10 Tips to Help Kids Eat Healthier
I am not a purist by any means. Once upon a time, pre-children, I could make what I wanted and spend 3 hours doing it. I could make a true gourmet meal, filled with exotic fruits and vegetables, and not worry about it being flat out rejected with prejudice (and moderate insult). That’s not the case these days. On top of not having copious amounts of time to make my own food, I have to make three little people food AND their health depends on it! Talk about pressure! So, with my nutritional training, and personal experience as a mom to three (each spectacularly different in their own right), I have come up with a list of ten tips to help kids eat healthier. Not all will apply, and you may even disagree with some. That being said, I have learned a few things, and I wanted to share what has worked for me, and hopefully will for you, too.
1.) Don’t go cold turkey. Slowly start reducing salt and sugar intake so the change isn’t so drastic and noticeable (think less protest). Start replacing artificial sweeteners with less processed sugars (like maple syrup, raw honey, or even fruits such as bananas and dried apricots).
2.) Bargain for treats. Yes, I said it. It’s a controversial one, but we have the “must have x amount of bites if you want dessert.” Fill up with the good stuff first, then the treats.
3.) Redefine “dessert”. Homemade gummies, nutrient dense cookies (think oats, seeds and healthy fats), or vanilla yogurt and fruit frozen into popsicles; all make an excellent treat. Click here for other dessert ideas.
4.) Work with your child’s natural preferences and aversions. If your little one gags at onions, it probably won’t be a realistic expectation for them to gobble a new onion-filled dish. If they love broccoli, try a new stir fry with broccoli and an additional new vegetable.
5.) Try to always serve a favored fruit/vegetable at every meal. This is two-fold as kids get used to seeing fruits and vegetables at every meal, and they also seek comfort in a known food if there are new ones to try.
6.) Don’t be afraid to puree, mash and finely dice foods. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not a huge fan of “hiding” foods, but sometimes it helps kids overlook a textural aversion and still be introduced to new flavors. (In some cases, there might be something else going on, such as true textural issues. It is important to rule out any aspects of sensory processing disorders.)
7.) Stay firm in your stance, and keep introducing a rejected food multiple times. It can take 5, 7 or even more times for a child to accept a new taste.
8.) Eat more fruits and vegetables and less junk yourself. It’s true that kids follow what we do, not what we say. Be the example.
9.) Teach them the benefits and powers of food. Carrots, which are loaded with beta-carotene, are like super vitamins for your eyes. Kids are smart, and can connect with cool facts.
10.) Include them in the cooking and/or meal preparation. If they touch the food, prepare it, or even just help pick out recipes, they are more likely to try new things.