Caring for Kids…at Billings Clinic

Making time for meals

Mornings are some of the busiest times in my day. I have three boys to wake up, and they’re not always ready to be up when it’s time to get going. So I play games to try to get the morning routine done in a reasonable time. We race to see who can get dressed first, we have a song for brushing teeth, and we have developed a point system to reward following directions. It’s pretty exhausting!

And then there is breakfast. Many times, it has been easier to put a sliced donut or pastry in a bowl to eat in the car. Frozen breakfast sandwiches take a little bit longer to prep so those might be a once a week treat.  And this happens even though I know how important it is to have meals sitting together and protein and fruits with breakfast. Having chatted with many of my patients’ caregivers, they’re feeling a similar pressure to get it all done before leaving the house to get a summer day started, and meal time usually slips by the wayside. Dinner times can be just as hard, especially when you’re coming home after a long day with tired kiddos who would rather veg-out on the couch than spend time in the kitchen.

One of the things I have found most helpful with meals to help keep them healthy and tasty is to find time once a week to turn going to the grocery store into a field trip for the kids. They each get the chance to pick out one fruit, one vegetable and one healthy snack. The kids that can write can make their own list. The younger ones can draw pictures to represent their choices or you can help them learn the names of each food item and their color as you go through the store. Maybe turn it into a trivia game and have the children go around and see who can correctly name the most ingredients in their favorite afternoon treat. Once you’re home, remind the kids which of the food items they chose and get their input on how to incorporate them into different meals or snacks. Having healthy options around the house makes it easier to use them, particularly when you are pressed for time.

If the kids are invested from the start you can lure them into the kitchen to help with meal prep. Toddlers especially like to be involved in activities and this is a great way to start them early with helping out around the house. It might be a bit messier at first but with a little extra clean-up they will get the sense that they’re needed and really enjoy the time with you. You could start with tasks like washing fruits and counting out portions for each family member, and eventually move on to things like slicing vegetables with a plastic knife and using measuring cups for flour or sugar. Older children may like the chance to take the lead on planning a meal with the title of “chef” and directing you as the “sous-chef” on the various steps needed. Challenge them to include as many different colors as possible in the meal to encourage variety and make sure they include those green leafy foods that they need to become strong and stay healthy.

If you are usually pressed for time on many days, see if you can choose one or two days where you make double the number of servings and can save them to eat as leftovers. That will help cut your meal prep time and give you more of an opportunity to have meals as a family.   Sitting down around the table together, even for only 30 minutes, will teach the children not to eat and run, or just grab something quick that may not have balanced food groups.   Maybe playing a game about guessing what each person did during that specific day will help keep the kids interested in spending that time together around the table. Eating together can help you stay healthy and will also build strong relationships between family members – a big bonus!

No matter what, try to find the fun in food and take advantage of kids’ natural curiosity to learn together about how to stay healthy and enjoy your time in the summer. You may not have gotten it down perfectly but every little bit helps!

Patricia Notario, MD

Dr. Patricia Notario is a pediatrician at Billings Clinic with a special interest in complex care.

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