Hi Readers! It’s Kathy here, Chris’s wife. Chris recently wrote a post highlighting how nutrition impacts mental health and how forming good family habits around food can set a child up for a lifetime of improved diet and improved mental health. This makes sense. Eating more fruits and vegetables is wonderful for your body physically, so it’s not hard to extrapolate that the nutrients found in these foods can also improve mental health. Eating meals together as a family, means more planned, nutrient dense meals and modeling good dietary behaviors to your family – not to mention the other proven benefits described in one review as “enhanced vocabulary, academic success, healthy food selections, demonstration of positive values, and avoidance of high-risk behaviors (substance abuse, sexual activity, depression/suicide, violence, school problems, binge eating/purging, and excessive weight loss)”. While I think most of you are on board with these ideas, implementing them is another story. You are busy. You have multiple children to balance. You have a job. You have a baby with an unpredictable schedule. Money is tight. Even with these challenges, I believe that there is a way to plan and serve healthy balanced meals for your family regularly.
I have a degree in nutritional sciences and a general interest in eating well, so I admit that I am a little more motivated than the average mom to get balanced meals on the table. If there are not vegetables in lunch and dinner, I feel yucky, and imagine that I’m missing a great opportunity to expose my kids to proper balanced meals. That being said, I am okay if dinner is occasionally my family’s homemade apple fritters (covered in powdered sugar) served with chicken sausage, cheese, and carrots.
My parents definitely modeled the importance of eating balanced family meals. Even if these meals wouldn’t be considered super healthy by my current standards (cream of something soup was almost always included), there was always a vegetable and fruit. My mom would also always pack me a wonderful lunch with every food group. She managed to do this while running a pharmacy and keeping our family’s life operating smoothly. Thanks mom!
Although I had good parental modeling, I also remember a specific day that helped shape my mindset around food. I was a gymnast. I was going into 3rd grade and attending a gymnastics camp at the University of Iowa. After a long day of training, they gave a talk about nutrition to around 100 7-17 year olds. While this talk could have been about getting the perfect gymnast body, it was actually about moderation. They stressed ideas like limiting soda. Somehow I decided I’d only drink Kiwiberry Ruckus Fruitopia instead – not that this was really much better. Does anyone remember this strange bright green drink? They also suggested limiting yourself to dessert about once per week. Even though my life motto is “Everything is better with chocolate,” I was able to buy into this as well. I came away from this talk with a strong desire to eat fruit and veggies with almost every meal, and to limit my intake of sweets. Although this may just paint me into a crazy disciplined kid, which I may have been, it also shows how important early influences are!
Last week our family tried out something called Super Healthy Kids Prepear. Super Healthy Kids is a website created by a health education specialist and a registered dietitian, both of whom are mothers. Their philosophy is “Making Fruits and Vegetables Simple, Fun, and Delicious!” Sounds good, right? They believe “For kids to develop healthy habits, it’s important for them to learn to love a variety of fruits and vegetables, in a variety of ways. Serving fruits or vegetables in different forms, textures, and temperatures will actually help children develop a mature palate, which is more accepting to a wider variety of new foods. Don’t hesitate to offer fruits and veggies fresh, frozen, dried, canned, juiced, pureed, blended, etc! Parents should be in the business of training their kids tastes and appetites for real food, rather than a love for a specific vegetable.” I wholeheartedly agree with their philosophy! Think this means I expected to love following one of their meal plans for my family? Not at all! I was hesitant and skeptical. I thought I didn’t have anything to learn. I was wrong.
Super Healthy Week
So what exactly did we do last week, our “Super Healthy Week”? First, I created an account with Super Healthy Kids. Then I went to the meal plan for the week (Monday thru Sunday) and printed both the meal plan and the grocery list. The meal plan includes recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and one snack. After looking over the recipes, I decided to try them all as instructed. The recipes include nutrition information, the prep and cooking times, and the number of servings. The grocery list is huge, but it is comprehensive and nicely organized into pantry, fruit, vegetable, dairy, meat, etc sections. This makes shopping manageable, even if you don’t look at the list before you get into the store (guilty). I went to Trader Joe’s and spent about $200 on groceries for the week. The first week costs more than average because you are purchasing things like whole jars of tahini, packages of chai seeds, etc. These items will now be in your pantry for future weeks and you can focus on buying the fresh, nutrient dense ingredients for your family.
What does a week worth of Super Healthy Kids meals look like?
In order to prevent feeling overwhelmed and successfully make home cooked meals work for your family, you need to learn to meal prep. Everyone seems to have ideas about meal prep. Just do a quick search on Pinterest, and you’ll be overwhelmed! Unlike Super Healthy Kids, most ideas you’ll find focus on eating the same thing for lunch every day. This is both boring, and doesn’t maximize the wonderful variety of foods that our families deserve to be exposed to. I have historically been good at planning meals for the week and prepping whenever possible (cutting up veggies while kids nap, the night before, or on weekends), but since having baby number 3, these good habits have fallen off. I recommend doing anything you can on Sunday afternoon. Look through the recipes and see what you can cut up, mix up, cook, etc. I also strongly recommend purchasing pre-cut veggies, especially broccoli, cauliflower, and butternut squash. They may be slightly more expensive, but we are about 300 times more likely to eat them before they go bad when I only need to cut open a bag! Involve your kids in this process to get them excited about trying something new. After you have done your chopping, measuring, mixing, and planning, clearly label everything so it’s ready for when you need it.
