Five-year-old Khailey hates eggs. Offer to add onions to her meal and she’ll scrunch her nose in disgust. The very mention of spinach sets her brown eyes rolling and her pink-beaded braids swinging as she shakes her head furiously refusing the leafy green.
But healthy foods like tomatoes, baby carrots and bananas make her squeal “yummy!” with a smile. Her mother, Oakland North reporter Tasion Kwamilele, sometimes has a hard time knowing how to incorporate Khailey’s approved list of nutritious ingredients into her lunches.
“Sometimes I don’t know what to send her to school with and what she’s actually going to eat,” Kwamilele said as Khailey perched on her lap.
Oakland’s Children’s Hospital & Research Center is attempting to inspire parents and kids like Kwamilele and her daughter to create nutritious meals together with their recently launched “Mix & Match Brown Bag” healthy lunch plan.
The seven-day menu, which can be printed out as a PDF file, maps out seven themed lunch options for kids, like the “Sandwich Smorgasbord” or the “Pizza with Pizzazz.” Each meal is made up of the same kinds of components: grains, protein, toppers or sides and condiments. Within each category are options to choose from. Sandwich suggestions include whole grain bread or whole-wheat pitas for the grains, and baby carrots, tomatoes, pickles, celery or spinach for toppers.
“The idea was that basically to provide a lot of variety and flexibility when it comes to planning meals for children,” said Gail Seche, clinical nutrition manager for Children’s Hospital. “Sometimes we get families and health care professionals who say, ‘This family needs to go on a diet,’ or ‘This family needs a meal plan,’ and that doesn’t work very well with children because it’s too restrictive.”
Seche, who developed the Mix & Match menu with a volunteer, said the plan can be especially helpful for Oakland families and the population Children’s Hospital serves. “We do have a fair amount of economically-challenged families,” she said. “Sometimes you need some new and fresh ideas. The idea is to make this quick and accessible and use things you can have in your fridge most of the time.”
The plan also allows parents and children to collaborate on meal planning—something Seche said is especially important in encouraging healthy eating habits. “Involve the children whenever you can, absolutely,” she said. “When they’re involved in the preparation and decision-making, they’re much more likely to actually eat it. We encourage parents to take a little extra time and tolerate a little extra mess in the clean up together later.”
Kwamilele gave the plan a test-run with Khailey, and said she could see the benefits of regularly using the diverse menu. “I think it would really help me a lot,” she said. “When I went to the grocery store, I’d know what I needed to buy so that my daughter could stay healthy.”
When asked how the turkey, cheese and tomato sandwich she helped plan and put together tasted, Khailey smiled and said, “Good!”