Many parents battle to have their kids eat balanced, healthy meals both at home and at school. Families, however, can make the shift towards healthier meals without having to coax their children to eat something they don’t want to eat. Here are a few ways that you can make healthy food a fun part of your meals together and even have them requesting whole, nutritious foods.
Give Them the Chance to be Involved
Many kids enjoy helping out at dinner time and even helping out with the grocery store list. Bringing them along to the farmers market is a great chance for them to learn about vegetables or fruits they have never had before, and together you can come up with a dish to try them in. Depending on their age, you can start to let them join in on preparing food and even cooking. An easy way to start cooking together as a family is with “build it yourself” meals such as fajitas, salad bars, pizza or fruit and yogurt parfaits for dessert. This is also a great method if you have some picky eaters as it will give them the chance to try something new, but also eat what they like. Cooking at home shows them that healthy means using whole ingredients and can be fun, too.
Teach Your Kids to Follow the 80/20 Rule
Kids’ appetites fluctuate with their level of activity, mood and growth so don’t stress over a couple of unbalanced meals - or days. The 80/20 rule means they eat wisely 80% of the time, which leaves the remaining 20% for pizza with friends or enjoying the occasional treat. As parents know, it can be stressful trying to control what your child eats at a friends house or at school lunchtime. But the 80/20 rule shows them that perfection is not the goal, and it's alright to indulge in a small treat here and there. This also helps them see that not everything about food has to be restrictive - setting up positive eating patterns early on.
Stock the Fridge with Healthy Choices
Just like adults, kids will make better choices if they are easy. Filling a bowl with fruit and keeping it on the kitchen table puts a healthy and quick option in plain site. The same works for the less healthy options like soda and chips - if they are kept out of sight they are not as tempting. It’s one thing to tell your kids to “eat the rainbow” - meaning eat colorful fruits and veggies - but it’s another for them to open the fridge and see it.
If you're used to going down the snack aisle and picking up pre-packaged snacks for your kids, it won't be as difficult as you'd think to pick up quick and healthier options instead. Many stores carry pre-cut vegetables and fruit and although they are a bit more expensive, it can offer more convenience when you need it. Here are some simple snack ideas that require minimal prep or cooking:
- apples and peanut butter or cheese
- broccoli and hummus
- ants on a log (celery, nut butter and raisins)
- lettuce wraps (turkey+mayo, tuna salad...the fillings are endless)
- sweet potato and zucchini fries
- fruit and yogurt ice pops
- homemade trail mix
If your kids are curious about learning how to make their own snacks, this peanut dipping sauce goes great with carrot sticks and can be put together in less than 5 minutes:
- 3 tablespoons of peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- A splash of soy sauce
- A few drops of sesame oil
- Water to smooth
- Carrot sticks
Mix everything but the carrot sticks together with a fork or whisk in a bowl. Add water as needed to thin mixture to a dipping consistency (all-natural peanut butter needs more; everyday brands need less).
Still concerned your kids will reject “healthy food”? They will eat healthy, delicious food if you continue to offer it and try to model the right food choices for yourself. Kids can learn to eat on their own terms which is the key to healthy eating in the long run. It is good to strive for balance but over the course of the week most kids will eat what they need; let them decide how to eat so they learn their own satiety signals.