The Picky Eaters Project: Melissa's Progressive Swaps

Melissa explains why the most important tactic you can take when it comes to swapping out foods in your kids' diets is to go slowly.

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Hook and Goal Recipes

The most important tactic you can take when it comes to swapping out foods in your kids' diets is to go slowly. A Hook recipe is a tasty homemade version of my kids' favorite foods. My Goal recipe is the recipe I'm hoping to serve my family on a regular basis. Transitional recipes, also known as my Hook and Goal recipes, are based on the foundation that it's very hard to change habits.

Find the Hook

I find that anything I make that isn't healthy is easier to slowly change. Take premade chicken nuggets, for example. It's probably harder to transition your kids off of them because you're making changes from the inside out.

Start with Homemade

So here's the key to success: Have them fall in love with your cooking. In Michael Pollan's newest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, he explains that the single biggest decision you can make for you and your bodies is whether or not you cook — not whether you eat low-calorie or buy organic. The real question is: Did you cook it?

Progressive Swaps

I have my own rule: I don't worry about a single thing my kids eat as long as I know I've made it. If I make a cake out of fresh butter, sugar, etc., I worry less about that than when I purchase a cake. The best thing you can do for your kids is cook their food.

From Chicken Nuggets to Milanese

Once you start cooking, then you can slide down the scale to cooking healthy. The concept of Hook and Goal recipes is using more-detailed versions of transitional recipes. So, for the classic chicken nugget, your Hook recipe might be a homemade version of a chicken nugget, but your Goal recipe will be a meal you'd like to serve regularly like my Chicken Milanese. Or maybe I'd make healthier baked fish sticks.

From White Bread to Whole-Wheat

If you want to switch your kids to whole-wheat bread, don't pull the rug out from under them; introduce changes slowly. When you start sensing resistance, pull back a little. Take them from white bread to honey-wheat bread to whole-grain.

Pasta Swap

Start with white pasta, then progressively switch to multigrain, then finally switch to whole-grain.

Cereal Swap

Take a common breakfast cereal and cut the sugar. Take 1 scoop of the sugary cereal and mix it with a whole-grain cereal (1/4 sweet, 3/4 whole-grain). Use a plastic container to mix it up so kids are always reaching for the mixed version.

Juice Swap

Start with their favorite juice and start cutting the sugar down by adding water little by little.

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