Celeb moms and dads seem to swoon over all things organic nowadays, especially food. From vegan and macrobiotic diets, to fad foods like pomegranates and acai juice, it seems like Hollywood always finds new, hip ways to make food seem less fun and more functional. Angelina Jolie is known for eating healthy (her staple is fresh sushi), Gwyneth Paltrow follows a strict, veggie-heavy diet, and Demi Moore has a personal chef to create balanced meals for her family. Even dads Joel Madden and Toby Maguire are vegans. I just read a story yesterday that mom-to-be Halle Berry and moms Madonna and Meg Ryan have all been spotted sipping on the new energy drink made from an infusion of teas and sugar metabolized by Kombucha mushrooms to keep themselves upbeat.
Sounds yummy? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say
These moms and dads are likely not feeding their kids the childhood staples of Wonder Bread, chicken nuggets, and mac & cheese. After all, they most likely aren’t munching on those foods themselves, opting instead to make less processed choices. So, I have to wonder, how do these parents get their little ones’ taste buds to follow suit? I am guessing that Madonna and Meg’s little ones aren’t jonesing for that mushroom-infused energy drink and that Angie’s kids would really prefer fish sticks over sushi. So exactly how do we get our kids to just try new, healthier foods?
I may have found the answer. This weekend, I took a wellness cooking class with nutrition expert, cookbook author and mom of two, Debbie Allen, at the California Health and Longevity Institute. The CHLI is an elite medical and wellness center that has celeb mom clients from Emmy-winning actresses to Hollywood executives, to women’s issues philanthropists. To Allen, food is both fun and functional. She says we should think about “food as medicine for our bodies.” Making the calories we ingest count i.e. giving our bodies the nutrients we need is vitally important. Debbie has not only gotten her kids to eat her organic creations — super tasty, if you ask me — she has even gotten her 15-year old son to cook for the entire family!
Her secret is simple: Involve kids in cooking.
Debbie doesn’t discount approaches such as Jessica Seinfeld‘s “Deceptively Delicious” cookbook, in which Jessica advocates tricking kids into eating veggies and other healthy staples by pureeing them and slipping them into old favorites like brownies. But Debbie does approach the issue of serving asparagus to kids differently.
Debbie believes in involving kids in food buying and cooking from a young age. The benefits are two-fold–kids eat what you cook, and they learn valuable life skills, such reading and math. She said that taking little ones to the grocery store or your local farmer¹s market is a great way to introduce them to food (Jennifer Garner and her two-year-old daughter, Violet, are fixtures at their local farmer’s market). “Try giving your kids just a little a taste of fruits or veggies as you buy,” Debbie said, adding that little ones always love sampling snap peas. This gets them excited about trying new things and helps them learn where food comes from. You can even make the actual shopping part fun. Kids can practice reading by holding your shopping list and telling you what you need, and you can make the experience more like a scavenger hunt by having your kids help you look for the items. This is the first step in making food more fun, especially when you are buying those healthier items kids tend to shy away from.
Debbie says that the cooking part is what gets kids really excited about food. She let her son help in the kitchen when he was young, giving him a plastic, kid-safe knife so he could help her chop veggies. As they grow older, she says, kids can read recipes, help measure ingredients, and eventually make side dishes. This helps them, again with reading, and also math‹addition, subtraction, and fractions specifically. When kids see where their food comes from, and then help prepare it, they are more likely to try it at dinner that night.
She also had some great practical tips.
Debbie uses Pam organic cooking spray instead of butter to coat pans and oven-baked dishes (chicken is a good example). The spray is made from 100% organic olive oil, and has no fat or calories. Another
suggestion: keep lots of fruits and veggies on hand as snacks. She also says preparing individual fruit salads and stocking them in the fridge is great perfect for dessert or as an after-dinner snack. “If it’s already made, it’s just as easy to snack on as cookies!” Debbie says.
Debbie and the CHLI itself seem to have gotten the attention of our favorite nurturer Oprah Winfrey. While I was taking the class on Saturday, Oprah strolled in to tour the kitchen and check out the food we created. She looked approvingly at the wholesome and delicious samples –no doubt, even Oprah would like a little help at eating healthier fare.