It’s not a secret…

We at Children’s Therapy Connections are a little nuts about nutrition! But for good reason: whether a physical therapist is working on increased range of motion and movement, an occupational therapist is working on increasing tolerance of food textures, or a speech-language pathologist is working to improve attention to listening activities, a child works best when they are fueled with nutritious, energizing foods that help to give them energy, regulate their sensory systems, and provide a brain boost. Nutrition truly impacts the physical, mental and emotional well-being of everyone and when the foods you put inside of your body are depleted of nutrients, you will feel depleted.

As Americans, we are constantly surrounded by convenient sources of food. On the one hand, this is good- we are such busy beings! It often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything we want and need to get done. Providing meals for your family is one such task, and it can feel like a daunting daily hassle. It’s likely the main reason that those golden arches can look so bright and enticing at the end of a long day and before a short night. We all battle with it. But with little tweaks here and there, it IS possible to sneak healthier foods into you and your family’s diet. And it IS possible that they- and you- will enjoy them!

Although it’s important to eat for your health everyday, National Nutrition Month helps to increase our awareness of our overall eating habits in March- the month during which our seemingly endless winter finally gives way to spring, a season of newness and rebirth. In this spirit, we encourage you to put the “NEW” in nutrition this month!

The following are a list of five foods- whole foods and snacks alike- that may be new to you or your family. In the spirit of spring, we encourage you to give these a try!

1. Jicama

With the taste of a non-sweet pear and the juicy crunch of a water chestnut, this root vegetable is low in calories, high in fiber and high in vitamin C. It’s also high in antioxidants and promotes digestion.

2. Kimchi

Another low calorie, nutrient-dense vegetable to consider introducing to your diet is kimchi- a mixture of salted and fermented vegetables that are often spotted in Korean-inspired dishes. Generally a crunchy texture with a range from bland to spicy, each blend of veggies and spices in kimchi taste different, so it is worth experimenting with different brands to see what your taste buds prefer. Above all benefits, kimchi is most regarded for its high probiotic quality. There is a large area of research that focuses on the benefits of fermented foods for gut health and increased immunity.

3. Cauliflower crackers

For the sake of convenience and your sanity, sometimes you just need a snack that you don’t have to prepare or cook in any way, and these little guys from the brand From the Ground UP sure do the trick! They are just as difficult to put down as a bag of chips, but are significantly healthier for you and your family. Is it a processed food? Yes. A processed food is any food that has been changed or modified from its natural form by a chemical and/or mechanical process. But it is an allergen-free and non-GMO option made from natural ingredients such as ground cauliflower, cassava root and rice flour. And pssst…your kids don’t even have to know that cauliflower is in it!

4. Broccoli sprouts

At the risk of using the bait term, “superfood,” broccoli sprouts really do seem like amazing powerhouses of goodness. They are best known for containing a compound called sulforaphane, which helps to regulate the immune system and fight against a number of bacteria and viruses. While sulforaphane is found in all cruciferous vegetables including cauliflower, broccoli and kale among others, broccoli sprouts contain 100x the amount of sulforaphane than its cruciferous cousins. They have even been touted as a “cancer fighter,” as it has been shown in studies to protect against carcinogens, a known perpetrator of cancer. One con of broccoli sprouts is that should you be lucky enough to find them in a grocery store or farmer’s market, they are usually quite expensive. For this reason, many people grow their own using simple materials. Instructions for growing them can easily be found in online searches, and materials including sprouting seeds, a sprouting lid, and a mason jar can be purchased from a variety of online retailers.

5. Hemp milk

A dairy-, gluten- and soy-free alternative to cow’s milk that can also provide a safe drinking milk for those with allergies to tree nuts (and who cannot consume almond milk), hemp milk is a creamy, nutty drink with some impressive health benefits. It provides both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, and also includes calcium, fiber, iron and beta-carotene, among a number of other vitamins. Given its nutrition, it’s another great product to have on hand to increase immunity. Unsweetened, organic hemp milk is best, but most brands also come in a range of flavors, including chocolate and vanilla, that may help to entice little ones to drink it and reap its benefits.

Know Your “Why”

Eating right is not always easy. Sometimes, especially at first, it can seem really, really hard. Much of that difficulty, though, is not so much the eating part, but getting accustomed to a new routine. Bad habits are hard to break and unfortunately, they will not break on their own. They require both motivation and focus. The motivation part is key, as without a true desire to change, it will likely never happen. Truly reflect for a moment on the “why”- why do you want you and/or your family to eat in a healthier manner? Keep asking yourself “why” after each response you provide until you get to the root of your desire. Knowing the root of your desire may ignite the motivation that you need, because it will create a clear goal. Do a self-talk or, even better, write these thoughts on a piece of paper to see it in writing and make your thoughts more tangible. For example, you may ask yourself:

Why do I want to buy/cook more healthy food?
Because I feel like I should.
Because I want my family to learn what healthy foods are.
Because I want them to eat for their health.
Because by eating healthier, they can better ward off sickness and have more energy every day.
Because when you feel good and have energy, you have better focus and concentration and are the best version of yourself.

