The USDA's MyPlate program is designed to make balanced eating easy to visualize and apply to everyday life. Serving kids meals and snacks according to these guidelines provides the fuel they need to thrive — but how are you actually supposed to get them to eat it? Try these RDN-approved tips to make any meal a MyPlate superstar!
Fruits and Vegetables
Laura Gibofsky, MS, RD, CSP, CDN, a pediatric dietitian in New York City, says getting kids involved in the kitchen will increase their likelihood of eating fruits and vegetables. "Including them in the prep work gets them excited about the food," Gibofsky says. "Let them choose fruits and vegetables for the week in the supermarket. They'll feel a sense of pride and want to eat what they picked out."
A study by researchers at Texas A&M University on school lunch waste showed that whether kids eat veggies depends on what else is on the plate. Kids were most likely to eat vegetables when they were served with something less appealing. Use color to your advantage and play with fun shapes if that works in your house. At home, offer veggies in a dish your kid loves alongside something such as plain rice. Or, serve veggies or a salad as an appetizer, before dishing out the entree.
What is a lean protein? This category includes chicken, turkey, lean beef, fish and vegetarian proteins such as beans and tofu. When it comes to picky eaters, blogger Lindsay Livingston, RD, encourages parents to start slow. "Always serve something new with something familiar," she says. "Trying a bunch of new foods can be overwhelming for kids, but if they see something they know on the plate or mixed with something new, they're more likely to try it." Texture matters, too. If your kid won't eat a fillet of salmon, how about a salmon burger?
Whole grains contribute fiber to the diet and also provide iron, B vitamins and other important nutrients kids need. To get your kids to eat more whole grains, serve more. If they're hesitant, start slow and mix it up — add options such as whole-wheat bread, pasta and brown rice to what they're used to eating. If your child cannot eat gluten, try a gluten-free whole-grain option such as quinoa, brown rice or millet.
And a Drink on the Side
Get kids used to making water their main beverage by serving it at each meal. Or, try other healthy choices such as fat-free or low-fat milk, or an unsweetened non-dairy beverage. Limit sugary beverages and fruit juice, and, for older kids who want a bubbly beverage, offer seltzer water instead of soda.
However you incorporate MyPlate suggestions into your kids' meals, plan to do it for yourself! "Kids are smart," Gibofsky says. "If they don't see adults following the rules they set, they're less likely to want to do so." If you want your kids to be MyPlate superstars, make sure your own plate is up to par too.