Margaret and Bridget Kelly, who are popularly and widely known simply as The Kelly Twins, are mainstays on the St. Louis Food scene. For more than nine years, they hosted Food Talk with The Kelly Twins, a live radio show, on KTRS; and they produced six seasons of the television cooking show, Twice Baked, which aired on bluehighwaystv.com.
The Kelly Twins had a unique opportunity to take their message of wholesome, good food to elementary school children when they teamed with Chef de Cuisine D'Aun Carrel to launch the nutritional education curriculum in conjunction with the American Culinary Federation (ACF) Chef and Child Program. The program began as The Dinner Party Project. This dynamic team's efforts introduced nutritional science to the curriculum, and the enhanced program became known as Food with Family & Friends event.
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Food with Friends & Family as a program was introduced to the third grade class at Mark Twain Elementary School, where it ran for four years. There the children were taught about fruit, vegetables, and proteins. They learned how to execute every detail of a dinner party, from the etiquette of invitations and RSVPs, how to greet guests, and how to prepare, serve and clean up dinner. They were schooled in everything, from soup to nuts.
This kind of hands-on experience with food and the positive and constructive conversation about food and nutrition is consistent with the way The Kelly Twins approach food and nutrition with their own four children. If you're looking for tips to get your kids on the right eating track, read on! The Kelly Twins have lots of great ideas that can help you help your kids eat the right thing.
What are your tips for helping children eat healthier?
Bridget: Helping children eat healthier begins before they are ever born. Imprinting begins in-vitro as the baby eats what Mom eats, and continues in this fashion if Mom nurses (which, of course, is the very best nutrition a child can get!). So, if Mom eats lots of garlic, that flavor is passed to the child during pregnancy, and if Mom nurses, through infancy until the child begins to eat independently.
Margaret: When babies make the transition to solid food, parents need to continue to imprint with food. A great piece of advice I got from a natural care practitioner was to hold off on introducing simple sugars, including those from fruit. Start with vegetables, whole grains. As little kids, my children ate - and liked - lentils, chick peas and beets!
Bridget: Also, kids needs to be exposed to variety of colors, textures, and flavors. Parents need to introduce their kids early and often to as much as possible.
Between the two of you, you have four children. How have you approached healthy eating in your own family?
Bridget: It changes all the time!
Margaret: Absolutely! We take a "whatever works" approach. A few of the techniques we both use with our kids include making sure snacks, including fruit, are pre-portioned. At one point, we offered our kids the option of, "no-thank-you bites." This practice required that they take a bit of new food. Subsequent servings were allowed to be politely declined.
Bridget: Yeah, but that ran its course. Some kids will get to the "gag" point, and parents want to avoid that. Food and meals shouldn't be a negative experience for anyone, kids and parents alike.
Margaret: Overall, our kids have been active in the kitchen with us and have taken a hands-on interest in the garden. Gardens are really a good thing because they allow kids to connect with their food. In my own garden I also benefit from connecting with my kids.
Bridget: We also ask our kids to make choices about food with us. They love being part of the process, and they have ownership. We really empower them, and it makes a difference in their attitude toward food.
Margaret, we understand that Liam is a picky eater, and with a little work, you discovered that he would eat homemade quesadillas with free-range chicken and a whole-wheat tortilla. How did you work with him to figure out healthy dishes that he will eat?
We talk, talk, talk! The conversations that Liam and I have about food focus on the positive. I take him, and Aidan, too, to the grocery store with me, and evaluate the options and choices we have. I also will work with what he likes and find ways to merge elements of his preferences with healthier options. It can be a slow process, but it works over time.
Technology has been a great friend to this process as well. There is a FREE application (Fooducate) for smart phones that we use quite a bit. I'll give Liam the phone and ask him to scan the bar code with the app. The product will then get a grade based on the nutritional information. A poor nutritional grade will prompt the app to recommend a similar product with better nutritional value. It's fun for Liam to use and he can help make good solid decisions not only for himself, but also for the whole family, quickly and effectively.
What are some ways parents can work with their children to figure out what they will and won't eat?
Margaret & Bridget (in unison): Talk to your kids!!!!
Bridget: Have conversations about how food benefits their bodies: carrots for good eyesight; chicken for protein, which makes muscles; and if you have a kid who digs the "gross out," don't shy away from telling him (or her) that asparagus will make your pee stink. It has to be accessible!
Margaret: Talk to kids in practical terms about their own pursuit of strength, health, and fitness, and the role that nutrition plays in enabling them to reach their goals. Long-term goals regarding potential lifestyle is so important.
What is the biggest challenge parents have when they approach good nutrition with their kids?
Margaret: Marketing. Kids are bombarded food messages day in and day out. Food - the fake blue and green and red - is all placed at their level in the grocery store. They want what they want because they are told they want it. Then, it plays to the easiest palette to please: dead sweet.
Bridget: Parents have to be the "food marketers" in their own homes. For example, when Taylor was little, she didn't get oatmeal for breakfast; she had "Three Bears Porridge." My son, Jack, related to the Power Rangers. I took it and ran, and when I could tell that we were about to have some pushback, I'd invoke the "well, what do you think the Red Power Ranger eats to be so strong" This, of course, doesn't work forever, but when it works, use it. My sister and I made some quick, 30-second videos (Healthy Youth Partnership Tips) that give some quick ideas that anyone can use. (www.YouTube.com/Kellytwins)
Margaret: Also, let your cabinets and refrigerator help you be an effective food marketer for your family. Use the same strategy that grocery stores use. Get down to your kids' eye level and evaluate what they see in the cabinets and refrigerator. Make healthy choices easy for them to grab. Remember, too, pre-portion as much as you can.
Bridget: One last point on this topic ... get rid of the soda as a grab-and-go option. Marketing to your family means making their choices easy. Bottle water (BPA-free bottles, please) and put it at eye level. Your kids will drink it.
Margaret: Soda can be a treat, however. You don't want to take all the fun out of your kids' "food" lives. Think of it the same way you'd think of a dessert, and read the label. Avoid artificial sweeteners and the corn syrup. If you're going to have it, make sure you're getting the best possible ingredients.
We've covered a lot of ground here. Any other tips, tricks, or ideas you can give parents?
Margaret: Inasmuch as we think kids should be included in conversations, let's not overlook the benefit of being a sneaky parent!
Bridget: Both of us are sneaky moms! Sometimes you just have to figure out how to work nutrition into a kid's meal without them being any the wiser.
Margaret: One of my favorite sneaks is to puree butternut squash and add it to waffle batter. It's naturally sweet, and the real color of the waffle hides what I've done.
Bridget: My kids won't eat onions or chunky tomatoes, but they love my red sauce. It's all about the blender, which is a parent's best friend.
Margaret: The one last thought I want to leave parents with is that changes in your kids' eating habits happen incrementally. It takes baby steps, and parents have to take time and be creative. There will be hits and misses, but keep it positive and be consistent. Your kids will thank you for it in the end.