Getting children to eat more nutritious and healthy foods is usually a BIG concern for moms nowadays. There are just too many unhealthy options bombarding them at the grocery store, at restaurants and eateries, and in the school cafeterias. Moms have to work double time it seems to make sure healthy foods don’t completely disappear from the menu. This becomes especially important when we take a look at some of the health problems facing young kids today that are increasingly being associated with poor nutrition such as juvenile diabetes, obesity, and attention deficit disorders. Kids as young as two years old have been found that already have plaque build-up in their arteries.
What can you do though when your kids just don’t prefer the healthier foods and vegetables in particular? If they want a candy bar instead of fresh fruit what do you do? Giving up and letting them eat whatever they want is not an option. It is time to get creative and here are some ideas.
Be a Sneaky Chef – The easiest way to overcome an aversion to healthy foods is to hide them inside other foods so that your kids either do not know they are there or they don’t care. This subject was debated a lot last year with the release of The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious, two books that provide information about creating vegetable purees and then inserting them within other foods. The idea behind this is that kids will still get the nutritional benefit of their vegetables while still enjoying the “taste” of their favorite foods. The purees can be used in making macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, pizza, and even brownies.
There are some parents though that feel sneaking the veggies into the meal does not effectively teach kids the importance of eating healthfully. Other parents have decided the benefits circumvent this reasoning. Personally I do not see why healthy eating education cannot include teaching children to disguise the healthy foods they find unappealing inside the foods they do like, perhaps creating a life long habit. Be up from and honest about what you are doing and problem solved. I use this approach all the time when I add greens or seaweed to their fruit smoothies and Popsicles, sprinkle ground flax on their food, or otherwise disguise the stuff they don’t particularly care to eat on its own.
Get Kids Involved – One of the best ways to make certain that kids are enthusiastic about their meal is to have them participate in making it. When they help out with meal preparation and cooking they feel a great sense of accomplishment and that in itself makes the meal more appealing. Even younger kids can help out by measuring or mixing ingredients, finding recipes inside magazines or cookbooks, and setting the table. Even toddlers can help when you use a Learning Tower. The excitement of making the food can only be surpassed by the excitement of actually trying it.
Growing the food makes it all the more appealing as well. It allows them to see first hand how food grows and makes its way to our dinner plate. Even if you have to use containers on a small apartment patio your kids can still grow their own food, perhaps grape tomatoes or strawberries. Kids are much more likely to try and enjoy foods that they grow themselves. If you don’t have a garden or even if you do…you can’t possibly grow everything. Look for Pick Your Own farms in your area where you can wander the farm and pick your own fruits and veggies. My kids absolutely love visiting nearby farms and coming home with baskets of goodies.
Presentation is Everything – My number one tip for parents to get their kids to eat healthier is to make it fun and exciting. This is why I love bento boxes, lunch trays, and other inventive ways to make the meal more fun. If you want them to enjoy nutritious foods then market them just as hard as the junk food companies do! Present the food in fun ways, dress up the table like you are having a party, and flex your creative muscles. Doing this does require a lot of effort but the payoff is worth it.
My oldest son’s classmates have often expressed jealousy when they see his lunches…the beautiful boxes, the cloth napkins, the food arranged in cute ways like the fruity rainbow lunch a made last year (below) or hard boiled eggs shaped like fish. Even veggies wrapped in nori (seaweed) become an object of desire because they are unique and special. One of his teachers even sent home a note asking how much I would charge to make her lunches. ;)
Another thing we do at home is eat by candlelight at least once a week. We turn off the lights, light a few candles and have a “romantic” dinner together. The kids love it and what’s on the menu is not much of an issue. Another idea would be to take the meal outside. Eat at a patio or picnic table or even a blanket on the front lawn. It is way less messy (no crumbs to clean up) and kids have a blast. You might also decide to load up a nice picnic basket and take your meal to a local park.
Don’t Buy the Bad Stuff – Are you being your kids dealer? Are you bringing the bad stuff into the house? I am amazed when I hear moms complain about how their kids eat nothing but macaroni and cheese, potato chips, and soda and then find it is mom buying the stuff for them. Seriously, it is like buying drugs for them and complaining when they use them. You don’t HAVE to buy unhealthy foods if you don’t want to. Just stop already.
Give Them Time – It can take many repeated exposures to certain foods before kids feel comfortable trying them. The key is not to pressure them and make the dinner hour one of tension. Pressuring kids to eat things they don’t want to can work against our ultimate goal. Just keep serving up the healthy foods with each meal and let children get used to seeing them on their plates and their parents plates and they may come to accept them in time. Also, remember that children mimic the actions of their parents so the next time the salad is passed to you realize that a big “I LOVE salad” can go along way. Next time you need a snack, explain how these nuts or these goji berries will make you feel much more energized and happy than a handful of potato chips. Set the example and the kids will follow.
What about you? Any healthy eating and picky eater tips to share?