Even though I’m a dietitian and my 4 year old helps in the kitchen, I still deal with a fair share of eating ruts, dinner skipping and basic picky eating from my dear daughter.
So what’s a parent to do? Have faith that your kids are probably getting enough to eat but to go beyond the grilled cheese and chicken fingers, here are some ways to expand kids’ culinary and nutrition horizons:
Keep on Trying– Did you know it may take up to 15 exposures to a food before a kid accepts it? Understandably, parents often give up after a few attempts and chalk it up to something Johnny doesn’t like. Instead, continue to encourage but without forcing the issue. And avoid the “clean plate” ideal – as long as your child takes a few bites, it’s better than forcing food, which leads to a negative impression.
Rename the Plain – In a Cornell University study, four-year-olds ate nearly twice as much of a vegetable when it had a fun name like “Power Peas” or “X-Ray Vision Carrots.” Unlike sneaking veggie purees into brownies or sauces, this technique shows kids exactly what they are eating. Get creative and serve up “Dinosaur Broccoli Trees” or “Princess Green Apples.”
Dip & Dunk – It’s amazing how something as simple as a condiment gives a dish a whole new light a child’s eye. Plus, they love having command over their food.
- Serve peanut butter-yogurt dip with raw fruits and veggies
- Combine corn, black beans and salsa; pair with baked tortilla chips
- Mix applesauce and cinnamon for whole-wheat toast dippers
Cook with Kids– Sure, it can be a hassle to have your children involved when you are rushing to get dinner together. But just 15 minutes of assistance from a tiny sous chef can eventually pay off into healthier eating. The feeling of control and independence often inspires kids to try new things. Here are some age-appropriate tasks:
- Toddlers: Rip lettuce/greens; wash produce in bowl of water
- Preschoolers: Cut fruit/vegetables with plastic knife; toss salad
- Tweens: Separate eggs; blend a smoothie; stir ingredients for baking
- Teens- Plan a dinner menu, grocery shop and prepare the main dish
And remember, did you like to eat everything when you were a kid?