When my older daughter who is now four first started eating, she would literally eat anything and everything! Salmon, avocado and broccoli were among her favorite foods. Unfortunately as she became exposed to processed foods, sweets and other “junk,” she started to no longer like the healthy options. When I would present homemade mac ‘n cheese or made from scratch pancakes, she would tell me she preferred the “ones in the box.” This was partially my fault, as I had occasionally given her foods out of a box (when I was in a time crunch), and partially due to her eating at school, camp and the homes of friends or grandparents. Eating at restaurants certainly did not help either. Why does eating processed food and restaurant food change the way our children want to eat and enjoy food? Or, is it possible that their taste buds simply change as they get older? I think NOT!

When you start to examine how processed food is made, you see that it is filled with chemicals. Pancakes that should have about five ingredients contain about 20 when they come frozen in a box. This is not only to preserve the food, but also to make it taste better and make it more addictive. Food companies have literally figured out how to make us crave their processed, chemicalized junk, which they disguise as food!

Restaurants aren’t much better! While they may be using “real food,” they often add unnecessary salt, butter, sugar, etc. to make their food taste better. On top of that, why does every kid’s menu only have deep fried items (i.e. chicken fingers, fries or mozzarella sticks) and white starchy carbohydrates (i.e. white pasta, grilled cheese on white bread or pizza)? What kind of signal is this sending to our children?

With the rise in childhood (and, of course, adult) obesity and diabetes, we need to find a solution to this food dilemma in our country. Michael Pollan, one of my greatest food heroes, talks about this in his latest book, Cooked. He argues that cooking could be “the single most important thing we could do as a family to improve our health and general well-being.” Additionally he explains that the shared family meal is, “a foundation of family life.” If we can find time to cook with our children, teach them about the importance of high quality food and spend time eating family meals together, we CAN make a change. I’ve found that picky eaters are also more likely to try new things when they are involved in the cooking process. As children start to eat more real food, their taste buds will change for the better (in the same way that my daughter’s quickly changed for the worse!).

If you follow me on Instagram (please do! @LivLight_), you know that I was recently asked to teach a cooking lesson for the early childhood program at my daughter’s school. As a former Kindergarten teacher, I was thrilled to stand in front of 41 children and six teachers and teach about something I am so passionate about. It was literally my world’s colliding in the best way possible.

As I planned the lesson and the recipes to demonstrate, I came across another teachable moment. The teachers had sent me a list of allergies across the three classes. They included gluten, dairy, soy and nuts, which are some of the most common allergens. I am blessed to have two allergy-free children of my own, but many of my friends, clients and colleagues have children with life-threatening allergies, making me highly allergy aware. I think this is something else we need to teach our children. Not only how to make food without these allergens, but also to be respectful, understanding and empathetic of friends with allergies.

I chose to make a smoothie and granola bars with the children to show them that “treats” can be healthy. I talked about the health benefits of each ingredient and was amazed by their interest and enthusiasm throughout the entire lesson, further proving that children want to be involved in the cooking process and learning about food. I hope that you will try out these recipes with your children and let me know what you think. Stay tuned for lot of additional healthy, kid-friendly recipes to come on Liv-Light.com. And, remember, there is really no such thing as “kid food” if we expose our children to all food!

Click here for my Chocolate Banana Smoothie and click here for my LivLight Safe Granola Bars, both of which are gluten, dairy, soy and nut free!