Nurturing Healthy Eating Habits in Picky Eaters
Do you have trouble getting your child to even try a piece of broccoli, let alone eat a whole nutrient-rich meal? There is no need to “trick” your child into eating healthy meals if you instill healthy habits early. From meal planning to prep, below are some tips to help you teach your child to love healthy foods.
Plan Meals Thoughtfully
Mix nutrient-rich foods into familiar dishes. By adding foods like mashed cauliflower into mashed potatoes, or putting ground flaxseed into your pancake mix, you can add more nutrients to common meals.
Grow your own vegetable garden and let your child tend to it. This hands-on approach teaches your children where food comes from and how it ends up on their plates.
Engage your child in the meal-planning process. Let him or her help you shop for ingredients. Allow your child to pick out new fruits and vegetables. For younger children, call out produce with funny names, like kumquats, or strange shapes, like star fruit, to keep the shopping experience exciting.
Serve foods with healthy dressings and dips so that your child has options to mix and match flavors. This makes mealtime more fun for young children and gives them some freedom to choose their flavors.
Create mix-and-match meals, such as a bean taco bar with salsas and other healthy topping options, so that your child can choose from an array of healthy flavors.
Use colorful produce and get creative with meal presentation to add some fun to your food. Studies have proven that the better food looks, the better it tastes. This will make it easier for your child to learn to love healthy food.
Prepare Meals Attentively
Let your child get involved in food preparation. This helps children understand what goes into making their meals and lets them feel like they have a say in what they eat.
Prepare meals that promote different ways of eating. For example, make a meal that requires chopsticks or no utensils at all. You can also have fun with meals centered around healthy dips. Provide different vegetable options for a dinner of dipping fun.
Give foods playful names for younger children. Spark your child’s imagination by creating new, fun names, such as “apple moons” for apple slices or “tiny trees” for broccoli. This may help your child see healthy foods in a new way.
Create fun shapes with your child’s food. Did your parents ever make pancakes with mouse ears or make your veggies look like a face? Same concept here. Get creative. And if your child is helping with meal preparation, let him or her make a personal creation.
Use cookie cutters to cut shapes into foods like sandwiches, pieces of fruit, lasagnas, and more. Let your child choose a few cookie cutter shapes he or she likes from the store, or from your cabinet at home. Reuse those favorites on different foods.
Find new ways to cook healthy foods. We’ve probably all had steamed broccoli or brussels sprouts, but have you ever considered baking them? To keep mealtime interesting, look for innovative ways of cooking healthy foods that you may not have considered.
Try new foods together. Set an example for your child and try new foods with him or her. This will make new foods seem less strange and scary.
Allow your child to eat as many fruits and vegetables as he or she would like. Keep carrots, cucumber pieces and other bite-sized produce available for snacking any time. Your child will love being able to grab snacks freely.
Roll out a meal, one dish after the other. Sometimes combining your child’s favorite foods with healthy side dish options doesn’t work. He or she will simply fill up on a favorite food and ignore the rest. By serving healthy side dishes first when your child is hungry and motivated to eat, he or she is more likely to try them.
Make sure your child is hungry at mealtimes. Don’t let your child snack one to two hours before a meal, as he or she will be less willing to try new foods with a full stomach.
Explain the benefits of healthy food to your child in terms he or she can understand. Use words like energized to describe how healthy foods can make the body feel, and sluggish to describe what foods like donuts and other unhealthy snacks can do to the body.
Understand that some “yucky” foods may truly be yucky to your child. Genes can influence the way we taste certain foods. For example, some people have a sensitivity to bitter tastes. Encourage your child to use descriptive words instead of saying, “I don’t like this,” to explain to you why he or she does not want to eat something.
Introduce new flavors to your child with a guessing game. Select foods with different flavors. Have your child guess what each food might taste like and then let him or her try each new food. Teach your child words like bitter and salty, and have him or her describe each food tasted as the meal progresses.
Remember, in the end you don’t want to pressure picky eaters to eat something they don’t like. Putting pressure on your child to eat new foods could cause a rebellion. Mealtime should be a fun way for your family to bond. Make experimenting with new healthy foods part of your family’s ritual and your child will associate healthy eating habits with family fun and other positive memories. Keep exposing your child to different healthy foods and he or she will eventually try them, maybe even coming to love them!
How do you get your child to eat healthy foods? Let us know in the comments below!