How to Get Kids to Eat Healthier with Chef Jessica James

It can be a real challenge for parents to get their children to eat their fruits and veggies. Growing up, I was the one who always loved eating healthy and trying new things because I was fortunate enough to have my grandparents (who were healthy yet adventurous when it came to food) watch me while my parents were at work. By the time my brother was born, we had a babysitter who fed us corn dogs and mustard, and to this day my brother will only eat plain cheeseburgers- I’m talking bread, bun and cheese…no veggies, not even a piece of lettuce.

According to Applebee’s executive chef, Jessica James this isn’t a rare occurrence, as kids will model not only what their parents/grandparents say or how they behave, but how they eat. She was kind enough to join me for an interview recently to discuss how to get your kids to eat better and try new things, Applebee’s new healthy menu items for children, and she even dished a great recipe that you can make for dinner tonight!


Applebee's executive chef Jessica James dishes on how you can get your kids to eat healthier! Image courtesy of

Applebee’s executive chef Jessica James dishes on how you can get your kids to eat healthier! Image courtesy of




Candace Rose: You’ve created kids’ menus and satisfied thousands of finicky eaters over the years. What is the secret to creating foods that ids will enjoy?

Jessica James: “Well, Candace, the secret really isn’t a secret at all. It’s all about choice. So if you think about getting your kids up in the morning or what you’re going to watch on TV as a family at night- it’s about giving them lots of choice…and it completely relates to the dinner table too.

Last month at Applebee’s we launched our new kids menu, and we’ve expanded our choices to 14 entrees and 11 sides for kids to choose from. There’s a breadth of options so you have all the favorites like chicken tenders, fries, pizza and cheeseburgers; and then you have healthier, better for you options like a caesar salad or yogurt with strawberries or apple slices or grilled chicken. So lots of options for kids and parents to kind of mix and match, and give kids something fun that they love along with something healthier and better for them.”


Candace Rose: Can you tell us more about some of the combinations in front of you?

Jessica James: “Sure, so real quick I’ll demonstrate (please see video above for details) our new cheesy french bread pizza- it’s just a piece of french bread, we sliced it and toasted it with a little garlic butter. I’m going to top it with a really nutritious Pomodoro sauce- it’s a really tomato based sauce, and tomatoes are a great source of vitamin A and vitamin C; and we top it with some cheese. This isn’t necessarily a better-for-you option, but when you pair it with some vanilla yogurt topped with some fresh strawberries (like we have here), kids get their fun pizza that they love, and mom and dad feel good about dinnertime because the kids have also had something healthy.”


Candace Rose: How can having a child involved in food preparation help with dinnertime power struggles?

Jessica James: “Sure. It starts young and it starts at home, educating your kids on what’s good for them and what’s not; getting them involved in the kitchen. If you have a garden, getting them involved in the garden at home. I’m a mom, and we have a two and a half year old son. We don’t have a lot of space, and we created a little garden on our rooftop. This summer he helped plant the seeds and water, and pick fruits and vegetables when they were ripe enough to eat. Believe it or not, at two and a half years old, he ate kale and he enjoyed it because he had watched it grow and be a part of the process from start to finish.”


Candace Rose: Why is it important for parents to lead by example? What are some ways parents can do this when eating out?

Jessica James: “Well, a couple things. First, just modeling behavior. Kids model us; they say the things we say, they have the same body language as us, and it also translates to the dinner table. Mom and dad can walk into Applebee’s, order off our Better For You menu, maybe try our Savory Cedar Salmon, and then the kids can also see mom and dad eat fruits and vegetables and lean protein, and make some smart choices themselves with their parents guidance off of our new kids menu.”


Candace Rose: Where can viewers go for more information?

Jessica James: “For more information visit us online at You can see the new kids menu out there, and also find your nearest Applebee’s.”



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