Getting kids to eat healthy balanced meals can sometimes be a challenge. My husband and I both have siblings that refuse to eat anything green and prefer their food fried. We both vowed to break the cycle of picky eaters when we had children of our own. Our kids have both developed a diverse palette that ensures that they are getting the nutrition they need.
One of my favorite resources for parents is Strong4Life from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Its focus is to help parents with this food parenting to prevent childhood obesity. While I take triumph from the fact that I kids eat kale and Brussels sprouts, I still face challenges at breakfast before school and after-school snacks. I met with Registered Dietician, Cheryl Williams of CHOA to learn how I can do better in these areas. This is especially important in the first three years of a child's life. You have to start early so that you aren't creating a picky eater. You know, 55 percent of parents say they give their child treats or
desserts as a reward for good behavior, creating an unhealthy relationship with food.
My kids like to eat bread in the morning and I'm always trying to get them to eat more. I rarely let them eat cereal unless we are just in a huge rush. For the longest time, I would get honey nut oats for them because it wasn't one of the colorful sugar filled option but I discovered that the fruity cereal I was labeling “snack” cereal actually had less added sugar than the honey oats. So I have switched to the plain oats cereal now.
Kids should try to get at least three food groups every time they eat. Which my girls were not getting each morning. My favorite recipe idea was to make an upgraded yogurt parfait and put everything together. You can make them in lots of different ways. Yogurt, nut butter, fresh or frozen fruit, and a grain like granola or cereal to add some crunch. We made a few this week and the girls loved them. Breakfast shortcuts are my jam!
After school snacks are a challenge in my house because if they eat too much, I have trouble getting them to eat all of their dinner. So I wanted to make sure that they don't overeat I found some great options to hold them over and is still light. Applesauce is a great one to keep on hand. I was buying pouches that were super easy to grab and go but there is added sugar hiding in them in the form of juice concentrate. As parents, we not only need to be avid label readers but also know which ingredients like juice concentrate that are forms of added sugar. I stick with plain applesauce now.
Another great tip Cheryl had for me was to make and portion their snacks over the weekend. If you enlist your kids to help with this project, they will be more likely (and excited) to eat it. This week I made chocolate drizzled popcorn and put them into bags so that it was easy to grab and portioned out for them. Strong4Life has lots of great recipes to help parents on its website.
I know that most people struggle with getting their kids to try new things, so I've created this list to help you with this challenge. Here are 8 ways to get your kids to enjoy a broad range of foods.
- Plant a garden. Our children help us plant, take care of, and harvest fruits and vegetables in our backyard garden. This is an excellent way to teach children how and where we get our food. If you can’t start your own big garden, you can try container gardening or even find a community garden in your area.
- Kids in the kitchen. I haven't met a kid that doesn't like to help in the kitchen yet. Kids are more likely to try a food they made themselves.
- One bite rule. How many times have you heard “I don't like that” before the food has ever touched a child's tongue. (If I had a quarter, right!) I get that they won't like everything they try but they still have to TRY it to make that judgment. We have a one-bite rule where they have to try a bite of each thing on their plate. 85% of the time, they like it and eat it.
- Try something new. Start making regular visits to your local farmers market or international market to discover new foods. Let your kids pick out something new and then find a recipe together on how to cook it. You may be trying something new yourself!
- Keep trying. I've read a number of articles that say you have to give a child something at least 10 times for their taste buds to determine if they like it (same goes for adults). Just because they didn't enjoy it the first or second time, keep trying! Try making it a few different ways also.
- Stop ordering from the children’s menu. No matter what type of restaurant you go to; they always have the same kid’s menu. It consists of things like cheeseburgers, mac & cheese, chicken fingers, and pizza. Those items are served with fries and only recently has a veggie or orange slices been introduced as an option. I now encourage my kids to order something off the adult menu because there are more healthy options to choose from. Besides, who goes out for Mexican food and orders pizza?! The adult portions are large enough sometimes to be split between two people also.
- Don’t give in. Don’t make your children a different dinner than your own. You are setting yourself (and them) up for failure. Not to mention you are adding extra work for yourself. “You get what you get, and you don’t pitch a fit!” Or in this case, if you don’t eat what’s on your plate, then you don’t eat anything at all. It sounds harsh but after a few evenings of going to bed hungry, they will stop.
- Limit snacking. We keep lots of healthier snack options available for after-school snacking like yogurt, granola, and fruits. They give the kids a boost of energy after a draining day at school, but if they eat too much, they may not eat their dinner. Portion control is necessary for those in-between snacks.
The most important thing to remember is that you lead by example. If you’re eating a healthy balanced diet, then your kids will have no problem trying them too. There are still going to be things your kids don’t like, heck as an adult we all have something we would rather skip, but the point is that we tried it to come to that conclusion.
Check out Strong4Life to find tons of resources on food parenting including asking an expert, recipes, and more.