We've all heard it before: "You are what you eat."
But when it comes to our kids and getting them to eat nutritious, well-balanced meals, adults quickly realize how tough a battle it can be.
Julie Edelman is the author of "Once Upon A Recipe," a children's cookbook that introduces kids to healthy foods and good eating habits.
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- Establish Meal Routines. Snacks are a really good opportunity to develop good habits. It is important to give kids the right kinds of snacks at the proper time. So avoid offering juice and snacks all day long. Kids that have grazed all day are less likely to eat well at meals, and they're less inclined to try unfamiliar foods, because they're not very hungry.
Get your kids to drink water; even juice needs to be watered down. Too much sugar is no good for them. And have healthier snack choices available.
Don't prepare different meals for everyone in the house. It will only give kids the feeling that they can choose to eat only things they know and like.
- Involve Kids In Meal Planning. Avoid food confrontations with your children. One way to do this is to try and include them in meal planning. Try giving your children choices when it comes to deciding what to eat. For example, if you're deciding what vegetable to have at dinner, ask your child whether they'd prefer carrots or broccoli. However, make sure not to overwhelm them with too many choices.
With summer coming, it can be fun to try starting a vegetable garden with your kids. If they've helped grow some of these foods, like string beans and tomatoes, they'll be more excited about tasting them. Today, there are lots of products that can help make food more fun. Use kid-friendly condiments, for example. Now ketchup comes in all sorts of colors, and squeeze butter does, too.
You can also try something as simple as making individual pizzas for dinner, which most kids love. The twist here is to pick new and interesting vegetables for them to try as toppings. A little creativity can go a long way here.
- Introduce New Foods When They're Starving. This is when you have a captive audience. When your kids are hungry, they are less likely to give you a hard time about trying something they haven't seen before. You might try making smoothies with some unfamiliar ingredients--like new fruits, and try yogurt instead of milk. Or you could offer cheese and crackers with a cheese that they're seeing for the first time. Like adults, children will naturally have aversions to certain foods. With good planning, though, you can mold children's taste buds over time.
- Kid-Sized Portions. Don't overwhelm a child with too much food on his plate. A plate with a taste of a number of different foods is far more attractive to a child than a heaping plate of strange foods they don't recognize. If a child sees a tasting size of a new food, they may give it a try--especially if you don't put too much pressure on them. A plate overflowing with that same strange food will often make them feel pressured and they may retreat altogether.
- Set A Good Example.
It's important to be a good role model. Your children need to see you eating the same variety of foods that you're expecting them to. If parents have strange eating habits or binge eat, kids see that and pick up on those bad habits. The mother who only ever eats salad at the dinner table is going to have a hard time convincing her child that they really should try some new foods.
Similarly, if parents snack all day and skip meals altogether, it's very hard to teach children the importance of meals and sitting down to a well-balanced meal. In the end it's very simple: Practice what you preach.
Julie Edelman is a family lifestyle specialist. She spots trends and shares her thoughts and tips on the latest product innovations and the classic product 'bests.' Her pieces feature ideas for home entertaining, childhood learning, cooking, travel, fashion, mealtime and other relevant lifestyle topics. Edelman was recently appointed to Time Magazine's national lifestyles trend panel as their family expert. She is also a consultant to Weekly Reader.