It’s no secret obesity is becoming a huge problem, even in children. According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Type 2 diabetes, once considered a disease of middle or old age, is now affecting a staggering number of overweight children. Today’s children, based on research, might be the first generation to live less healthy and possibly even shorter lives than their parents.
We are busier than ever running to soccer practice, attending dance classes, scheduling play groups, and completing homework, making healthy eating more of an after thought. Our rapidly paced lifestyle makes it easier to just grab and go rather than plan real food meals even if it means less nutrients for our family. Sometimes it may seem easier to throw up our hands and give in to the convenience foods we are bombarded with on a daily basis.
As parents, we all want the best for our children, but think “what’s the use of preparing healthy meals?” Throwing a salad in front of them could cause an all-out tantrum and at the end of a long hard day, is that really what we want to deal with? At least we know they will eat McDonald’s, pizza and hot dogs. Is there any hope? Why does it have to be such a struggle? Can kids really learn how to be “good” eaters?
Absolutely! I would consider my kids to be pretty decent eaters, most of the time. Sure, they are picky about some foods. One likes tomatoes – the other doesn’t. I’ve never put an avocado on their plate without fuss. The challenges are inevitable and often frustrating. But when I compare them to what I see their peers eating, I have to say I feel pretty confident about their food habits. Check out my tips and tricks that have gotten my kids to try, and like, a different variety of real foods.
- Use the 5 “Magic” Vegetables.
Did you know that spinach, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash and purple cabbage all have no taste when used in small amounts in your food? When I make smoothies I always add at least one of these veggies to the mix. Chocolate real food “milkshakes” and “green” eggs are fun and easy with a handful of spinach. Frozen zucchini makes a great addition to homemade “nice” cream, carrots, lemons, honey and ice make a fantastic sorbet.
- Dippity Doo Da.
Kids love to dip their food. If your child won’t eat a veggie raw then put out a homemade dip for them. Last weekend I set out a plate of veggies for snack and my kids wouldn’t touch the broccoli or red bell peppers. As soon as I oohed and aahed over how great it tasted dipped in my homemade vegan ranch dip, they were all over it. I couldn’t get them to stop.
- Sprinkle it with “Love.”
There was a time when my kids would moan and groan over every little speck in their food. Whether it be oregano in their pasta sauce or nutritional yeast sprinkled on their salads. Oh, who am I kidding, they still do fuss a bit over little tiny, minuscule flakes on their foods! So, I started to tell them that I sprinkled it with “love.” Now every time they ask, “Mom, what is this black thing on here? What did you make this with?” They remember and quickly reply, “Did you sprinkle love in here?” Yes kids. Yes I did. If it makes it easier, grab an old spice container, peel off the label and make a new one that says “Love” on it. They will eat it up!
- “You get what you get and you don’t get upset” and “no thank you bites.”
These are familiar phrases around here. Offer them what you make yourself for dinner. No separate meals for the kids. That’s it! You get what you get. Another trick we found helpful is implementing “no thank you bites” into our routine. You don’t have to finish something if you don’t like it, but you can’t tell me you don’t like it unless you have tried one “no thank you bite.” If I am making something that I am pretty confident they won’t eat much of, I add something familiar to their plate. Whether it be orange slices, carrots, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, a fruit salad or crusty whole grain bread. Salads are always a good side dish for meals that I know won’t go over too well.
- Presentation is everything.
Kids will try anything as long as it’s wrapped up in a pretty little package. Why do you think food companies package their foods in fun shapes, colors, and sizes? Because it grabs the kid’s attention and it says “I am fun to eat!” Get creative in your kitchen and they are bound to try your fun foods as well. Peanut butter and jelly again? They won’t mind if it’s rolled up like sushi and they can use Cute Monkey Chopsticks. Applesauce is boring just plopped in a bowl. Try these fun Little Green Pouches instead and blend in some “magic vegetables” for an added nutrition boost. A smoothie can go from ordinary to extraordinary when you freeze them in these fun Zoku Classic Pop Molds or use these Silicone Ice Pop Molds. Try fruit roll ups that look exactly like the store bought version and tie them with little ribbons. And don’t forget colorful silicone baking cups for muffins or to use in lunchboxes.
- Leave it out and forget it.
Try leaving out a plate full of cut up fruit and veggies on your kitchen table or counter and say nothing about it other than they are free to pick at it as they wish. I am often shocked how much will get eaten within a few hours, and surprised by what they will try if no one is watching.
- Create a snack container.
Last weekend I cut up a bunch of veggies and threw them in a container in the fridge. I told my kids it was their snack container and they were allowed to go in the fridge and get it whenever they wanted. Having authority over it was the best thing since sliced bread. By the end of the day it was more than half empty. In fact, the next day when Kaiden pulled it out, he said, “Mom, this is almost gone. You need to refill it.” Try this idea in the pantry as well. Have some containers/bags with pre-portioned trail mix, whole grain pretzels, Larabars, etc. and let them grab when they want.
- Never assume they won’t eat it.
I can’t tell you how many times I have made this mistake. I think as parents we just assume that because it’s healthy our kids won’t like certain foods and, in turn, don’t offer them. Or when your kids ask for a bite of whatever you’re eating we say, “You probably won’t like this, but here, try it anyway.” Don’t do that! A few weeks ago I ordered a tabbouleh/hummus/roasted cauliflower wrap (oh yes, it was good!) at the mall and my son asked to try it. My first reaction (in my head) was to tell him he probably wouldn’t like it because of the tabbouleh he tried before and didn’t like. Instead I refrained and quickly handed it over for him to try. Guess what? He LOVED it and ended up eating an entire half proclaiming next time he was ordering it for his lunch. Never, EVER assume your kids won’t like something or that they won’t try it.
- Encourage helping hands.
I am sure you have heard that allowing kids to help in the kitchen will encourage them to try new things. By golly, it’s true. If they feel like they are a part of something they created, then they are certainly more inclined to try it. Involve them at the store as well – for example, have them pick out new produce. Hand them a real food cookbook and let them pick out a recipe for your meal plan. It may take some extra time and patience, but it’s worth it.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. And again. And again. And again.
Don’t give up! Today might be the day they take a bite of something you have offered 20 times before. And, fingers crossed, they might actually decide they like it after all.
Remember, we as parents are the biggest role models in our children’s lives and the ones that make powerful decisions on their behalf. If you only keep real food in your home, you will only eat real food. Clear out the junk and set your family kids up for success.
Was there ever something that you didn’t like as a child only to find that you finally liked it after all these years?
Until next time, keep it real.
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