In this example, you can know for certain- and remind yourself when you just want to give up- that, “I want to buy/cook more healthy foods so that my family and I can be the best versions of ourselves.”

Ideas to Help Incorporate Healthy Eating

Don’t make this journey a solo one. Get everyone involved! While it’s easier said than done with our hectic schedules, make a point to carve out some extended time during a visit to the grocery store with your child/children to “discover” healthy foods with them. Here are some ideas and tips to make a treasure hunt of sorts:

Play an “I Spy” game with your child

Search the produce section for categories such as:

  • Red foods (i.e., strawberries, red bell peppers, tomatoes, radishes) or yellow/green/purple/etc. foods
  • “Colors of the rainbow” foods (i.e., search for one food in every color of the rainbow)
  • Smooth vs bumpy foods

Pretend to be searching for treasure (In a way, you are!)

Make a “treasure map” of names/pictures of foods beforehand and see how many your child can help you find. It creates excitement and intrigue, and at the very least, having your child look at, touch and even smell foods prior to cooking with them already increases their exposure and hopefully reduces some fear-based resistance based on unfamiliarity. You can reference this during the meal, e.g.,  “Do you remember those smooth, brown mushrooms that we found on our treasure map? These are them! Now that they’re cooked, they’re still brown but feel a little different when you touch them. Hmm, let’s see…what do they feel like now?” You may still get a look of disgust and total rejection, but at the very least, even getting them to touch a new food will help with desensitization. And that’s a win!

Prepare foods in fun and unique ways

Consider using cookie cutters to cut into veggies, fruits and sandwiches, as well arranging foods to look like silly faces. There are so many tips on Pinterest and Google for fun food prep! In addition, check out these 10 tips for making healthy food more fun for children from

10 tips for making healthy foods more fun for children

Let them help in the kitchen

Preparing, cooking and baking food is a great sensory experience that can also promote fond memories of togetherness. Give them “jobs” during the process of preparing a meal that make them feel like a vital part of the process.

Talk about the benefits of healthy food in a way that makes sense to your child at their developmental level

If your child is challenging you to explain why they must try new foods, now is not the time to use the line, “Because I said so.” (Is it ever?) Instead, try reasoning with them in a way that will increase their motivation. Not only does this show them a level of respect that may break down barriers of defiance, it helps give them accountability for their choices. For a young child (i.e., 3-5 years), this may sound something like, “You know how you love strong superheroes? They are so strong because they eat healthy food every day. When you eat healthy foods, your body and mind get strong too.” For a sulky preteen or teen, this conversation is much different, and might sound like, “I know you want to be a starter for your soccer team. When you eat a bunch of junk, your body and all of its cells don’t work their best, and you aren’t as fast and strong as you could be if you ate healthier.”

Never use reasoning tactics that reference your child’s weight in these discussions, as this can create disordered thoughts about food and body image.

Don’t give up

It typically takes 8-15 exposures to a new food for a typically developing child to become tolerant of it. It takes significantly more for a child that’s a problem feeder. Just because your child has refused a new food in the few times you have exposed them to it doesn’t mean it will forever be shunned. Keep at it, and work to keep a record of foods and the number of times they have tried it. If food intolerances seem like something more than developmentally normal picky eating, be sure to schedule a feeding evaluation with a licensed speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist to rule out any oral motor difficulties and/or sensory issues. The following links may be helpful for parents of children who may be at risk for problem feeding:

“How to Track Food Exposures and Expand Food Variety for Selective Eaters” by Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP

How to Track Food Exposures and Expand Food Variety for Selective Eaters

“When It Comes to Food…It’s All Child’s Play” by Megan A. Miller, MS, CCC-SLP

When It Comes to Food…It’s All Child’s Play

Avoid the “All or Nothing” Mentality

Starting any new, healthy habit this spring for you and your family is a wonderful start. The journey to healthy eating will often feel like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back. Some days, it will feel like you’re walking backwards all together. Try keeping a written journal where you can write down your successes. It will remind you on those post-guilty nights of exiting the drive-through lane of the wins you have had. Above all, remember: progress doesn’t mean perfection. Sometimes, french fries taste too darn good.