Play with Food: Helping Kids Eat Healthier and Enjoy Mealtime
If coaxing your child to eat their “good for you” vegetables isn’t working, perhaps it’s time to try a new approach. And just like for adults, changing eating behavior takes time and effort, trial and error, patience and persistence. Your efforts will be rewarded as your child develops habits that will help them grow into a healthy adult, not struggling with the weight and health issues many of us adults struggle with today.
I belong to an urban garden group and my friend, Mr. Vance, hosts a class in the garden each week for preschoolers. They plant vegetables, tend them and harvest them, often eating much of what they harvest. They pluck off broccoli leaves and eat them like chips. They savor sweet strawberries like they were candy. They are so excited to tell their parents of their adventures with food. Many parents have exclaimed, “I can’t believe my child ate raw beans and broccoli, they won’t touch that at home.” There are a number of reasons why eating veggies in the garden is appealing but one reason for sure is Mr. Vance makes eating fruits and vegetables an interesting and playful experience.
Can’t plant a garden? No worries. Check out the 10 tips for ways to encourage healthy eating by making every meal – whether at home or in school – a fun experience.
- Be patient but persistent – It may take numerous tries (up to 9 times in fact) before a new food is accepted. Praise each try. Keep experimenting and introduce the food in assorted ways. Don’t force food but don’t give up trying a food that has been rejected. It helps if they see you eating it as well.
- Finger food is fun – For young kids, stack different shapes and colors of food. Use yogurt, cottage cheese or salad dressings as dips. No fork needed for grilled vegetable slices or fruit chucks.
- Creativity is king – Let them create a salad, sandwich or pizza muffin using an assortment of healthy food items (nut butters, fruit spreads, hummus, raw veggies, dried fruit, cheese sticks). No rules allowed!
- Get kids involved – Take your kids to the grocery store. Let them choose foods with interesting colors and shapes. Experiment with one new food item on each expedition. Challenge them to learn about the food, how it’s grown, what it contains and ways to eat it. Ask what they are learning in school about food.
- Everyone has a job – Let the little ones help wash produce, push buttons, scoop cereal, etc. Older kids can help plan the menu, put food away, mix ingredients and set the table.
- Eat together – With hectic schedules and competing priorities, it’s a challenge to sit down at the table (not in front of the TV) but this is critical. Create a healthy family tradition and eat at home and together as often as possible.
- It’s not just about taste – How a food looks, smells and feels, affects food selection. Talk to your child or observe their reaction to a food. If the smell is unappealing, try serving it cold. If the texture is off-putting, try it raw or cooked differently. It’s OK to use a small amount of sugar or salad dressing to alter the flavor. A little sugar on fruit is better than no fruit and compared to cookies or desserts, it’s not even close.
- Trade up to healthier fare – Start with foods they like and make improvements that count. Switch from frozen pizza to easy homemade English muffin pizza they can create themselves with an assortment of healthy ingredients like peppers, tomatoes, olives, seeds.
- Open and serve – Keep cleaned and chopped fruits and vegetables in see-through containers, ready to eat for snacks. Keep wet foods separate, such as tomatoes, melon. Although more expensive, pre-cut fruits and veggies that are available in the produce section, make quick work of meal preparation. Less costly frozen or canned items are useful as well.
- No cook nights – Instead of going out to eat or grabbing fast food, plan a simple, nontraditional dinner meal once a week. Homemade popcorn, low-fat cheese, apple and celery slices can work. Veggie omelets are super easy and inexpensive. Even cereal and milk with fresh fruit works at dinner.
For nutrition guidelines on what to feed kids 2-18, click here.
For one-on-one coaching from Sue on good nutrition and healthy eating habits for the whole family, visit one of our RediClinic locations — Click here to learn more.
This is the perfect snack for everyone to join in preparing and it’s a fun – and healthy – treat to eat!
- 1 apple
- 1 banana
- 1/3 c. red seedless grapes
- 1/3 c. green seedless grapes
- 2/3 c. pineapple chunks
- 1 c. nonfat yogurt
- ¼ c. dried coconut, shredded
- Prepare the fruit by washing the grapes, washing the apples and cutting them into small squares, peeling the banana and cutting it into chunks, and cutting the pineapple into chunks, if it’s fresh.
- Spread coconut onto a large plate.
- Slide pieces of fruit onto a wooden skewer and design your own kabob by putting as much or as little of whatever fruit you want! Do this until the stick is almost covered from end to end.
- Hold your kabob at the ends and roll it in the yogurt, so the fruit gets covered. Then roll it in the coconut.
- Repeat these steps with another skewer.
Roll your kabobs in something besides coconut. Try granola, nuts, or raisins, or use your imagination.
This fun recipe is courtesy of KidsHealth.org.