If you hear a chorus of “yuck” and “eww” when setting food on the table for meals, it’s likely your child is not looking forward to the healthy meal you have prepared. Once they have been exposed to processed foods, such as chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese, many children have difficulty appreciating the taste of fresh fruit and veggies.
It’s not impossible, though, for your child to learn to appreciate healthy food options. With some creative strategies, you can turn those “yucks” to “yum” in no time.
Make Healthy Food the Norm
As parents, we all have good intentions of feeding our kids healthy, wholesome foods, but life often gets in the way. Running one child to dance lessons and the other to soccer practice at dinner time makes fast food options much more appealing and convenient. Unfortunately, these choices can deter your child from choosing and appreciating healthy foods.
Nutritionists at Super Healthy Kids recommend setting the example to help your children appreciate food. If you opt for sweets and fatty foods versus lean meats and veggies, it’s likely your kids will follow suit. “Kids eat what they know and they won’t ask for a special meal if they do not know it is an option,” explains Natalie Monson of Super Healthy Kids.
Food appreciation begins in the grocery store, she says. “Whatever you bring into your house is what your kids will eat,” says Monson. “If there aren’t fruits and vegetables available to them at your house, then they definitely will not eat them.”
Get your kids involved in meal selection by having them shop with you, read food labels and point out the nutritional value of each selection at the store. Make it fun by giving them a list of fatty foods to avoid and then ask them to hunt down healthier options.
Fun-Filled Food Concoctions
It is no secret that children like to be entertained. So why not make food fun, too?
Although you may have been taught not to play with your food, kids love interactive games – even during meal time. Get creative when preparing meals by using your imagination. Monson suggests pretending foods are objects to make them more appealing. “If the green beans are fishing poles and they have to catch five fish in a minute and eat the fishing pole with it, suddenly the green beans become more appealing,” she says.
When you relate healthy foods to activities your kids love, mealtime becomes more of a game they will enjoy.
Sharon Palmer, dietician and author of “The Plant-Powered Diet” recommends getting crafty with food preparation. Make snowy mountains with cottage cheese or funny faces in mashed potatoes with peas or raisins.
“Let them play with dried beans and carrots while you’re cooking,” says Palmer. “Get some play kitchen items, such as mini aprons, spoons, and bowls so they can play chef while you’re cooking. Help them to fall in love with healthy food.”
Don’t be afraid to try some adventurous foods in the kitchen, too, says Palmer. “In many cultures, children eat the exact same thing as their parents,” she says. “You might be surprised that your child likes a stir fry in peanut sauce or an Indian curry with basmati rice.”
Don’t always assume that you have to cook something different for your child. “My children, who were not the easiest eaters, fell in love with these foods,” says Palmer. “In addition, you’d be surprised that kids like things like crunchy whole grains like brown rice, wheat berries, barley, whole grain crackers and breads and even beans and veggies. Don’t assume they won’t like it.”
Take Baby Steps
Your child will not instantly love your healthy food choices overnight. However, if you take baby steps when introducing fruits and vegetables, he or she may become accustomed to healthier foods.
“Try to encourage rules, such as one vegetable at each meal and fruits for snacks,” recommends Palmer. “Then try new varieties. Most children have a few favorite vegetables and fruits, so include those at meals, but also add new ones.”
Studies show that after repeated tries, the food may become familiar, which encourages the possibility that they will try it, says Palmer. “Often the trick is just getting a child to try it,” she says. “← Is My Baby Normal? Evaluating Your 12-Month Old’s Development | The Middle Child Syndrome: Recognizing Your Child’s Unique Needs →