By: Carli Smith
Picture this: It’s another typical weeknight at the family dinner table. You’ve just prepared what you thought was a delicious meal for your hungry child: steamed chicken, broccoli, and mashed potatoes. You set the plate down in front of them with a smile and are shocked as they turn away with disgust.
“Where did I go wrong?” you think to yourself.
If this scenario is a regular occurrence in your home, you’re certainly in good company. Countless parents struggle to get their children to eat healthier and are all too familiar with the challenges of trying (and failing) to cater to their child’s picky palates. Luckily, there are many simple yet creative ideas for parents to help children learn the importance of eating a balanced diet and try new foods.
These tips can be organized into three sections: outside the kitchen, inside the kitchen, and at the dinner table.
Start by taking your child on a mindful trip to the grocery store. Walk them through each aisle, explaining the health benefits of the colorful fruits and vegetables, dairy, grains, and protein. Don’t be afraid to let your child select a new (healthy) food to try for dinner that night. Not only will they enjoy having one-on-one time with you, but they’ll be eager to try the new food and may even end up loving it.
Also, wait until your child is at their hungriest to introduce vegetables or new foods they may not prefer. If your child is hungry enough, they’ll eat whatever’s in front of them without being too picky. Don’t starve your child, of course, but take advantage of the times when their appetite is bigger than usual, such as after a long night of sports practice or playing outside.
Always keep a variety of healthy snacks on hand, and give your child the power of choice when they ask for a snack: “Yogurt or cheese stick? Whole grain cereal or healthy snack bars? Apple or orange?” Allowing your child the freedom to choose eliminates any feelings of being “forced” into doing something.
Another great strategy for picky eaters: Find a recipe that your child likes and create a healthier version of it. The Internet is full of countless resources and easy recipes that can help you transform junk foods into healthy, culinary masterpieces. Pizza, for example, is nearly every kid’s favorite food. Its traditional version is clearly unhealthy and loaded with grease, but using a whole grain or cauliflower crust and topping with veggies instead of meats is a great way to make it healthier. The same approach can be used for a variety of tasty staples like macaroni and cheese or chicken fingers.
Keep a bottle of ketchup on the table. It may be high in sodium, but as most kids’ condiment of choice, it can help make vegetables more palatable to children’s finicky taste buds.
Always model healthy behavior at the table, too. If you love a certain vegetable or health food, make it known to your child and encourage them to try it. Children pick up much of their behavior from their parents, and modeling healthy eating habits will definitely have a positive and long-lasting effect.
Ultimately, getting your child to eat healthier is all about creativity and persistence, but giving a few of these tricks a try is a great first step. Most importantly, always be available to provide support for your child.
Carli Smith is the Marketing Communications Coordinator and a writer for Nature’s Bakery. She is a yoga enthusiast and loves nothing more than weekend getaways, Disney movies, ocean views and country concerts.