Eat a colorful plate. By choosing foods of varying colors, kids automatically select a variety of food that offers a selection of different nutrients.
Eat at least 3 foods at each meal. Some of the combinations they pick will be odd, but they are getting variety and it doesn’t matter if they eat a piece of chicken with grapes and whole grain crackers. Think about it. That is the foundation of a healthy meal. All kids go on food jags and all kids reject foods at some point. Don’t get caught up in these phases, most pass. Also, don’t assume if your child turns up her nose at strawberries that she will never eat them again. Give it a few weeks and try strawberries again. Most food rejections are temporary.
Surprise them with wacky meal choices just for fun. Serve dinner with a bowl of popcorn instead of rice or potatoes. Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? Cut up watermelon wedges instead of serving a vegetable for dinner. Fruits and vegetables have similar nutrient profiles. Serve raw veggies plus a dip instead of cooked vegetables. Studies have shown kids eat more veggies when offered raw. Try the old standard, ants on a log – celery stuffed with spreadable cheese or nut butter topped with raisins or nuts. Or let them eat raisins or grapes as an alternative to a vegetable they don’t prefer.
Serve plenty of whole grains. These foods are naturally high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and low in fat. Kids traditionally like breads, pasta, rice and cereals. Use whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice and cereals made from whole grains. If your kids object, ease them into these choices. Did you know there is whole grain white bread? It is made from a variety of whole wheat that is softer and lighter in color than traditional whole wheat. Cook half whole grain pasta with half traditional pasta. It offers an interesting looking dish and before you know it the kids won’t miss the original. When shopping for ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, teach the kids to read the label to see if the cereal has fiber and if whole grains are listed in the ingredient list.
Choose a diet moderate in sugar. Be honest with kids. Let them know that all sugar offers is a sweet taste. It has no vitamins or minerals, so we eat foods high in sugar less often. But, an occasional sweet treat is just fun. Don’t be too strict about sweets because it draws too much attention to these foods and makes them even more desirable. Sweets can be a valuable addition to a healthy diet. Think pudding, flavored yogurt and yogurt smoothies, flavored kefir, dried and fresh fruit. Presweetened, ready-to-eat cereals are often a struggle between kids and parents. Kids love them, parents don’t. Here’s another teaching opportunity and a math lesson as well. One teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams. Look at the nutrition label on the box and ask the kids to figure out how many teaspoons of sugar are in a serving. Six grams of sugar per serving or less is a healthy option. Or, try this. Explain that heavily sugared cereals are more like candy. Buy a box and give them a serving as a snack in their lunch box. Use the sweetened cereal as a candy or cookie sub, rather than as cereal. All ready-to-eat cereals are low in fat, often based in a whole grain, and fortified with vitamins and minerals. As a candy substitute, presweetened cereal is a better option and you will get more cooperation from your child with other food choices because of this compromise.
Get off your seat and on your feet. Balance the food your family eats with regular physical activity. Be a role model for moving throughout the day – race your child to the corner, walk stairs rather than take the escalator, build a snowman together, take a bike ride. The earlier regular physical activity becomes a habit the less likely your child will grow into a couch potato.
Be a good role model. If you snack on chips and soda and never go near a vegetable you are going to have a hard time convincing your children to eat well. Children learn by living and watching what their parents say and do. Concentrate your eating messages on what your child can eat, not what he can’t and practice what you preach.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:
Healthy Wholefoods Counter
Complete Food Counter
Fat and Cholesterol Counter
Available in print from Gallery Books:
Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.
Your Complete Food Counter App: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/your-complete-food-counter/id444558777?mt=8
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: www.TheNutritionExperts.com.