One of the biggest struggles for many parents is getting their kids to try and enjoy healthy foods. Kids are notoriously picky – though not all of them are – but there are some things you can do to promote healthy eating and to get them to try new things. Here are some tips as well as a few child-friendly healthy dinner ideas:
Tips to get kids to like healthy foods
- Start young. Good food habits should start as soon as your children are on solid foods. Limit sugary foods, processed meats like hot dogs and fried items like chicken nuggets and fries. You don't have to eliminate these foods altogether, but introduce healthier foods right away and save these for special occasions.
- Role model healthy eating. If your kids see you enjoying fruits, vegetables and whole grains, they'll want to follow. Younger children especially want to mimic their parents' every moves.
- Let it be their choice. It's important to let it be your child's choice whether or not she or he eats the carrots you've put on the plate. Forcing a child to eat vegetables or bribing him or her will only create a negative association with that food now and in the future.
- Stay positive and patient. Don't get frustrated if your kids eat around the salad on their plates. New foods are scary to kids, so it's important to encourage them to try new things. Eat your salad with relish – never say things like "Mommy doesn't like it either but I eat it anyway" – and try again next time. Often, it takes children a few times of exposure to new foods to even try them. Your job is to at least make sure healthy foods are available.
- Don't limit healthy foods. Let your kids have fruits and vegetables for a snack whenever they're hungry for them, emphasizing that these are "anytime" snacks because they are healthy, as opposed to "sometimes" snacks like cookies and chips.
- Get your children involved! When grocery shopping, give your child a few tasks like picking out the apples that look the best or choosing the veggie for dinner that night. When you get home from the store, play a game where you sort foods by colors and texture. Get creative! You might also want to consider growing fruits and vegetables in a small garden at home, taking kids to a working farm to see where foods come from and introducing them to foods with funny names like papaya and bok choy, which you can laugh about with them.
- When introducing a new food, sometimes it's a good idea to pair it with something you know your child already likes. For example, add spinach and parmesan cheese to his or her mashed potatoes and serve them as "green potatoes."
- Don't hide healthy foods from kids but be honest with them about what they're eating so they can learn to like it.
Healthy dinner ideas that are kid-friendly
Expand your children's palates by introducing them to new foods prepared in a way that is unavoidably tasty but also familiar. Here are some healthy meal ideas that kids will enjoy:
- Baked fish sticks made with fresh salmon and coated in parmesan and bread crumbs
- Turkey and bulgar meatballs with whole-wheat pasta
- Homemade kale chips – kids love salty things
- A colorful fruit salad dressed with vanilla yogurt
- Make homemade miniature pizzas and provide a wide variety of healthy toppings for your child to choose from, including mushrooms, bell peppers and various low-fat cheeses.