by guest blogger Rich Baringer,

I remember one time telling some of my son’s kindergarten friends’ parents that he loves fish. They were amazed. Totally taken aback. They asked what else he ate–and again they were stunned that he ate broccoli, fennel, cabbage, etc. I guess they are some unusual things for a kid to enjoy, but they don’t have to be. He’s been exposed to fresh vegetables and other healthy foods since he was a baby.

With the school year upon us, here are some tips to getting your kids to eat a greater variety of foods and healthier foods. It doesn’t have to be frozen chicken nuggets and mac & cheese all the time.

  • Be persistent in having them try new things. Experts say that it can take 10-20 times before a child will develop a taste for a food. And start early. Put things on their plates when they are just starting to feed themselves–they’ll experiment. An affinity for some flavors like carrot, garlic, vanilla and spicy food are formed before birth.
  • Choose the right times to substitute healthy foods for other foods. For example, when your kids are the most hungry–after school, before dinner or before bed, offer fruits or vegetables to munch on.
  • Satisfy their cravings with healthy foods. If they’re hungry for something crunchy like chips, offer carrots or celery. If they want a sweet, offer fruit. You get the idea.
  • Each kid is different. Some, like my son, don’t like certain textures. Some don’t like certain flavors, colors, etc. Experiment with different methods of preparation: some like raw vegetables, some lightly steamed; some like plain veggies, some like them with just a touch of salt, some with a little butter. Just don’t overcook your veggies. Not too many folks–young or old–like mushy vegetables. Besides, the more most veggies are cooked, the less nutritional value they have.
  • Try having your kids dip their foods–in things like salad dressing, ketchup, cream cheese, sour cream, peanut butter. Make dinner interactive for them–that’s right: let them “play” with their food. Allow them to cut their own food or actively do things like picking peas out of pods.
  • To many kids, appearance is important: Do they want their apple whole or cut in slices?
  • If you have to, hide veggies in a dish that your kids like. Some foods that can easily contain veggies covertly are soup (add pureed veggies), stir-fry (chop finely so they don’t stand out), pasta sauces, homemade pizza (hide them under the cheese), muffins (like zucchini), pancakes (add finely shredded carrots). While this is not ideal–you’d rather have them know they’re eating good stuff–it does give them the nutrients they need from these foods.
  • Help your child build an interest in fresh fruits and vegetables by taking them to visit the many farmers’ markets in our area. Let them see food in its raw form and help them to understand where they come from–that they’re grown, not just from a store.
  • Teach them that foods on the perimeter of a supermarket (fruits, veggies, meats, seafood, dairy) are much healthier than those on the interior (processed foods, snack foods).
  • Expose them to the many colors, smells, textures and tastes of fresh produce. Let them pick out something new to try–and then try it as a family (that means YOU, too!). Chances are they’ll pick out something colorful and color usually equates to nutritious.
  • Grow your own vegetables in a garden and encourage them to take ownership of the garden. They’re more likely to eat what they grow.
  • Also invite them to help in the kitchen–cleaning, preparing, cooking. Make the kitchen a place of good memories, not a battleground. Let them use their creativity. And don’t worry about the mess. It’ll be fun.
  • Maybe more than anything, kids will mimic what their parents do, so be a good example. Eat a variety of foods. Be open to trying things that maybe you don’t think you’ll like. Show them that trying is fun–even if they don’t end up liking it.
  • A recent study shows that only 32.5% of adults eat the recommended 2 servings per day of fruit and only 26.3% eat the recommended 3 veggie servings per day. If we’re not eating the right foods, our kids certainly will not.

No one said that it’s easy, but simply trying some of these tips will help your kids to move toward eating a healthier, more varied diet. Then you can amaze your fellow parents!

 

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