit. Both mangos and strawberries are in season now and are so fun and colorful threaded on a skewer. When choosing mangos, look for ones that have a slight give when gently squeezed. It doesn’t need to be red – a red blush doesn’t mean a mango is ripe – that’s only true for some varieties. Look for brightly colored strawberries that have that delicious berry scent. Avoid berries that appear soft or have any mold on them. The berries should also be uniformly red and shouldn’t have seedy looking tips. The caps should be green and unwilted.
Both mangos and strawberries are packed with the antioxidant vitamin C, which helps promote a healthy immune system. Just because it’s finally spring doesn’t mean your little ones won’t be exposed to germs! And mangos are also loaded with vitamin A, which is vital for healthy eyesight and also supports bone health. All those little seeds you see in strawberries contribute to the fiber in the berries – 1 cup has 3 g. Strawberries also contain the important electrolyte potassium, which is essential for your little athlete.
Yo-Co Dip with Mango-Strawberry Skewers
Makes 4 servings
- 1 cup organic low-fat vanilla yogurt
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened flaked coconut
- 1 tablespoon shelled raw hemp seeds
- 2 cups strawberries, hulled (halved if large)
- 2 ripe mangos, peeled, seeded and cubed
Directions: In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, coconut, and hemp seeds. Stir until smooth. Thread the strawberries and the mango cubes onto 4-inch skewers, and let your kids get dipping!
This next dip combines protein-rich almond butter with banana, and is a great way to boost the nutrition of frozen waffles, pancakes, bagels, English muffins, toast – or anything else you can schmear it on. If your child has an allergy to tree nuts, you can substitute sunflower butter for the almond butter.
Almond-Banana Mega Spread
Makes 4 servings
- 1 ripe banana
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/3 cup creamy almond butter
- 1 teaspoon honey
Directions: In a small bowl, mash the banana and stir in the cinnamon. Add the almond butter and honey and stir with a spatula until smooth.
My final dip is not just a kid favorite, but can be brought out for a game day snack too. It’s a delicious way to get more high fiber beans into your kids without it seeming like work. Of course it’s great with tortilla chips, but I found that it also helped make carrots and sugar snap peas disappear. You can also use it to punch up the flavor and nutrition in burritos, quesadillas, and wraps.
Creamy Southwest Bean Dip
Makes 4 servings
Better Bean (http://www.betterbeanco.com) makes really wonderful seasoned red beans (find them in the refrigerated section of your grocery store), which work really well for this dip, but if you can’t find them, just use low sodium canned beans. If using canned beans, you could add some sautéed garlic to boost the flavor.
- ¼ cup low-fat organic sour cream
- ½ cup mashed canned low sodium red beans (rinsed and drained) or Rethought Red Beans from Better Bean
- salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ ripe avocado, diced
Directions: In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, beans, and salt and pepper. If you want a really smooth consistency, blend the ingredients in the blender. Top with the diced avocado and serve with fresh veggies, including baby carrots, sugar snap peas, sliced jicama, cucumber and radishes.
Note: All of the dips will last for 3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. To keep your tykes from double dipping, give them their own individual serving of dip in a fun bowl.