Having just returned from a weekend with my in-laws, nutrition is at the forefront of my mind. I love my mother-in-law, but sometimes her idea of providing kid-friendly meals for my son is stocking her freezer and pantry with microwave pizza, boxed macaroni and cheese, frozen chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and sugary fruit drinks. Sure, those might be toddler dietary staples in some households, but not in mine. I try my very best to explain to her that our son eats what we eat. We expose him to a wide variety of foods to ensure he has a balanced, healthy diet. I have made a very concerted effort, from the time he began eating solids, to offer a wide array of foods. If he goes through phases of food rejection, so be it, but I didn’t want to be responsible for him having a picky palette.
It is absolutely essential that children start off on the right foot when it comes to nutrition and food choices. If you are also the parent of a young child, you probably understand that finding foods they will eat can sometimes be an unbelievable challenge. Even more difficult can be coercing them to actually eat.
As Nutrition Month draws to a close, here are five ways to encourage children to eat healthy all year long:
- Incorporate Color. A plate full of color is visually appealing to a small child. By choosing foods that are rich in a spectrum of colors, you are offering your child a meal that is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
- Presentation. A regular banana might seem boring to a toddler, but a banana cut into several slices and topped with blueberries may seem much more interesting and worth of eating. Or take melon, for example. Instead of handing a child a slice of watermelon or cantaloupe, use a melon scoop and serve each ball on a toothpick. Children are easily influenced by the presentation of a meal. If it appears fun, they will often give it a try.
- Let Them Be Heard. Children will typically be more open to eating foods if they are given the opportunity to choose it. Next time you are in the grocery store and you have your toddler in tow, allow him/her to choose which fruits and vegetables he/she would like to have for snacks and meals during the upcoming week.
- Smart Snacking. It’s easy to buy things like fruit snacks and chips. However, it’s worth taking the time to purchase and prepare healthier snacks such as apple slices, carrot sticks and even “ants on a log” (celery sticks filled with peanut butter and topped with raisins). In fact, if you let your child help put their own ants on the log, they will enjoy being involved and are more likely to indulge in their snack.
- Smooth Operator. If you have a hard time getting your child to eat fruits and vegetables, try sneaking them into a smoothie for breakfast or snack. Frozen fruit, yogurt, banana, honey and ice are all you need to whip up a delicious, vitamin-packed, frosty treat. Experiment with ingredients, even try incorporating foods such as spinach, so your child will reap the nutritional benefits without even really knowing what they ate.
[Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at Go College, where recently she's been researching school grants as well as college grants. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing, practicing martial arts, and taking weekend trips.]
What are your tips to get picky eaters to eat healthy? How do you deal with relatives that don’t follow your nutrition rules? Tell us in the comment section below.