Eight Ways to Make Food Fun for Even the Pickiest Eaters
Getting children to eat more healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables is often a challenge. Instead of having a knock-down-drag-out at each meal trying to force your kids to eat, why not try some of these strategies to make food fun so even the pickiest eater will give them a try?
We all know that good nutrition is essential for children. Healthy eating helps children grow properly, can sharpen their minds and may even help even out their moods. Unfortunately, parents often have to battle media images of cartoon characters or pop stars hawking high sugar, high fat, high calorie junk foods.
Children will develop a natural preference for foods they enjoy the most, so the real challenge is to make the healthy choices more appealing. Parents should keep in mind that patience is a virtue – it can often take up to 10 to 15 tries before a child will accept a new food. So the trick is finding a way to present it to them to get them to try it in the first place.
Here are some fun and creative ways to add more fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet:
- Top a bowl of whole grain cereal with a smiley face: banana slices for eyes, raisins for nose, peach or apple slice for mouth. Try this with other foods as well. Pancakes and waffles, for example, make a great base for creating fun faces.
- Create a food collage. Use broccoli florets for trees, carrots and celery for flowers, cauliflower for clouds, and a yellow squash for a sun. Since colorful foods often have the most nutritive value, try creating a rainbow on the plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables for a snack.
- Make frozen fruit kabobs for kids using pineapple chunks, bananas, grapes, and berries. Kids love food on a stick, so try this strategy with other items as well.
- Go food shopping with your children. Let them see all the different fruits and vegetables and have them pick out new ones to try. Try also going to a farmer’s market or even grow your own food in your backyard.
- Try fruit smoothies for a quick healthy breakfast or afternoon snack. (Call it a breakfast milkshake – who can resist that?)
- Add vegetables and fruits to baked goods – blueberry pancakes, zucchini bread, carrot muffins.
- Add extra veggies to soups, stews, and sauces, grated or shredded to make them blend in.
- Keep lots of fresh fruit and veggies washed and available as snacks. Apples, pears, bananas, grapes, figs, carrot and celery sticks are all easy to eat on the run. Add yogurt, nut butter, or tahini for extra protein.
When creating fun meals for kids, keep these dietary guidelines in mind:
- Young children and toddlers need two servings each of fruits and vegetables per day. Older, school-age children need 3-5 servings per day of vegetables; two servings of fruit.
- Four daily servings of grains are recommended for younger kids; six to 11 for older kids and teens. However, aim for whole grains such as brown rice (mix with white rice to help your child accept the new texture) and whole wheat crackers and breadsThree servings of low-fat milk and dairy foods are recommended. Moms, it is okay once in a while to make chocolate or other flavored milk if it will help your child get in the calcium they need. Just keep this in moderation.
- Protein – two servings are needed per day for young kids. Active and older kids may need three servings. But steer clear of processed meats such as hot dogs, bologna, and bacon. Lean proteins such as turkey, chicken, lower-fat ground beef and beans are recommended.
If you are not sure that your child is meeting his or her recommended daily needs for vitamins and minerals, check with your pediatrician for other resources. Perhaps a daily multivitamin may help reach your child’s needs while you take steps to improve your meals.
One last tip: Be a healthy eating role model for your children. They are much more likely to eat healthfully if you do as well. Even if you are exhausted from a long day, skip the fast food and convenience foods and still take the time to make a healthy family meal together. It does not have to be elaborate – the most important thing is that you are all together.