School is back in session. Here are Jamie Oliver’s tips for feeding kids healthy meals all year long

British chef Jamie Oliver is best known for his television series The Naked Chef and for campaigning for healthier diets for schoolchildren. As a contributing writer for The Globe and Mail, he shared tips on how to get your kids to eat healthy and like it.

As a new school year begins, we compiled some of his best advice for busy parents.

Teach them to cook, or let them help

It’s hard to find time to cook as it is, without getting a few kids in the mix. Still, according to Jamie Oliver, teaching your youngsters this life skill will go a long way.

It gives them a sense of how ingredients become meals and an appreciation for the process. Not only is it a skill, but if done regularly it will become a habit, and a not-so-daunting part of adulthood. That’s why Oliver has always pushed the importance of culinary education in schools.

In his words, “you ain’t going to die young if you don’t do your geography homework. You will die young if you don’t learn to cook.”

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Make a habit of keeping frozen vegetables in stock. They’re a healthy option, and affordable options like squashes, potatoes and carrots are great to heave on hand for easy meals.LINDA XIAO/The New York Times News Service

Use your freezer

We use our freezers all the time for quick microwaveable meals stored away for nights when we’re pressed for time. Getting in the habit of using frozen produce will also keep healthy options readily available all year long, even during a busy school year.

Oliver suggests options that last a long time and are affordable – like squashes, potatoes and carrots. He says frozen vegetables are sometimes even healthier than the ones at a market.

“Three days out of the ground, it’s flash-frozen within hours,” he says.

Recipe: Jamie Oliver’s favourite quick winter soup

Involve them in shopping and prep

Just like teaching them to cook, Oliver says getting your kids involved in meal prep, planning and shopping will have similar positive benefits.

Oliver believes it’s about building their sense of familiarity with healthy ingredients. Taking them to the grocery store or a farmers’ market, even if you’re just browsing without buying anything, will give them a better sense of where healthy food comes from. It creates an experience they’ll remember, and maybe even look forward to.

In his words: “Associate food with fun.”

Make sure they’re choosing between two good options

Having your kid choose between McDonald’s and a homemade soup is just setting yourself up for failure. Keep healthy options around the house, and let your kids pick from those.

For example, having them choose between a protein-packed sandwich with leafy greens and that homemade soup will end up being a win-win – they get to pick, but no matter what they choose it’s something you feel good about them eating.

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Cook carrots, squash and onions in the slow cooker to bring out their natural sweetness.Cheyenne Cohen/The Associated Press

Use natural sweetness in vegetables to your advantage

Kids like candy and chocolate because they’re sweet. But some vegetables are sweet too. Oliver suggests using that natural flavour to make them more attractive to your youngsters.

Putting carrots, squash and onions in the slow cooker is the most effective way to draw out natural flavour, he says.

Jamie Oliver’s escalivada

Recipe: Amazing veggie moussaka

Be informed

Do your research and read labels. Understanding what’s in your food and its nutritional value is the key to making healthy choices for your family. Oliver sums it up like this: “When people are given good information, they normally make good choices.”

Liquefy vegetables

Sometimes, making vegetables less obvious does the trick. Try blending your vegetables into the rest of the meal, and see what happens when your kids see a creamy soup instead of a head of broccoli.

Oliver says if you liquefy the vegetables, “chances are they’ll love it.”

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Jamie Oliver suggests including a salad at mealtime to encourage kids to eat a variety of healthy foods. Repeated exposure to what’s healthy helps demystify it, he says.DAVID MALOSH/The New York Times News Service

Be a bit stubborn

In Oliver’s words, “I’ve put a salad in front of my kids every day, whether they’ve liked it or not.”

Now, several years later, they all eat salad. Repeated exposure to what’s healthy helps demystify it, he says. Putting salad out first, like Oliver did, gives them something to snack on while they wait for the rest of the meal, too.

Grilled chicken with charred pineapple salad

How to keep enjoying salads in the winter

Enjoy desserts in moderation

Oliver has said that most of his recipes are healthy and nutritious, but the other approximately 30 per cent of his recipes – cakes or other desserts – should still “be celebrated and loved,” in moderation.

For him the problem isn’t the occasional indulgence, but rather, the steadily growing amount of sugar and calories in the staples of our daily meals.

“Cakes and dessert and chocolate bars, they’ve always been very honest. They’ve always been an indulgence. The problem is that in the past 40 years, the cereal aisles of supermarkets have become essentially cake aisles. Pasta sauces have more sugar per 100 grams than desserts.”

So don’t get rid of your kids’ desserts. After all, as Oliver says, “life without chocolate would be bloody boring.”

Jamie Oliver’s guide to healthy(ish) desserts

Jamie Oliver weighs in on simple make-ahead desserts

Above all, according to Jamie Oliver, you can make substantial improvements to your kids’ diets by focusing on integrating what’s healthy into their daily habits, instead of criticizing what’s not.

“As a parent and someone who has worked with kids around the world, I think we can put lots of effort into things that are positive, and say nothing about things that are negative.”


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