When was the last time your child sat down at the dinner table and said, “Gee, thanks for this delicious plate of healthy food! Can I have seconds?” We can’t promise these tips will convert your picky eater into a fruit and vegetable fan, but they should make good food choices more attractive for everyone.
Get them involved
If you involve kids in planning meals, going grocery shopping, and preparing food, they will become invested in the process and more likely to eat. Even toddlers too young to make grocery lists can help you make choices (pears or nectarines? cheddar or swiss?) along the way. Simple, no-cook recipes like frozen yogurt popsicles or fruit parfaits are an excellent way to get young chefs interested in healthy cooking and eating.
Go to the source
Teach kids where their food comes from. Rather than limiting yourself to the weekly supermarket run, take your family to a local farmer’s market (or to the farm itself) and meet the people who grow the food. Picking berries from a vine can help nurture a lifelong love of good eating and environmental stewardship. Visiting a dairy farm can teach children where their milk comes from (and why we should care about what goes in it). Planting tomatoes and melons in the garden may tempt a child to try the fruits of her labor.
Make healthy snacks available
If you stock the kitchen exclusively with healthy treats, children will eat them. As your children grow, stock good snacks in cabinets and shelves that they can reach without your help.
Some kids eat more when they’re in the car than when they’re at the table simply because active play isn’t a viable alternative when you’re strapped in. Make sure you’re prepared with nutritious snacks whether you’re driving the carpool or going to soccer practice. Good choices include sliced apples, carrot sticks, whole grain crackers, light popcorn, raisins and water bottles.
Give them freedom of choice
Like the rest of us, kids want to have it their way. But no parent wants to be a short order cook, making four different meals for four different family members. Instead try the fixings bar approach. Offer a suitable base meal, like rice and beans, whole wheat tortillas or lean ground taco meat. Then let kids (and adults) dress it up with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, cheese, salsa, jicama, parsley, peppers and other toppings. You might also try a pasta bar with a variety of healthy sauces. This approach works especially well when you?re serving young guests whose food preferences you may have trouble predicting.
Kids like choices at snack time too, so consider packing an insulated lunch bag full of good snacks so they can make their own smart choices (and you can avoid hearing “I don’t want THAT!”).
Drink to that
Remember that your child doesn’t have to just eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day he can also drink them. Smoothies and mixed fruit drinks like watermelon slush and mango lassi can be a fun way to introduce new fruits.
Be a role model
A recent study found that young children’s food tastes are significantly related to foods that their mothers liked and disliked. Letting your child see you order a fresh salad rather a burger and fries at the drive-through may encourage her to do the same.
Don’t give up
Studies show that most children need multiple exposures (between 5 and 10) to try new foods. This isn’t to say that showing your child the same papaya or avocado five nights in a row will win her over, but rather to suggest that you shouldn’t give up the first time she rejects something.
Teach healthy eating habits early
Use meal and snack times as teachable moments to help even the youngest children make wise food choices. You’ll find some great tips and strategies for helping babies and toddlers develop healthy eating habits in this downloadable booklet (requires free Adobe Acrobat Reader) from Zero to Three.