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It can be tempting to take advantage of convenience foods, especially those that appeal to kids. But kids growing bodies need more nutrition. So here are some easy steps to get kids to eat healthier. Even if you have a picky eater.
How to get kids to eat healthier
The problem with convenience foods is almost all of them have a ton of sugar and preservatives and very little to offer nutritionally. If you haven’t made the entire leap to a whole foods diet, yet want to avoid being a “pop-tart mom” regularly, here are some easy ideas to incorporate into your family’s diet. Try making only one change at a time, to lessen the chance that they will rebel against your efforts.
To go from being a nutrition zero to a nutrition hero in your family, check this out.
Children whose families eat at least seven meals per week as a family are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains and less likely to snack on unhealthy foods. Research shows this is especially effective with adolescents, even showing a lower rate of suicidal activity, and drug and alcohol use among the study participants who ate more meals together.
Kids learn what they live. So if mom and dad are eating more junk than vegetables, the kids are going to pick up those habits. There is a rule in my home, no one is allowed to say “yuck!” to any food at the table, even if it’s something they don’t care for. The younger kids are then automatically turned off (of course!) and refuse to try the food.
Leading goes for exercise too. Kids like to do what mom or dad is doing. Let them exercise alongside you, get out in the yard and play ball with them, or turn off the TV, turn on some music, and dance around with them like crazy!
Overestimating their appetite is a mistake I make frequently. Young kids, especially toddlers and preschoolers, have small stomachs. They require small portions. If they’re still hungry, then dish out seconds. Giving too much food results in over-fullness or pressure to “clean your plate”, which trains children to overeat. Plates don’t feel happy and this is a negative thing to push on kids.
Getting kids to eat healthy
Many items are now available in a healthier, whole-grain version such as bagels, crackers, flour tortillas, and even muffin mix. Kids usually don’t even notice these changes. If they balk at grainy bread, there are several brands of “whole grain white” now available as well, although obviously, these are more refined than true whole grain bread.
Place healthy snacks within reach to get kids to eat healthier. Apples, oranges, yogurt (real yogurt – not the colored, sugar-filled kinds which are marketed directly to kids). If at all possible, leave the children at home when you shop. Besides the added time that it takes to haul them along, you will avoid the whining and guilt-tripping of their appeals for pricey items that are empty of nutritional value.
Many dishes taste delicious and also pack a lot of nutrition. Sometimes children don’t eat their vegetables simply because it has become a battle and source of frustration. You can easily puree cooked vegetables into pasta sauce and hide vegetables to add more vitamins. You can use the sauce on pizzas and other child-friendly meals. You can also juice certain high-vitamin vegetables (like carrots for example) into fruit smoothies and the like. Your child (or your husband or you) won’t even taste the difference!
Presentation is so important, as people (especially children) are very visual. Present meals in a fun, fresh way such as fruit kabobs with a honey dip. Different colored vegetables cut into different shapes with a yogurt dip can make for a fun and nutritious meal. Children love dipping, creating, and feeling as though they have input on what they are eating. Build your veggie pizza, or make silly faces with food. Think carrot shreds for hair, grape tomatoes for eyes, and half a cucumber wedge for a mouth. This will help make mealtime fun and nutritious!
You can make meals that are kid-friendly while adding lots of nutrients and not compromising flavor. Things like macaroni and cheese can easily be made healthy with whole wheat macaroni, real butter, real cheese, and pureed carrot or butternut squash to make the nice orange color that comes in the less healthy packaged meals. Cakes and other sweets can be made with 1/3 to 1/2 less sugar without sacrificing any taste and many can be made by replacing butter with applesauce.
Children learn best when what you are trying to teach is modeled for them. If they see you chugging down soda, chips and other unhealthy foods then denying them, they won’t be likely to buy your healthy eating proclamations.
Stock your fridge and pantry with healthy and great-tasting alternatives to their favorites and YOUR favorites and let your children see you enjoying a healthier way of eating. Prepare and eat your meals together if at all possible. Get them involved in the process. Even toddlers can help wash vegetables and help with simple meal preparations.
The most important thing to remember is that you are the parent, and it’s up to you to give your children a healthy start in life by teaching them how to eat well and stay active at a stage in their lives when they are unable to make the best nutritional choices.
You can avoid frustrations and mealtime battles if you employ some simple and painless (and healthier!) alternatives. Remember, make it fun, do it together, and make small, doable changes over time. Before you know it, your children’s bodies (and yours!) will be running like well-oiled machines. Good luck and happy, healthy eating!