Nutrition for Kids | 6 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Eat Healthy Food
Nothing is more frustrating for parents who are trying to prioritize healthy eating than kids who take one look at their food and reject it. A lot of work goes into putting meals on the table that provide nutrients without taking too much time. As such, it’s no wonder that we often default to take-out or fast food.
Fortunately, kids are eager to learn and grow, and there are many ways you can get on their level to help them get on yours when it comes to healthy eating. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Involve them in the Shopping Process
Grocery shopping with kids can be a nightmare, there’s no arguing that. Walking through the aisles can be boring even for adults, and the temptation to fill the cart with sweets is just too great. What’s a parent to do?
One of the ways to get your kids to eat healthier while keeping them occupied during the shopping process is to involve them. Assign them the task of putting vegetables and fruit in a bag or collecting things from shelves. When you hit the produce aisle, ask them to pick out a fruit or vegetable that they want to eat or try. Even if they pick out apples or carrots every single time, it’s still helping ensure that they’re getting something healthy that they won’t argue with.
Pro tip: avoid those middle aisles where the cookies and treats are waiting entirely-- it removes the temptation for all involved.
Let Them Choose a Meal
One way to take the pressure off meal prep each week is to let your kids choose a meal. You’ll need to assign rules and stipulations of course. For example, the food has to include at least one vegetable, it has to be homemade, etc. You’ll be shocked to see how much kids love poring over Pinterest pages with you, picking out their next great dish. Just don’t be surprised when your five-year-old decides he has a taste for expensive seafood and wants lobster mac n’ cheese one week and shrimp fettuccine alfredo the next. Seriously, if someone wants to write an article about how to survive feeding boys, please do so.
Involve them in the Kitchen
I know what a lot of you are thinking: dinner will never get on the table if you start bringing the kids in to cook, and your counters will look like a war zone. So start small. Give each child a simple task that they can do to help put supper on the table.
If you have young children, it might be something as simple as getting things from the fridge, dumping some pasta into a pot, stirring a mixture in a bowl or shaking a bag of Shake n’ Bake. School-aged children can measure ingredients, read recipes, and even start to chop things with adult supervision as they get up toward double digits.
You know those kids on shows like Chopped Jr. who know how to flambe a banana? It’s because their parents had them in the kitchen (and were a bit more daring than most of us). Getting your kids cooking early teaches them valuable life skills that they won’t pick up in school.
Create Accessible Snacks
Kids love snacks. In fact, they often love them so much that they eat themselves full before mealtime. By having healthy snacks on hand in a way that they can access without trouble, you’re subconsciously convincing them to eat well.
One very effective method for encouraging healthy snacks is to have a snack drawer in the fridge with hand-sized snacks that they can grab at their convenience. Fruit options like apples, plums, pears, peaches, and clementines are easy to grab and operate with little fingers. Alternatively, greek yogurt cups, no sugar added fruit and vegetable sauces, cheese strings, and hummus cups also provide convenience without sacrificing quality. The best part is, that having this drawer available means you can grab things easily while making lunches.
Another way to encourage healthy eating is to have a tray or plate of cut vegetables on the table for snacking during the afternoon while you cook supper. This can help curb the afternoon hanger while keeping things nutritious.
Make Meal Alterations
Sometimes, even your healthier child-friendly options don’t line up with your current eating plan. For example, if you’re training for your upcoming powerlifting competition, you might be on a fairly high-protein diet that doesn’t always excite the palate. You might not be eating pasta right now, while your kids have no interest in your salad.
No one wants to make multiple meals for one dinner. What you can do instead is keep things simple and make small alterations. If you’re eating steak and salad, swap the salad for some fresh cut veggies or a couple small potatoes for the kids. If the kids have requested Taco Tuesday and you’re being mindful of your eating, grab a mix of super-food greens and make a filling taco salad rather than eating taco after taco.
By keeping the main meal components the same and making small changes, you can get everybody eating healthy without doubling the amount of work you have to do. Pro tip: Taco Tuesday is highly recommended.
You Make the Rules
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember one simple thing: You. Are. The. Parent. Set some rules and guidelines regarding healthy eating. An easy one to enforce is requiring that your child has a healthy snack or their healthy supper before enjoying any treats.
Hey, I’m not a monster, and I enjoy chocolate and gummy bears as much as the next cat. However, by ensuring that the kiddos are getting what they need in first, indulging in what they want every now and then isn’t such a big deal. Of course, your house, your rules apply.
Bringing it All Together
Hiding veggies in muffins and pasta sauce is a great way to get your kids (and spouse) the nutrition they need-- there’s no judgment there. However, if you are able to be transparent in your actions, you’ll help them develop strong healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with healthy food.
Nutrition for kids doesn’t have to be hard. Regardless of if you have young children or school-aged children, just ensure they get a lot of fruit and vegetables and other plant-based foods, high-quality protein, and other nutrients as outlined in the dietary guidelines for child nutrition. Doing so will ensure your child’s overall health and well-being are looked after for the long haul.
If you ever have any doubt about nutrition for kids, ask your pediatrician or a registered dietician for guidance. Nutrition education and literacy will help improve children’s health, reduce childhood obesity, and set the next generation up for success.