When children are very young, they typically eat what you give them and stop when they are full. As they get older, this easy approach to meals doesn't always last. So how do you get kids to choose healthy foods without constant nagging?
Rethink everything about meals, including how they look. After all, the way food is presented can have a profound effect on acceptance.
Location, Location, Location
In real estate, location is just about everything when it comes to selling property. The same principle can apply to helping kids change their food choices for the better. USDA “Smarter Lunchroom” ideas are helping transform lunchrooms by changing how healthy foods are offered to schoolchildren. For example, renaming menu items, providing more fruit and vegetable options and making choices easily available. If it works in a cafeteria, there's good reason to believe the same techniques would work at home, too.
Shopping for nutritious ingredients for great-tasting meals and snacks is a must for presenting healthful foods to children. Fill your refrigerator, freezer and cupboards with fresh or canned fruit in its own juice, fresh vegetables prepared for snacking, whole-grain breads, cereals and crackers, nuts and nut-butters, hardboiled eggs, low-fat milk or fortified soy milk, yogurt and cheese.
Once you have all this great food, make sure your family knows it is there and for the taking. Make nutritious foods easy to access.
Young children may prefer small foods and lose interest when served larger portions of healthy items. Serve bite-size cubes of cheese, baked chicken and tofu, small melon balls or sliced vegetables as part of snacks or meals. Bake whole-grain mini-muffins and prepare smaller pizzas by using a whole-grain English muffin for a crust. For children younger than 4, serve soft, cooked meats and vegetables and foods cut into ½-inch pieces or smaller to prevent choking. Nut butters can be spread in a thin layer on bread with jelly but avoid whole nuts and popcorn when feeding toddlers
Some children love seeing their food cut up into a different shape every day. If your child doesn't like traditional sandwiches, try whole-grain wraps sliced into rounds. These portions are perfect for pint-sized hands. Or, instead of presenting a snack of a glass of milk with fruit, blend the two together for a colorful, nutritious smoothie. Looking for another snack idea? Kids love fruit and vegetable kebabs, which pair well with sweet or savory yogurt dip. Grapes and cherry tomatoes should be cut into quarters for very young children.
Mix It Up
While it's nice to be able to make food into fun shapes, it is certainly not a necessity. The key is to expose children to a variety of foods and textures to keep their interest in healthy food. Children may turn up their noses at a meal where everything is the same texture or color. Instead of baked chicken, mashed potatoes, regular pasta and a banana, try offering them whole-grain pasta, steamed green beans, mashed sweet potatoes, shredded rotisserie chicken and sliced strawberries.
Do as You Say
Remember, the most important tip for getting kids to eat healthy food starts with you. All the food styling in the world won't help kids form these healthy habits unless you follow suit. Parents are the biggest influence on children's eating habits, so you need to eat right, too!