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How To Make Healthy Eating Fun for Kids

October 24, 2012

Kids are notorious picky eaters. Not only are they naturally reluctant when it comes to new experiences, but they also love to test your boundaries by saying no. This can lead to frustrating mealtimes, for both of you.

While not all kids are picky, many will go through a fussy eater stage.  So whether you’re detailing with a little one at home, or are looking for creative ways to support school lunch programs, here are a few tips to keep up your… apron:

Always serve a veggie on the plate. It might take a long time before they eat it, or even allow it to remain in their vicinity, but presenting vegetables in a consistent way will eventually help kids accept them as familiar and acceptable foods.

Share how much you enjoy healthy foods. Even if your kids are repulsed, keep on enjoying your greens, and let them know how much you love it. Despite their stubborn nature, curiosity – or the desire to be a “cool grown-up” – will often win out in the end.

Name your foods. Carol the carrot and Bronco the broccoli are way more fun at the kitchen table than just a bunch of plain ‘ol veggies. Giving foods names and animating them (veggie theater anyone?) connects kids with their healthy meal friends, which increases their likelihood of tasting them.

Tell them Elmo eats it. Kids absolutely adore Elmo. A study even showed they are more likely to choose an apple over a candy bar if the apple has an Elmo sticker on it. Even if you don’t have stickers handy, telling kids that Elmo eats kale so he can grow up big and strong could actually work.

Cook together. Inviting children to help prepare a meal increases their investment in the end result. This might require more clean-up, but can help foster a lifetime of appreciation for good quality food.

Explore where food comes from. There are few things a kid loves more than digging in the dirt. Take them to a community garden or a farm where they can learn about how food grows, or start your own garden!

It’s all in the presentation. Make their healthy food plates visually interesting by making shish kabob fruit, funny veggie characters, or offering a variety of foods cut up into shapes that they can mix and match (as long as they eat every piece!).

Juice or blend it. If your kids are ok with fruit but less welcoming when it comes to vegetables, juice it! Most kids love juice, and as long as it has some fruit for the sweet flavor, they won’t notice a little spinach or celery in the mix.

Food negotiation. This may be a controversial tactic, but if nothing else works, give it a try. Have a food on the table that you know your child likes, and give it to them in small amounts only after they have one or two bites of the healthy food.

And remember, whether you’re dealing with stubborn kids – or headstrong adults - the most important thing you can do is be a healthy role model.  Eat wholesome foods, engage in fitness, and cultivate a spiritual outlet. It may be a slow and steady road, but patience and perseverance go a long way in reaching those who are reluctant to change.

How do you promote healthy eating with children?