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Food Fights: A Pediatrician’s Attempt to Get Her Kids to Eat Well


Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD - published on 01/14/14

Learn Quick, Easy Cooking to Accommodate Your Busy Schedule

Kids’ activities and busy evenings make healthy dinners seem impossible — it’s so easy to just pick up fast food and have a picnic dinner at the soccer field.  But fast-food bad-habits are easy to start and hard to break.

My best tricks for busy evenings are: 1) freezer cooking; 2) crock-pot cooking; and 3) paper plates.  You need to pre-cook something that you can pull out of the freezer and heat up quickly, or start something in the crock-pot earlier in the day that is ready-to-go at dinner time.  Don’t be afraid to use disposable plates and cups at home.  One of the appeals of fast food is easy clean-up/no dishes.  It’s better to eat healthy food on paper plates than to buy fast food.

We bought an extra freezer for the basement.  Now I double the recipe whenever I cook and put the extra meal in the freezer.

Don’t Skip Breakfast

People who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight than those who eat breakfast.  Kids who skip breakfast do not perform as well in school compared to their breakfast-eating peers.   Breakfast needs to be quick, easy, and healthy.  Try unsweetened cereal with honey on top instead of pre-sweetened cereal.  Use skim milk.  If your kids (or you) don’t like the taste of skim milk, cut down slowly from full-fat milk to 2%, 1% and then skim.  Try regular oatmeal sweetened with fruit, apple sauce, maple syrup, or honey.  Make a large batch of whole-wheat or bran muffins and freeze them.  Take out enough for your family the night before so they are ready to go before school.

Keep School Lunch Healthy

The good news is that school lunches are getting healthier these days.  The bad news is that kids still have too many options for junk food at school.  If your child is only
offered the standard school lunch, they are probably getting a decent meal.  But the problem is the food choices offered.  What kid eats their green beans and skips the dessert?

Our public school offers sugar-laden snacks in the mid-morning, flavored milk at lunch (chocolate, strawberry or vanilla), and a lunch dessert.  One trip to the school cafeteria says it all: the milk cooler is 90% full of flavored milk and 10% white milk, only half of which is 2% milk.  The dessert section has about fifty servings of jello or pudding and a few servings of canned fruit.

My biggest issue with school nutrition is the classroom snacks.  Mid-morning snacks have been shown in pediatric research to improve memory and cognitive performance in elementary students.  Usually these snacks are provided by parents.  But concerns over allergens and food-borne illnesses have lead many schools to require snacks to be store-bought and pre-packaged.  This leads to a predominance of high sugar snacks with limited nutritional value.  If kids eat a sugar-laden granola bar at 10 am, they probably will skip the healthy parts of lunch at 11:30.

For healthy school lunch ideas, please see my related post, “School Lunch: Packed or Purchased.”

Offer Fruits and Veggies at Every Meal and for Snacks

This is really hard.  Remember, the key to success with healthy foods is exposure and limiting sugar.  


– Pre-chopped carrots, celery, and fruit that can be packaged in single-serving Ziploc bags, or buy pre-packaged, single-serving apples and carrots.

– Try clementines and small apples.

– Buy pre-washed salad and steam-in-bag microwave vegetables.

Remember the Lessons of Cookie Monster

Cookie Monster taught us: gluttony is easy, self-control is hard.  When we teach our kids to eat well, we give them so much more than health.  We teach them self-control.  I teach my children the words “gluttony” and “self-control” so that I have something to say besides “no” when they ask for junk food.

My three-year-old saw a man buy ice cream at a concession stand after a sporting event.  “That’s gluttony!” she shouted, pointing to the man’s ice cream.  Maybe it’s time to work on manners.

Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and a mother of five young children.  She is a regular contributor to AleteiaChildrensMDCatholicPediatrics and CatholicMom, as well as multiple TV and radio outlets.  Connect with Dr. Berchelmann at

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FamilyFoodHealth and WellnessParenting
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