Is your New Year’s resolution to get your children to eat better? I got you covered like a kid in frosting at his first birthday party.
With childhood obesity and diabetes cases at alarming levels, it’s important to get ahead of this and establish healthy eating habits now. My kids eat, enjoy even, things like salmon, hummus, cashews, avocado, broccoli and shrimp. They ask for salads.
Don’t get me wrong. They still pound some sodium-heavy mac n cheese, and opt for French fries over almost anything else when given the option. But I can get them to eat good-for-them foods at nearly every meal with a few tricks that I rely on.
1. Get creative with names
My girls are obsessed with mermaids and princesses. So I make kale chips, which resemble dried seaweed, and I call them “mermaid snacks.” And they’re gone quicker than chicken wings at a Super Bowl party.
Or I’ll make “pesto” by blending cooked broccoli, grated cheese, garlic and olive oil in a food processor, then toss it in whole wheat farfale (bow tie shaped noodles). I call it “Tiana pasta” since it’s the color dress that Disney princess wears. Honestly, I can’t believe it works either. For boys, you could use wheel shaped pasta with the same sauce and call it Ninja Turtle pasta, for example.
2. Let them play with their food.
I’m becoming pretty famous for my animal pancakes. Sure, there is usually whipped cream, Nutella or chocolate sauce on them. But there is always fruit. And about the half the time I substitute regular pancake batter for Katie Lee’s power pancake recipe (with cottage cheese and rolled oats) from her Endless Summer cookbook. They are distracted by the fun faces and shapes, and race to finish.
A bowl of oatmeal can also serve as a sort of blank canvas as well. Top with blueberries, sliced almonds, etc.
I let them become the food artists with these fun face plates too (available at Bed Bath & Beyond). And since eating healthy=eating colors, they get to make bright pictures and faces with nutrient rich foods.
3. Have them help
If they have a hand in preparing it, they’re more likely to eat it. It’s a fact.
Try a “veggie only” pizza on a whole wheat crust that they can top themselves. Who cares what it looks like? Pride tastes good, doesn’t it, Junior?
Or simply measure out everything you need for say, a soup or turkey chili. Let them pour in the ingredients and they usually can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Bonus: this also helps with counting and math. “Pour in two cups of flour. Then hand me 3 eggs, etc.”
If cooking with kids is too much for you, engage them in other ways to get them interested and invested in what they’re eating.
One of our favorite games in the summer and fall is “farmers market five.” I hand each child five $1 bills to purchase whatever tempts them. It’s easier in this environment because most prices are in whole dollars but you could try the same thing at a grocery store.
Have an artistic kid? Have them make placemats. Does your picky eater also thrive on order or accomplishing tasks? Ask them to set the table. It just might work.
4. Get playful with your packaging or environment.
One of my favorite lunches as a kid was served in a humble and well-seasoned cupcake tin. Each hole is filled with something healthy to make for a well-balanced meal.
Put a blanket on the floor and call it a picnic. Pack their meal in a lunch box so they can play “school.” Make it a “mystery meal” and see if they can guess what it is by tasting it or smelling it with a blind fold on.
5. Sneak it in
When all else fails, you know what you have to do. Hide the healthy stuff in some of the foods they never turn down.
I purée cooked carrots and blend them into apple sauce.
“Why is it orange, Mommy?”
“Because I put sunshine in it.”
My girls also love smoothies. So I start with healthy stuff I know they’ll like (vanilla Greek yogurt and frozen berries) and I add almond milk, and a handful of kale or spinach. They never know. But I do. And what they don’t finish I freeze in Popsicle molds for a healthy dessert.
Jessica Seinfeld has two entire cookbooks, Deceptively Delicious, filled with sneaky ways to get your kids (your husband and yourself) to consume more veggies.
Now, I’m not saying that ALL of these will work. Or that the one(s) that work with your kids will work every time. But hell, it’s worth a shot. One bite at a time.
Despite all these ideas, I must admit I’m NOT the mom who feeds her kids organic, wholesome, nutritious foods every meal and every snack. I do the best I can. Full disclosure…I wrote part of this post while waiting in a long line at Target. At check out my children put Cheetos and Doritos on the belt. And they ate them on the way home. Before dinner.
To me the most effective way get your kids to eat healthy is to lead by example. And everything in moderation. Try new things, watch your portions and as they say “eat the rainbow.” You’ll be amazed at what happens at your dinner table.