Kids are notoriously picky eaters, turning their noses up at fruits, vegetables, and any other foods they find even remotely suspicious. But nutrition plays such a vital role in children’s health and growth, that many parents find themselves struggling to trick, bribe, or force their kids to eat healthy. But there’s a better way: by working with kids’ natural inclinations, parents can help their kids develop a positive attitude about eating healthy and trying new foods.
Snack Time: It’s all in the Presentation
Because children are so active, snacks are a vital part of their daily diet—most children actually get a full 25% of their daily caloric intake through snacks. That makes snack time a great opportunity to improve children’s eating habits and nutrition. With creative presentation, kids will love eating healthy snacks.
- Kids, especially teething toddlers, love frozen treats. Freeze grapes, strawberries, pineapple, kiwi, or even bananas for a quick and delicious snack. Create homemade popsicles or slushies using all-natural fruit juice. Try using whimsical “containers,” like hollowed out oranges, or adding a cherry on top to make the dessert more like an ice cream sundae.
- Choose snacks that kids can help prepare. Preschoolers can put fruit in a blender for homemade smoothies, or spread peanut butter on bananas, celery, and apples. Kids also love using a cookie cutter to make cracker-sized sandwiches with meat and cheese. When they make snacks with their own hands, children are more likely to get excited about eating them.
- Avoid sending the message that a child might not like a certain food. Simply offer the snack, and eat some yourself, to model. If the child expresses reluctance or suspicion, simply state what the food is, and say, “Take a bite and see if you like it.” Being neutral about whether the child tries a specific food—or eats a full portion of something new--conveys the idea that not everyone will like everything, but that trying new foods is non-threatening and easy.
Maximize Foods that Children Already Love
Part of children’s aversion to healthy foods is that they often appear “new” and therefore unappealing. Children thrive on routine, and that applies to their diet as well. They tend to prefer to eat foods they already know they like. But it is easy to infuse their favorite foods with extra nutrition:
- Add some vegetable puree to tomato sauces for dishes like spaghetti, and slip broccoli, spinach, or squash into lasagna.
- A bit of salsa brings zest—and a serving of vegetables—to macaroni and cheese.
- Sneak oat bran or tomato puree into hamburger mix, for more nutritious barbecues.
- Brownies are a great opportunity to sneak in blueberries and even oat bran. The Sneaky Chef offers an excellent recipe for a healthy variation on this dessert staple.
- Whenever possible, replace vegetable oil with applesauce or yogurt in baking recipes. Applesauce works best in cakes, cookies, and brownies, while yogurt is great for breads.
Children need proper nutrition for adequate growth and development, but it can be challenging to ensure they get the vital nutrients they need. By focusing on making nutritious food appealing and fun, removing the pressure to try new foods, and enhancing kid-friendly menu items, parents can help their kids not just eat what they need, but also love what they eat.