13 NUTRITIONIST-APPROVED TIPS FOR FEEDING KIDS
A nutritionist (and mom to triplets aged 7 year old ). Here are tried-and-true tips to get your children to eat vegetables and try new foods.
Every day I have to deal with picky eaters, large and small. I am the mother to three 7-year-old triplets. They all have different eating habits. I also work as a dietitian, teaching professional athletes from the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Bears how to improve their diets. It can be difficult to convince a 300-pound player of basketball or a linebacker that junk food makes him sick, but it is not easy to get my children to eat healthy foods.
My daughter Kathleen suffers from severe, life-threatening allergic reactions to peanuts, eggs, and tree nuts. Julia, my other daughter, will not eat fresh fruits. Marty, my son, is open to trying almost any food. I hear parents constantly tell me they feel guilty about the diets of their children. They know it’s important to provide healthy food for their children but aren’t sure how. Despite my nutrition background, it was a learning curve for me with my triplets.
These are the top lessons that I have learned, and they will help you teach your children how to eat better.
1. Schedule Meals and Snacks
Children should eat three to four meals per hour: three main meals, two snacks, and plenty of fluids. Your child will be more healthy and happier if you plan ahead. When I go out with my children, I keep a cooler in my car. I stock it with water, carrots, pretzels, and yogurt so that we don’t have to rely on fast food.
2. Pre-plan Dinner Menus
You don’t have to plan a weekly menu if it is too overwhelming. Start with just two or three days in the beginning. You don’t need to make a fancy dinner, but you should have a balanced meal. Whole-grain bread, pasta, whole-grain rice, or pasta, a fruit or vegetable, and some protein sources like lean meats, cheeses, beans. To round out my meal, I make chili or simple soups ahead of time. I then freeze the leftovers.
3. For the whole family, make one meal
I developed a bad habit a few years back. I used to make two meals a day. One for the children and one for me. It was exhausting. It was exhausting. Now, I cook one meal for everyone and then serve it family-style to allow the children to choose what they like. Children often copy their parents’ behavior so I hope that one day they will eat all of the food I prepare.
4. Do not comment on your kids’ eating habits
It doesn’t matter how difficult it may be to not comment on the food your children eat. Try to be as neutral as possible. You’ve done your job by providing balanced meals for your children, but they are still responsible for eating them. Your child will resist if you try to be a food enforcer, saying things like “eat your vegetables!”
5. Introduce new foods slowly
Nature has made children averse to new foods. My children are often unable to accept new tastes. Talk to your pediatrician if you think your child isn’t getting enough nutrients.
6. Make healthy food fun
Try different condiments and dips if your children won’t eat vegetables. Kathleen tried her first vegetable, when I gave her a thinly sliced carrot and some ranch dressing. My children love salsa, ketchup and hummus.
7. Make Your Mornings count
Many families don’t consume enough fiber every day. Breakfast is a great place to get it. As a quick fix, look for high fiber cereals. You can also make waffle and pancake batters from whole grains that will last for a week.
8. Give it a little sweetness
Julia likes to eat her cooked carrots with a little brown sugar. I also mix some root beer in Julia’s prune juice to make prune-juice soda. Marty and Kathleen like to sprinkle sugar on their fruits. They’ll grow out of this need for more sweetness eventually, but they’re still eating fruits and veggies.
9. Get your kids cooking
Your children will be more interested in creating and choosing the meals they prepare. Let them help you choose the produce. If they are old enough, let them cut vegetables and make a salad. Julia won’t eat fresh fruit but we still make apple muffins and banana muffins together.
10. Think More, Not Less
You, not your children, are responsible for the food in your home. So, instead of stressing about eating fewer sweets and treats, focus on making healthier choices. You can encourage your children’s consumption of healthy foods by providing more options.
11. Accept Moderation in Treats
Sometimes, having less healthy food makes them more attractive. Candy, soda, and cookies are “occasionally” foods. While I tend to buy healthy cereals like Raisin Bran and Cheerios, I allow my children to have sugary cereals while they are visiting their grandparents or on vacation. Every once in a while, I treat my kids to lunch at McDonald’s.
12. Be creative with your meals
My kids love to eat creative meals. We love to make smiley-face pancakes, and we give food silly names. Broccoli florets can be described as “baby trees” and “dinosaur foods.” Miniatures are always a hit. To make toast hearts and stars, I use cookie cutters which my children love.
13. Be a role model
Parents should model positive attitudes and behaviors about food. It is important to also encourage healthy eating habits. Your body will tell you when it’s full and hungry, and you can trust that your children will do the same. Don’t be afraid of seeking professional help to develop a healthy relationship to food. Many of us weren’t raised with healthy eating habits. Therapy may be able help you to re-establish healthy eating habits.
It is important to realize that your children eat the food you choose. Enjoying popcorn at the movies and eating ice-cream sundaes are two of life’s greatest pleasures. Your children will be happy as long as they have healthy food choices and physical exercise.