Making healthy food exciting for children is a problem that has existed… well probably since around the invention of fish fingers. Kelsey Hilts with some valuable tips on how to get your kids to appreciate an old fashioned home cooked meal.
Text And Photo By Kelsey Hilts
Anyone with children can relate to the image of a parent zooming a spoon around the kitchen to finally land the airplane in their toddler’s mouth. Most parents would and do resort to drastic (and silly) measures to avoid mealtime melt-downs (for both children and parents!) and to make food exciting for children. I’m no professional, but as the mother of two boys I have learned that there is no perfect formula for getting a child to eat healthy food because every child is different. You just need to find what works for you and your family.
Here are a few more tips that have worked for my itsy bitsy foodies family:
- Change your perspective. For example, salad is not the only way to get a serving of vegetables. Think salsa, pizza and pasta with tomato sauce, guacamole, homemade sausage with spinach, and more.
- Follow your child’s lead. For example, if your child won’t eat breakfast but loves milkshakes, start making fruit smoothies with fruits, veggies, yogurt, flax seed, and more.
- Make cooking and eating fun. Get your whole family involved in the meal planning and grocery shopping. Visit local growers’ markets. Let your child help in the kitchen. Start a garden and cook with the foods that your child has helped to grow.
- Set an example. If you eat a healthy, balanced diet it is more likely that your child will, too! And the opposite is also true. Baby food was a very short stage for my oldest son because he wasn’t happy with mashed carrots and peas. He wanted what we were eating: tikka masala, chicken & spinach sausage, turkey tacos and whatever else was on our plate. This ultimately made mealtimes easier because we only had to prepare one dish. More importantly, it made us more aware of what we were eating because the foods on our plate now fueled our son.
- Don’t fight it. This will only cause stress for your whole family. If your child is full, don’t force him to clean his plate. Likewise, if he doesn’t like something, don’t force him to eat it. Mealtime should be a positive experience, not something that you and your child dread. If our son doesn’t like an ingredient, we continue to offer it to him over time without making a big deal about it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Which leads me to the next point…
- Focus on the successes instead of the failures. It’s OK for kids to simply not like something. For example, our son will not touch eggs or potatoes, no matter how they are prepared. (No complaining here that he doesn’t even like McDonald’s french fries!) This doesn’t mean that we’ve erased eggs and potatoes from our menu. We still eat them and we still offer them to our son. But we don’t get upset when he won’t eat them. Instead, we focus our attention on the other healthy foods that he is eating. So he won’t eat potatoes. Big deal! He does like salmon, edamame, and hummus, to name a few.
- Make meals colorful. And this doesn’t mean by using food coloring. By incorporating every color of the rainbow into your diet you will ensure that you and your family get an assortment of vitamins and nutrients. In addition to the health benefits, a rainbow diet may make meals more interesting for your child.
- Don’t always disguise healthy foods. There is nothing wrong with loading homemade sausage with chopped spinach so that your family will eat this leafy green without noticing. But in order to create healthy eating patterns for the long-term, I believe that it is important to get your child to appreciate vegetables and other healthy foods for what they are, learning to like the flavors and textures of the foods.
Kelsey Hilts is the founder of Itsy Bitsy Foodies, an online resource for families looking for ways to spend more time together enjoying food and exploring the world beyond the children’s menu.