Photo Credit: Stefan Witas/iStockIt's no surprise that only 1 in 50 kids eats a healthy diet (one that meets federal recommendations). But there are ways to turn your child into a healthy eater without turning you into the nutrition police. Here are 7 tricks nutritionists (and moms) swear by.
1. Get your kids into the kitchen.
Giving kids a say in what they're eating - from letting them pick out items at the grocery store to enlisting their aid in the kitchen - entices them to venture beyond hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. "Children feel important when they're asked to pitch in, and because they take pride in the finished product, they're more likely to have an open mind about eating it," says Christine Mastrangelo, R.D., a registered dietitian in Wakefield, MA.
2. Play with produce.
Don't fret if your child turns up her nose at the scrubby texture of broccoli or the slime factor of spinach - just give 'em to her in forms she'll find more appetizing. For instance, Medford, OR, mom Marcie Dixon's kids clamor for "beancicles," which are really just frozen green beans. Moms also give these two fruit-packed products a thumbs-up: Larabars (one bar equals one fruit serving) and FruitaBü Organic Smooshed Fruit (one packet offers half a serving of fruit).
Related: The Secrets to Better School Lunches
3. Make any food "snack food."
Limit traditional snack foods altogether and offer your kids smaller-size portions of regular mealtime foods. Try oatmeal with banana slices, yogurt and fruit parfaits, hard-boiled eggs and wheat toast, cereal, PB&J on whole-wheat tortillas, or quesadillas - all mini-meals that will fill them up and give them the energy and nourishment they need.
4. Get sneaky.
If you can't coax your kid to eat the good stuff, you might just have to slip it into his food without his knowing. Michele Cline of Greenwood, IN, works mashed, cooked navy beans into pizza sauces, meatloaves and burgers, soups, and even pancakes. Other sly ways to boost your family's nutritional intake include using whole-wheat pasta in place of white, substituting canola oil for butter when baking, and tossing a few tablespoons of ground flaxseed (which packs heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids) into breads, cakes, and fruit smoothies, says Janice Newell Bissex, R.D., coauthor of The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers.
Related: Allergies, Recalls, Chemicals? How To Feed Your Kids Safely
5. Let food be fun.
Mom was wrong: Playing with food is not only fun, but it also encourages kids to be more adventurous diners, nutritionists confirm. Try arranging food into smiley faces on your child's plate; cut meats, cheeses, and sandwiches into fun shapes with cookie cutters; or provide an assortment of dips, sauces, and toppings like sunflower seeds for salads, potatoes, and noodles. Alice Campbell of Fort Collins, CO, gets her two preschoolers to chow down on carrots by challenging them to a contest: "We take turns to see who can make the loudest crunch!"
6. Try and try again...and again.
Studies show that kids sometimes need to sample a food up to a dozen times before finally liking it. That means offering the food once or twice a week for up to six weeks. Try pairing a new or unusual food with something your child already likes: baked tortilla chips with avocado slices, say, or sugar snap peas with a side of ranch dressing. The free Recipe Reviewer Chart available at Bissex's website mealmakeovermoms.com, allows picky eaters to critique dishes. "Your child earns a star when she 'reviews' a new food,'" explains Bissex. Ten stars (or however many you decide) earn a reward like stickers, a movie rental, or a dinner of her choosing. Seems like a small price to pay to get your kid to try Brussels sprouts.
Related: Would You Know if Your Kid Was Overweight?
7. Try these mom tested and kid approved recipes
BIRCHER MUESLI Kristen Frangie's Switzerland-born grandmother made this for her when she was a child. "Now, it's my toddler's favorite breakfast food," says the Leesburg, VA, mom.
- 2 cups plain or flavored yogurt
- 1 cup oats (rolled or quick)
- 1 apple, peeled and grated
- ½ lemon, juiced
- ½ cup grapes, chopped in half
- ½ cup diced peaches, berries, or other seasonal fruit
- 1 cup chopped nuts, like almonds (optional)
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar or other sweetener.
Related: Six Quick Ideas for Dinner in a Hurry
MOMMY'S EDAMAMES "My 9-year-old has proclaimed edamame to be her number-one favorite vegetable," says Meal Makeover Mom Janice Bissex. To fix, bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add a 16-oz bag of frozen edamame (soybeans in the shell) to the pot. Boil for 5 to 10 minutes (or according to package directions). Drain. Return to pot and toss with 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil and ½ tsp kosher salt. Serve family-style in a big bowl, with a smaller bowl for the shells. Note: The shells (or pods) aren't edible, only the beans inside. Makes 6 servings.
PUMPKIN PIE SQUARES Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut a butternut squash into 1-inch cubes and coat them with olive oil and honey. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until soft. "This is my kids' most requested after-school snack," says Albuquerque, NM, mom Shanele Whatley.
Get more Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids Here
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