Last night at dinner I almost choked on my pork roast because I looked over at my 12 year-old son…and he was dishing more asparagus onto his empty plate! For some of you, this may seem like an occasion that should be completely over-looked, but for me, I wanted to light fireworks in my backyard and do cartwheels. This is the same 12 year-old son that started out from the ages of 2 to 5 years old on a diet that completely consisted of Chips Ahoy cookies, apple juice, and oatmeal. (I couldn’t even bribe him to pop a french fry or a chicken nugget in his picky little mouth)!
As a Dietitian, this completely insulted my intelligence. Half the reason I decided to go into nutrition was so I could fully execute my “mom-job” and be “all knowing” about proper nutrition for my family. Over the years, I have been asked the following question many times: “How do we get our kids to eat healthy foods?” It’s a great question with a lot of great answers, but most of the time, the outcome requires a great deal of patience. Some children are born with taste-buds to keep them wired into awesome nutrition from the get-go, whereas other children pierce their lips sealed and won’t open up for anything containing a single vitamin or protein molecule.
Here are some really good tips to help you on your quest to keep your own family well nourished without requiring a coronary bypass (for yourself) on the way:
First, be patient. More often than not, children will grow out of their picky food habits as their taste buds mature and develop. “Making” kids eat what you think they should usually ends up in a long, losing battle. Your child will not starve or become severely malnourished while on your watch. Kids eat when they are hungry – it may not be what we want them to eat, but they do eat.
Next, be the Captain of your own ship. Don’t stock up on chips, cookies, and junk food and then tell your children they are not allowed to consume those foods. If these types of food are in your cupboards, you probably steered your own boat directly to those aisles at the grocery store, put them in your cart, paid for them, and loaded them into your house. And now you’re saying you don’t want your kids to eat them??? Don’t buy them in the first place.
Make healthy foods REALLY accessible in your home. Cut up veggies and fruits and keep them at eye level in your fridge for little hands to reach. Stock cheese sticks and deli meats in clear containers so they can be seen. In your pantry space, move healthy food like granola bars, beef jerky, seeds, fruit leather, whole wheat crackers, and healthy cereal to your little one’s eye level (word to the wise: if you must buy Chips Ahoy cookies, hide them at the very top of your pantry). Also, of course, make sure these items are age appropriate considering choking hazards.
You can also hide a lot of good nutrition when you cook your meals. My favorite is hidden ground flaxseed in muffins, cookies, pancakes, oatmeal, and sauces. I also love to shred cooked carrots and zucchini in spaghetti, soups, and casserole dishes.
I am also a big believer in healthy beverages. Unless your child has a milk allergy, drinking milk with meals and snacks is a really good way to ensure calcium and protein in their diet. Water is another good choice for good hydration and juice is usually never a choice at my house (my little guy ruined it for everyone with his apple juice phase). Juice is pretty much straight fructose with very little nutritive value.
Last, but not least, be a good example yourself. When your children see you try new things and put healthy food on your plate, they notice. They might not grab the spinach leaves of your sandwich and take a bite, but they are watching and are taking it all in. Be patient with yourself, but more important, be patient with your children. Mealtime should be stress-free and enjoyable, and taking little steps to improve your children’s diets will add up!