Getting kids to eat healthy food is part luck, part persistence, part creativity. I know every child is very different, and I’m sure much of our luck getting our kids to eat healthy food is just that, luck. So what I suggest here might not work for you the first time, the second or the third. But persistence is important. You also need to tap into your child’s psyche…what makes him tick?
With my kids, the key to getting them to eat well is to offer them variety. But the thing that nearly guarantees they will at least try something new is to let them make it themselves. My kids are independent to a fault. “My do it” was my youngest’s first sentence.
So, a favorite dinner at our house is “make your own sushi night.” No, we are not slicing raw fish. The health concerns scare me away from that. But “sushi’ can mean rolling nearly anything up with rice, inside a wrapper. When I started serving this with the kids originally, I stayed with foods I knew they liked: cheese, strawberries, cucumbers. From there, bit-by-bit, we’ve expanded our repertoire.
Below is the spread I pulled together recently (clockwise, outside to middle): Strawberries, green peppers, cheddar cheese, cucumbers, asparagus, raw beets, avocados, snap peas and carrots. You’ll note that everything is cut up pretty small (except the asparagus, because my kids don’t like that one and don’t use it).
We also put together a plate of protein. We tend to use cooked shrimp and tofu. But use whatever you like, there are no rules!
For the rice, you can use white sushi rice (you have to get Sushi Rice specifically or it doesn’t work), but you can also use short-grain brown rice. After making this meal a few times for kids that claimed they LOVED it, we got a rice maker and I have to say, it’s the best kitchen toy I’ve ever owned (more on that in another blog post). But if you don’t have one, follow the directions on the package for either type of rice and it should end up pretty sticky. That’s important. Be sure you put out a few small bowls of water to rinse your fingers during the rolling process. A nice touch is to sprinkle the cooked rice with rice vinegar. It makes it takes more authentic.
For the wraps, there’s the classic seaweed wraps (Nori), but those might be too strong for the kids. Consider instead soy wraps. They come in pretty colors (pink, orange, white, yellow and green) and taste like…well…nothing. All the wraps come in sheets. If you intend to make your own rolls like they do in the Japanese restaurants, you also will want a sushi mat to roll them. For the adults we use full sheets and roll things the adults like into those, then slice them up as you’d get in the restaurants. The cost per roll of the homemade rolls is one quarter of the price or less! You can find lots of online videos to teach you how to roll sushi if you want, so that’s all I’ll say about the adult rolls. This post is about how to get kids to do it.
For the kids, we cut the wraps up into strips.
Then we put it all on the table and serve the kids a plate with a few wrap strips, a spoonful of rice, and whatever they want from the veggie and protein plate. Don’t bother to set eating utensils, this is a “create and eat with your hands” meal. Have the kids lay out one strip, put a small dollop of rice, and a few pieces of vegetables, fruit and/or protein. Then they fold it up and roll it into a small bite, dip it in soy sauce or juice (if they want) and pop it in their mouths.
My kids LOVE making “creations.” This is where they try different combinations of stuff to figure out which they like best. Favorites combos are “cheese and strawberries,” “avocado, tofu and cucumber” and “shrimp-avocado-beet.”
Yes it’s a lot of prep work, but I cut up this much because it makes great leftovers. All these cut up fruits, veggies and cheese make GREAT snacks for the kids in lunch boxes or after school. My lunch time salad is much more exciting too. Plus it’s such a pretty meal.
P.S: My husband wants me to add that if you do buy fresh beets, don’t throw out the leaves. Instead, wash them and sauté them in olive oil with a bunch of garlic. I must say, it makes a great side dish to a mostly raw, cold meal.
Mary C. Krembs is a mom of three, wife of one, pescatarian, mathematician and wishful musician. For employment, via the Bard College Master of Arts in Teaching program, she is trying to recreate mathematics education by developing innovative mathematics teachers. Drawing upon her experience in the technology industry, she hopes to integrate technological thinking into classrooms so the future generations are prepared for a world filled with yet-to-be conceived devices. For fun, she loves color guards, twirling anything she can get her hands, gardening, going to the gym, biking, singing and her house rabbits.