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Rachael Ray on Helping Kids Create Healthy Eating Habits

Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Lipsky

Author, Daytime Host and Philanthropist, Rachael Ray wants kids to develop healthy eating habits at a young age. 

On her programs, “Rachael Ray Show” and “30-Minute Meals,” she advocates for cooking at home and eating more whole, unprocessed foods. 

In 2006, she and Andrew “Kappy” Kaplan launched Yum-o!, a nonprofit organization to empower kids and families to develop healthy relationships with food and cooking through three core initiatives: cook, feed, and fund. Through their national partners, the nonprofit educates kids and families about food and cooking; works in school food; feeds hungry children; and funds cooking and educational opportunities for kids who want a career in the restaurant and foodservice industry.

“Eating habits are formed at a young age and, if kids are given opportunities and knowledge, they will make better food choices” says Kaplan, Co-Founder and Director of Yum-o! and VP of Culinary Operations for the Rachael Ray brand.

Kickstart the day

Now, Ray and Kaplan are sharing their healthy breakfast insights and tips. 

“Food is fuel for the brain and a good breakfast can help kickstart a great day,” she says, noting a good-quality, non-sugary cereal may be quick and easy. 

Ray suggests other easy-to-do options for parents and kids like making overnight oats together: “It’s kind of like a science experiment because the next morning the child has something to look forward to.”

Get creative with overnight oats ingredients, including adding a variety of fruits or flavorings, such as maple syrup or honey or a spoon of peanut butter or almond butter. 

Consider adding whole grains, which are filling, for things like toast, pancakes, or French toast. Adding a good quality jam or nut butter as toppings is fun and can change things up, too. Ray loves breakfast casseroles, which are fun to make as a family on the weekend. Smoothies with nutritious fruits and greens are a healthy breakfast option, too. Kappy’s kids LOVE smoothies.

Creating healthy habits

Kids will be a lot more invested in trying new foods and eating healthy if they’re a part of the process.

“Something as simple as letting the child pick the color of the bowl or plate they eat on may help encourage them to eat a certain food or meal,” says Kaplan.

A professionally trained chef, he says the more kids are involved in the kitchen and with the creation of a meal, the better. “If kids see you pick up and touch ingredients, and smell and taste food, or are involved in the cooking process, the more likely they are to try a food,” he says.

For example, recently Kaplan’s daughter was curious about a lemon she saw on the counter, so he handed it to her.

“That alone — touching smelling, putting it to her mouth — that’s an experience,” he says. “I could have said, ‘no no, it’s not for you,’ but then every time she saw a lemon, she may remember, ‘no, it’s not for you.’”

He says it’s important for kids to experience foods and being around the kitchen for themselves so they can decide if they like it or not. That can be as simple as stirring a pot, reaching into a bag to get a piece of bread, giving them the choice between yellow or white cheese, but most important… eating together as a family.

New experiences

Kaplan encourages parents to be mindful of making a nutritious breakfast. He says it may not be perfect every day but shoot for a few days a week and don’t be so hard on yourself if one day your kid doesn’t eat everything on their plate. 

“It’s a time to start the day together and if they see you eating breakfast, they may be more willing to eat, too,” he says. 

Parents often ask Kaplan how to get their kids to eat foods that they as adults don’t like. He reminds parents it’s about the kids, not them.

“You need to open their eyes to new foods, tastes, smells, textures, and experiences,” he says. 

Try cooking foods in new ways. Here’s an example: Kaplan doesn’t love hard-boiled eggs himself, but he made them recently for the kids to try and they loved them. So now he knows him and his wife can get them more nutrition by having hard boiled eggs. Establishing healthy habits now can help kids cook nutritiously and eat well for a lifetime.

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