Ask a Chef: How do I get my kids to eat better?

Ask a Chef: How do I get my kids to eat better?

In our Ask a Chef four-part series, each month, a new chef/food professional will answer important questions about incorporating fresh, real food into your everyday life. They will also emphasize how their food choices impact their own lives.

Today we hear from Lindsey Shifley.

How has food impacted your family?

Five years ago, I set out on a food change mission (I gave myself six weeks) to see if better nutrition could help my daughter in school. We had been meeting with a school intervention team for over a year, and Abbie was losing confidence and interest in school. She struggled to pay attention in the classroom, had sensory and auditory processing issues (two step directions were impossible) and she was also having trouble making friends. After two weeks, the school plus home “food change” effort worked; I’ll never forget when her teacher reported that Abbie’s symptoms were gone. The entire team marveled at how she began to blossom at school in less than a month. Totally energized, I began to research the gut brain connection between nutrition and academic success. I found Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution campaign online and really connected to the simple “food education for all” message: Learn more about what’s in your food, where your food is coming from and start cooking from scratch more often. I applied to become an Ambassador the next day as my family’s food change story found a home with impassioned leadership and a global team.

What food changes did you make in your home?

With the guidance of a local, licensed nutritionist, we put Abbie (along with the entire family) on a real food diet. I eliminated preservatives and artificial color from our grocery cart. I cut back on refined sugar. I started to buy antibiotic free meat. For a few years, we also eliminated wheat products from her diet, as they seemed to trigger her symptoms (thankfully, she tested negative to Celiac). I began to source fresh fruits and vegetables from local Lake County organic farms and to follow EWG’s Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen list when I shopped at the store. Most importantly, I simply started to cook more meals from scratch. I shared the food education I was learning with my kids and engaged them in my new shopping and cooking habits. It was difficult, as I had (and to a lesser degree still have) an entire family table of picky eaters. My hat with “short order cook” on the front disappeared and was replaced with “Just try it.” The Goal: To cook for and gather my family table around delicious, gut-healthy food.

What are some ways you got your family engaged in cooking meals? 

I play music in the kitchen as much as possible! Half the battle is to get myself engaged and excited to cook when I don’t feel like it. If I’m into it, it’s easier to get my 3 kids (now 12, 10 and 7 years old) in the kitchen – fun energy is contagious. I ask my kids to help me with all kinds of small, basic tasks: Ripping up lettuce, peeling veggies, flipping pancakes, cracking eggs, mixing batter, sautéing and chopping food up (teaching knife skills is super important!). Abbie loves to bake, and she is beginning to tackle recipes with friends while I’m in the kitchen cooking. Tommy’s favorite meal to make is homemade gnocchi as it’s so fun to roll out the dough and cut it up into balls and other fun shapes. Mac is the master of flipping pancakes! If they don’t help me with preparing a meal, we play guessing games at the dinner table to see if they can tell what kinds of foods are in a dish. I try to engage them and not give up when they reject new foods/recipes; sometimes meal plans just don’t play out the way I expect. I am my family’s kitchen coach – Cooking is one of the many “sports” we practice at every week, for life. Some weeks, we practice more than others, and I try to repeat favorite meals so that our kitchen and family table is a place of comfort, anticipation and good food love.

Did that affect the kid’s willingness to eat the food? 

When my kids help me cook something up, they are definitely more willing to try it (especially if it’s a new recipe)! They are so proud of themselves! Also, when they know what’s in the food, the mystery and their “mom suspicion” is gone. I have also overheard them encouraging friends to try different foods, which really lights me up. Who knew my kids would be positive little food revolutionaries, too!?

What’s your favorite recipe to make with your family?

I am a HUGE fan of one-tray bakes, and this Jamie Oliver recipe is one of my favorites! Here is the recipe that got me started on these one pan, easy and inexpensive meals! I hope you enjoy making this as much as I do!


Advocate Condell Medical Center and Food Revolution Super Ambassador Lindsey Shifley will host an evening of cooking demonstrations and tips shared by a dynamic group of chefs on May 8 at Condell Cooks for Life, a pop-up cooking school event. A variety of Jamie Oliver’s “Cook for your Life” recipes will be demonstrated in a hands-on setup in the Advocate Condell Conference Center.

Find more details and register for the event here.

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  1. I’ve always made home cooked meals for my family. They were always on the Honor roll. I took it a step farther with my youngest and started buying fresh vegetables for all of us. This seemed to show up in her in her school grades. She was the smartest of the three girls in school. I was doing better food plans for them because that’s what my mother did and it was nice to have healthy meals planned at home. But how do
    You get children to make good good choices at school?

  2. Truly awful how much “junk” is in our food. Its unfortunate that the FDA, which should be policing our food supply instead is working with Monsanto and others to hide all the chemicals, pesticides in our food.

    I also but organic vegetables if they’re on the dirty dozen, have a local farmer for antibiotic and hormone free, grass feed meat.

    I stopped buying premade meals including things like canned soup or lean cuisine. Too many harmful ingredients.

  3. Lindsey Shifley

    Hi Lisa! Local farmers are my heroes. So excited to hear you buy local – You are truly a “food patriot” and together we are voting with every dollar we spend! Keep it up! Thanks for commenting!

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About the Author

Lindsey Shifley
Lindsey Shifley

Lindsey Shifley of is a fast pitch softball pitching coach, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Super Ambassador, Pilot Light Chefs Advisory Board Member, Chicago Food Day Social Media Strategist, teacher in the kitchen, speaker, Mom of 3, wife, and former Northwestern Varsity Softball student-athlete.