Need some tips for getting your kids on board with healthy foods?
1. Serve vegetables as an appetizer. While you set out the rest of dinner, keep hungry kids occupied with veggies. (I love carrot sticks and fresh cut bell pepper.) When you serve veggies before dinner, they’re more likely to be eaten.
2. Offer control. Picky eating is often about control, not taste. Offer two options (“Shall we have peas or broccoli trees with lunch?”) and give your child the power to choose one.
3. Remember tiny tummies. I often hear from parents concerned that their toddlers aren’t eating enough. But when they describe all the child ate that day, it’s really plenty of food. Children’s tummies are quite small — about the size of their clenched fist. What looks like a reasonable snack to grown-up eyes might be an overwhelming portion for little ones.
4. Never underestimate the power of a silly face. At snack time, try arranging cucumber slice eyes with a ranch dip smile and carrot teeth, or peanut butter eyes and a celery mouth on an apple slice head.
To make it a meal, add a bit more protein. “When my kids were really young,” Mary remembered with a laugh, “one of the silliest things was to do low-fat cottage cheese on lettuce and make faces with veggies.”
5. Make it interactive. Who says you shouldn’t play with your food? Steamed artichokes with lemon butter for dipping, roasted asparagus with a little cup of grated parmesan, lettuce wraps for stuffing with seasoned chicken or beans and veg — kids love interacting with their food! For bonus points, give each component a cool name — “trees with snow” will add a dash of giggles to a dish of broccoli with parmesan.
6. Delegate sous chef duties. At the market, have everyone pick out one fruit or veggie they’d like to have that evening. (“Only one each, not two,” you say, ensuring they’ll want at least one.) Then, let them add their chosen food to the pizza, soup, or salsa. When children are involved in the cooking, they’re much more likely to try the result.
7. Be a veggie pragmatist. As a busy mum herself, Mary is the first to acknowledge that it’s not always possible to browse the market with your children. When that happens, reach for frozen vegetables. “The nutrient profile on vegetables that are flash frozen are just as good,” she says, and frozen veggies are more forgiving of busy schedules and fickle toddler tastes.
8. Zucchini bread is not a vegetable. Quite a few recent books suggest ways to “sneak” fruit and veg into children’s meals. Boosting nutrition is all well and good, but it’s also important to teach children what things look and taste like in their natural state. Don’t just sneak a cheeky puree into the pizza sauce — tell them it’s there, and let them see how it’s prepared.
9. Grown-up food is kid food. As a child, I ate what my parents ate, and so did all the other kids I knew. Giving children bland, nutrition-poor “kid food” like macaroni or chicken nuggets is a recent phenomenon, and it does no one any good. Unless there are allergies involved, serve one meal for the family.
10. Don’t give up. Studies show that children have to try a food 10-15 times to like it, and I’ve certainly found that to be true. Encourage children to play with a new food, touch it, smell it, and above all taste it, but keep things lighthearted. Remember your child isn’t just being contrary — being suspicious of new food is an entirely reasonable instinct, especially for children.
11. The no-thank-you bite. If your child refuses outright to try new things, introduce a “no-thank-you bite” rule. With this rule, if a child doesn’t want to eat something, that’s fine — so long as she takes a small bite and says “no thank you.” If she still doesn’t like it, chalk it up to one of those 10-15 necessary new food exposures and move on.