As a mom, one of the most important things we do is keep our children fed and nourished but as any mother knows, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Lots of kids are just downright picky and parents often find their little ones unwilling to try new things, which is obviously frustrating. There’s a lot that goes into the process of getting your kids away from that strict diet of dino nuggets and mac and cheese, but it’s definitely possible. For young children, it can take being offered a new food 10 or more times before they are actually willing to eat it, so don’t give up! Let them try, and if they don’t like it, don’t force it just try again in a few weeks. Beyond that, remember that you are in control of what food ends up in your house — if you don’t buy it, they can’t eat it — and that your child will not let herself starve! In the meantime, there are definitely some ways you can trick your kids into eating healthier, more nutritious foods. Oh, and when we say “trick” we don’t really mean trick. If your kid asks you what they are eating, you should definitely be honest about it. How else would they know that they actually like zucchini?!
Kids in the Kitchen
Getting your children involved in the kitchen is a natural way to pique their curiosity and encourage them to eat a greater variety of foods. Cooking with kids is messy and it will definitely take longer, but we guarantee your children will be much more interested in trying something new if they actually had a hand in preparing it and get to sample their own work. Plus, they will learn essential skills that they’ll need for the rest of their lives. There’s really no losing when you let your kids cook with you.
Make it a Snack
Kids love snacks! They may not always be crazy about the idea of sitting down for a meal, but if you tell them it’s snack time, they’ll come running. They also eat with their eyes, so when you create a beautiful, colorful snack plate and let them pick and choose which items they want to eat, they are bound to at least try something nutritious. For awhile, my daughter was giving us a hard time about eating lunch, but we started serving her small portions of various foods on a sectioned plate and calling them “snack lunches” and within days she was gobbling up everything and ask for a “snack lunch” every day.
Let Them Choose
We know it’s easier to go food shopping without your kids in town, but if you take them with you, you can offer them a chance to be a part of the decision making process. Like most humans, children love to feel like they have some semblance of control, so if you let them help you make selections in the grocery store they are likely to feel empowered and encouraged. A fun way to get them involved is to commit to buying one fruit and vegetable each week that you didn’t purchase the previous week and letting your kids choose those two items.
Make Things from Scratch
When you cook at from scratch at home, you are in control of what goes into your food and consequently will have more control over what your children are consuming. Cooking from scratch will help you eliminate overly processed, sugary, heavily salted, fatty from your kids’ diet, which will in turn make them much healthier long term. Plus, you can cook fresh foods in a way that maintains flavor and texture so your kiddo might discover that they actually like broccoli when it’s not cooked into a pile of green mush.
Make it Look Like Dessert
A green smoothie that looks and tastes like a mint chocolate chip milkshake? Yes, please! Whip up a healthy snack and tell your kids you have a special treat for them. For example, if you make a nice thick smoothie with a sweet base like fresh banana or mango, include kid-friendly flavors like chocolate or peanut butter and top it with a swirl of whipped cream, your kiddos will feel like they are eating a decadent dessert instead of a nutrition-packed snack. I often make my own kids chocolate shakes using ripe bananas, frozen riced cauliflower or green peas, unsweetened cocoa powder and sometimes a bit of peanut butter. It tastes just like a chocolate shake, but they are getting in a hefty serving of veggies that they don’t even taste!
Grow a Garden
Kids are naturally curious and tend to love anything that has to do with science and nature. Let them help you grow some food! We promise they will be totally intrigued and excited to taste what they grow. If you have a yard you can dig up a plot right in the ground or build a raised garden bed, but even if you have very little outdoor space you can grow things like herbs, carrots or even potatoes in a window box or planter. My kids love gardening so much and are so proud of what we grow every year that they regularly will pick things to nibble on while they’re playing outside.
Make Food Fun!
Getting kids to eat better doesn’t mean you have to eliminate all “fun foods.” A few fruity pebbles don’t negate the nutritional benefits of the banana, a ketchup swirl doesn’t suck the nutrients out of a roasted potato. Food can be healthy and fun! Be creative and make your kid’s food look and taste fun and appealing. For example, these bananas are coated in nut butter and are a great balance of vitamins, healthy carbs and protein and your kid might actually eat it because those crushed cookies and cereal make them look (and taste) extra yummy.
Add Veggies to Everything
Vegetables don’t just have to a stand-alone side dish. In fact, kids are probably a lot more likely to actually eat vegetables when you incorporate them into foods they already love. It’s super-easy to shred a zucchini or carrot into the meat for a batch of homemade meatballs or to add spaghetti squash or sweet potato puree into a pot of boxed mac and cheese. Literally, think outside the box and figure out where you can add veggies that they might go unnoticed. And yes, extra tomato sauce on the pizza counts!
Make it Familiar
A big part of successfully feeding children is the ability to be creative and think outside of the box (maybe literally). Which foods do your children enjoy eating and don’t often complain about? Can you think of any ways to replicate those foods using healthier ingredients? For example, you could cut carrots or butternut squash into french fry shapes, make chicken nuggets at home by cutting boneless chicken breasts or thighs into chunks and breading them, mix thin veggie purees into tomato sauce for pasta, prepare no-bake cookies with whole oats and dried fruit etc.
Serve Fruit at Every Meal
A lot of parents have heard or read that they shouldn’t offer their babies too much fruit because the sweetness might affect their palate and make them dislike more savory or bitter vegetables and spices or even that natural fruit sugars can lead to diabetes. None of that is true! Fresh fruit is packed with essential nutrients and while diabetics may need to avoid certain fruits, an average healthy child should be able to eat as much fruit as they want. I serve fruit with 90-percent of our meals. Often, I’ll just cut up some fruit, put it in a bowl and put it on the table while I’m serving the rest of a meal and my kids will eat it as an appetizer, side dish and/or dessert.