Yesterday my hair dresser mentioned her frustration when one family member won’t eat the healthy foods she prepares. I know the feeling. When my husband and I were raising our four girls, it was a constant challenge — especially for Heidi, our beautiful daughter with Down syndrome and autism, because her five senses are overly sensitive.
Like my mother, I tried to keep meal times pleasant and creative, while striving for healthy choices, too.
Moms today would love to pull a nutritious meal out of a black magician’s hat, but most are busy, tired and on a budget. I’ll share a few tricks that work — well, like magic!
Hocus pocus: Get creative. Sometimes I’d gather a few cookie cutters and let our girls cut shapes from slices of cheese, bologna, and bread for fun. They loved “cooking” and eating new shapes. They joked, “Well, don’t bite my head off!” before they gobbled a snowman, bunny or gingerbread man.
Abra-ca-dabra!: Trick the eye. Tweaking the appearance of typical foods can make a difference. We always had fruit available, yet, there it sat. When I’d cut apples and bananas into chunks and add a tooth pick, our girls devoured them.
Sleight of Hand: Distract and serve. I’m still a real believer in juicing fresh vegetables to help prevent and cure all illness. To give additional nutrition to Heidi, I’d show her favorite Disney movie and while she was focused on that, give her a small cup of chilled carrot juice with a colorful straw. When I made up a green smoothie of healthy powdered nutritional supplements from the health store, I poured it into an opaque “sippy cup” so she couldn’t see its unusual color and reject it.
Somethin’s fishy with that trick!: Consider smells. Some things can turn kids off. When preparing meals involving tuna fish, I would turn on my kitchen vent and crack open a window. Mixing a can of tuna fish, mayonnaise and shredded lettuce, then spread on Trisket crackers, was yummy. Years ago, after Heidi was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, heavy metal tests confirmed abnormally high levels in her system — especially mercury — so we really limited our fish and canned tuna consumption by substituting canned chicken.
Poof!: Goofs happen. Years ago in July, we made a cake like an American flag with a white background (real whipped cream), strawberries lined up to make the stripes, and blueberries in one corner representing stars. We didn’t drain them well, so blue juice ran a bit, but it tasted great.
Use the Magic Wand: Tweak and transform. Certain cooking tools can transform food to be more appealing. Cucumbers cut like coins or flower shapes are more fun. Various shapes are almost instantly created by electric salad shooters. Sometimes I’d cut cantaloupe with the melon rind still attached and encourage our kids to hold it up and make a “giant smile.”
Today, our grandchildren enjoy juice, so Rod and I read labels and buy only 100 percent juice. We also offer them creamy kefir drinks (yogurt-like) to give vital probiotics or sometimes make frozen fruit “smoothies” in a blender to sneak in nutrition.
Razzle dazzle ‘em!: Fun themed meals. My girlfriend recently had a fun winter birthday luncheon with Snowball Soup. It was a basic potato soup recipe, but her husband used her metal melon ball tool to carve cute little “snowballs” out of potatoes. Cool!
Presto Change-o!: Change with the seasons. Every Easter, we love boiled picnic-style eggs and wonder why we don’t make them year-round. In March, green bell peppers cut horizontally in small slices across the middle can resemble shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day. Bonnie, my sister-in-law, does an annual Halloween meal with orange and black foods. (Think pumpkin soup, carrot sticks, black olives, oranges, and cheese slices.)
That Old Black Magic: Sometimes old feels new. Remember old Bugs Bunny cartoons where he eats full-sized carrots with the greens attached? Heidi wasn’t thrilled about mini carrots and surprised us when she loved chomping on long, skinny carrots with the green tops. (For once, watching cartoons paid off, right?)
Pulling a white rabbit out of a top hat: Healthy substitutes. No one knows when you substitute plain white yogurt for sour cream in veggie dips or other things. It looks and tastes similar but has live cultures that are excellent support for the gastrointestinal tract. Savvy moms replace traditional greasy French fries with baked sweet potato fries.
Smoke and mirrors: Eat meals outside. Kids love camping, but even eating food on a blanket on the grass in the fresh air at home is therapeutic. Remember, a little daily sunshine is a free, safe, and natural source of (vital) vitamin D.
Say the magic words: Manners matter. Mom, set the example, then insist that your family says “Please,” “Thanks” and “You’re welcome.” They really are magic words!
I’m always in need of new tricks up my sleeve, so please share some of your meal tips with me on Facebook/HiddenTreasuresOfHealth. Happy eating!
Pearson is a freelance writer and a global disability advocate. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.