While implementing the Super Healthy Kids meal plan, I also found it helpful to make breakfasts and lunches the night before, removing any excuse to opt for something quick and less nutritious when you’re rushed in the morning. I found some of the breakfasts to be more time intensive than what I would normally serve, but my family was definitely getting a fun variety. There seems to be a pattern in their meals – oatmeal Mondays, pancakes Fridays, meatless dinner Mondays, etc. Patterns can help your family know what to expect, so I appreciated that. Meat is used more sparingly than our family is used to, but that was not necessarily a bad thing. Chris was willing to have meatless dinners 2 nights that week, and everyone was satisfied. Okay, almost everyone; my kids still will have nothing to do with lentils! The meal plans and recipe database also include holiday meals (Easter egg lunchables are on the menu for my family tomorrow) and the ability to search for meals to meet certain dietary restrictions and preferences. I will not lie. Following the meal plan was a lot of work. The effort was worth it though. My kids tried new foods, or foods prepared different ways. My husband got a nutritious lunch packed for him every day. I loved having a planned snack because instead of reaching for a granola bar or quick snack while we were out, I had fruits, veggies, and other nutritious options pre-packed and ready to go. And most importantly, I didn’t have to use my very tired brain to figure out if everyone is getting a balanced diet.
How can you start taking advantage of the Super Healthy Kids resources?
First, sign up for their free email course
I recommend signing up for their free email course. It addresses meal planning, ignoring fad diets, focusing on offering fresh fruits and veggies to your children (even if they won’t eat them yet), and making meal time a happier, more enjoyable time for everyone. I was reminded of a lot of great information, but I also learned a lot. It is always wonderful to learn from someone who is trying to build you up while changing your ideas!
Next, subscribe to a meal plan
Their basic meal plan includes easy, kid-friendly meal plans for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, customizable options, and personalized weekly shopping lists that you can print or view right on your phone. A dietitian is also available to answer questions via email. She has videos posted of answers to user’s questions as well. You can upgrade to a premium membership and gain access to a 6-part meal success video course, lots of printables (including weekly and monthly meal planning sheets), and an interview with feeding strategies for your unique kids.
What if you don’t feel ready to commit time and resources to a meal plan?
If you don’t feel ready to commit to a meal plan, the website offers recipes and a helpful blog for free. In my opinion though, as you work towards making big changes for your family, committing yourself to following a dietitian-planned meal plan for at least a few weeks is the way to go. You will learn new recipes, techniques, and create a habit of healthy meals. Once you feel comfortable and know what works for your family, then I suggest adjusting the meal plans and including some of your own recipes. The worst that can happen is you spend a little time learning new recipes and feeding your family healthy meals. There is a 30 day money back guarantee! If you don’t push your family out of it’s comfort zone though, you’d never learn that everyone loves quinoa coated chicken nuggets despite the fact that they hate quinoa in every other presentation!
Does Super Healthy Kids offer a meal plan that meets the criteria to improve mental health?
Now that you know a little bit more about Super Healthy Kids, does it meet the goals laid out in the previous post for a diet shown to improve mental health? Mostly.
|Food||These are the goals laid out (for adults) in the previous post||Super Healthy Kids meal plan for trial week|
|whole grains||5–8 servings per day||3-4 per day|
|vegetables||6 per day||3-4 per day|
|fruit||3 per day||3-4 per day|
|legumes||3–4 per week||1 per day|
|low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods||2–3 per day||2 per day, although I think it assumes children will drink milk with some meals|
|raw and unsalted nuts||1 per day||1 per day|
|fish||at least 2 per week||1 per week|
|lean red meats||3–4 per week||None this week, but 4 servings of other meats|
|chicken||2–3 per week||3 per week|
|eggs||up to 6 per week||4-5 per week|
|olive oil||3 tablespoons per day||2-3 tablespoons per day|
|reducing intake of ‘extras’ foods, such as sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks||no more than 3 per week||2 servings of deli meat and 1 sweet bread|
If you’re looking for other ways to get your kids involved in the kitchen or interested in food, why not make use of the screen time they will likely have, and watch something like the Kids Baking Championship or Chopped Junior from the Food Network. My 5 year old and I love watching baking and cooking shows together. I take every opportunity to explain unfamiliar things to her, and she also asks a lot of wonderful questions. We also let our children help in the kitchen at a young age. I sewed them each their first apron for their second birthdays. Even my 2 year old can help dump pre-measured ingredients into a bowl. My daughter has been helping assemble salads, make peanut butter sandwiches, and cut soft fruits and veggies since she was 3 or 4. Make food fun for them, and they are more likely to be interested in trying new, colorful, nutritious offerings!
Thanks for letting me into your kitchen!
Although I received a free trial of Super Healthy Kids to evaluate their services and will receive affiliate income if you sign up, I wouldn’t be recommending their website and services if I did not feel strongly about them. Please see my full disclosures or contact me if you have any questions.