Getting your kids to eat fresh, whole foods could be as simple as getting a little creative in the kitchen! By using herbs and spices, you can alter the flavor profile of any food to satisfy the taste buds of the pickiest eater. Herbs add a burst of flavor and texture to any food, while spices can heat things up or simply add some complexity to a simple dish. The added benefit is that herbs and spices allow you to use less salt when cooking!
This is a huge perk for parents, because children 6 to 18 years old consume about 3,300 mg of salt per day, while the recommended amount is 2,300 mg or less. By preparing vegetable-based, savory snacks at home with herbs and spices, you’re helping to cut back on the amount of sodium they’re consuming from sweets and other processed choices. You’ll be doing yourself a favor, too, by cutting back on your own salt consumption. Plus herbs and spices are packed with phytochemicals that have health promoting properties!
Here are some ideas to help incorporate these flavor purveyors into your home and kitchen. Get ready to spice up your menu this summer and cut back on sodium!
- Start a fresh herb garden and let your kids enjoy experimenting with the spices! Grow some herbs—basil, parsley, thyme and oregano are easiest. Cilantro and dill can’t take too much heat and will seed or fry quicklyin the sun. Sage and rosemary are hardy plants and are considered “water-wise,” which means they’re great to grow in areas that are trying to conserve water! Here are some ideas on how to incorporate them into your menu:
- Dill—tasty with sliced cherry tomatoes and lime juice served with Greek yogurt or yellow lentil daal.
- Cilantro—great in mashed avocado with lime and cumin.
- Thyme—tasty on top of warm peaches with fresh and candied ginger served over Greek yogurt.
- Oregano and parsley—tasty in home made dressings and marinades
2. Use herbs and spices to naturally dye your food! Personal favorites are using turmeric to turn rice yellow or using wilted and pureed herbs to turn homemade pizza dough green!
3. Save the stalks of fresh herbs! Keep them in a plastic baggie and store in the freezer with other veggie scraps. You can then use these scraps to make and flavor stocks! Simmer them in some hot water and strain—it can even replace the water used to cook grains.
4. Make shopping a family affair! Visit the grocery store or market with your kids so they can see all of the colorful fruits and veggies. They can help you pick what they want (some vendors at farmers markets may be open to having them try some, too!). Later, they’ll be excited to see their selection in their meal. Check out the Healthy Kids Today, Prevent Cancer Tomorrow fun grocery store activities with the Super Crew.
5. Make it educational. Have them read books that take place in different countries and then cook meals that originate from
that country. Overtime, you’ll be cooking meals together with flavors and spices from all over the world.
6. Ask your child to be your sous chef—you can even give them a chef’s hat! Use easy recipes that include different spices and herbs (even if its just one or two), and have your kids smell, touch, and taste them. For age specific cooking activities with the Super Crew for ideas.
7. Make dips and sauces-kids love dipping food into dips! This will also be a great way to get in more fruits and veggies, too, since your kids can use them to eat the dip! Here are some tasty combos:
- Yogurt, pureed berries, and fresh mint.
- Peanut butter and yogurt
- Yogurt, dill, lemon, and garlic
8. Make healthy and flavorful snacks! Here’s one of my favorite recipes for chickpeas. They can be a crunchy snack or terrific topping for any salad. The smoky flavor of this recipe has just the right amount of heat that keeps it child friendly but doesn’t sacrifice flavor.
- 2 cans low-sodium (15 oz.) garbanzo/chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ smoked cayenne pepper
- ¼ cup canola oil
- Sea salt
- In a mixing bowl add chickpeas, oil, and spices.
- Place on a large cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread evenly on sheet.
- Bake at 350° F for 15-25 minutes. Cool for 1 hour.
- Sprinkle salt to taste. Can be eaten as is or added to salads for a kick!
Cooking time: 7-10 minutes Servings: 7
Melissa Halas-Liang is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and certified diabetes educator with a masters in nutrition education. She is founder of SuperKids Nutrition Inc. where she is “saving the world, one healthy food at a time.” Read more about her Super Crew characters and visit her site www.superkidsnutriton.com. Then discover how nutrition can help you live your best health potential through her on-line courses and blog, Melissa’s Healthy Living.
Melissa is AICR’s partner in AICR’s Healthy Kids Today – Prevent Cancer Tomorrow campaign.