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Happy Meals for Healthy Kids: What Are Your Go-To Foods?

Food. You can't live without it, but you can't always get your kids to eat it. We all know (or have) kids that seem to live simply on air, whose parents are thrilled if they get them to eat one well-balanced meal a week. I know some of these kids and I've seen how incredibly frustrating it is for the parents. We're lucky because Preston is not one of these difficult eaters, for the most part. He's definitely gone through his own hunger strikes but they don't usually last long; I'd say 85 percent of the time he eats what we give him, which is the following, in no particular order: grilled cheese; cheese pizza; slices of cheese; French fries; mashed potatoes; chicken nuggets; baked chicken; spaghetti (or Spaghetti-O's) with bolognese or meat sauce; Pirate's Veggie Booty; Veggie Sticks; pancakes; eggs; cottage cheese; Cheerios; Yogurt Melts; Yo Baby! yogurt; honeydew; watermelon; bananas; prunes. Actually, typing that out, it doesn't look like such a shabby list of menu items, for a guy who's only been eating solid foods for a few months. 

But notice there aren't any vegetables on that list—we've tried everything. He loves mashed potatoes, if you consider that to be a vegetable. He's starting to come around to peas and carrots, but just barely. I can sometimes sneak in spoonfuls of baby foods like squash and sweet potatoes, but green beans or broccoli? Forget it. Now I understand this. Anyone tried Fruitables? Any good?

Now that Preston is capable of feeding himself finger foods, he is pretty insistent on it—which makes anything that requires a spoon rather difficult. He almost always pushes the spoon away, sending the food on it flying in every direction (the only one who doesn't mind this is our dog Barkley). Sometimes he'll let me feed him with a spoon; sometimes he won't. Our new trick is to give him another spoon to play with while I shove as many mashed prunes in his mouth as possible (to curb his constipation). This usually works pretty well. Do you have any good tricks like this? Please share them!

I have a long and lean kid, so I'm not overly concerned about the all-carb diet right now—but I also don't want him developing my horrible eating habits. My diet mostly consists of all the foods I listed above, with the addition of sushi. I've got a simple palette, what can I say. There's nothing I love more than angel hair marinara from our favorite Italian restaurant in Chicago, Rosebud. And when it comes to pizza, I believe in cheese only, the way god intended—no crazy vegetables or meat, thankyouverymuch. I'm also what you'd consider a junk foodie. This works out well for us, especially because my husband owns a Chicago hot dog and Italian beef stand called Nana's, and is opening a second restaurant soon that will be serving deli-type sandwiches, pastas, salads and, yes, pizza, all my favorite and necessary food groups. So it's inevitable that Preston will grow up exposed to foods that you wouldn't necessarily consider healthy. 

I didn't grow up in a healthy household either—my mom cooked well-balanced dinners, but we always had junk food in the house, like Entenmann's chocolate chip cookies, Little Debbie's Oatmeal-Cream Pies (my fave), and all the chips a little girl could ever dream of. My friends used to joke (well, they still do) that I was on the "ee-tos" diet: Cheetos, Doritos, Fritos, Tostitos, you name it. And because I, too, had working parents, I was home sans parents a lot and could snack on whatever I wanted. (I also got to watch as much TV as I wanted. In fact, I would snack in front of the TV! Take that, mompetitors...) Yup, I had it pretty good as a kid.

Obviously I don't want to raise Preston to only eat junk food—I make a very conscious effort to give him well-balanced meals, too, but he wants what he wants, and he's only 1. Am I setting a bad precedent this early? Jay and I are pretty laid back about this stuff, but I am always looking for new and healthier meals to make. Of course I want to raise a healthy child, but I also don't want to deprive him of life's little pleasures (say what you want about McDonald's but I've never met a Happy Meal that didn't put a smile on my face). I have a very distinct memory of eating McDonald's as a kid and saving the fries for last (obviously, the best part). My dad would do tricks to distract me and try to steal my fries when I wasn't was a little game we played, because he knew how protective I was over my beloved McDonald's French fries. (Confession: I still don't like to share them, except with Preston.)

What are some of your go-to foods for the kiddos? And what are some healthier yet tasty options I could start working into our repertoire?