Inspire Life-Long Healthy Eating
Written by Sarah Milano
There’s no question that ensuring your kids eat a nutritional, well-balanced diet can be tricky. After all, what kid wants to eat carrots, fish and brown rice when they can eat a cheeseburger and fries? Teaching your child to choose apple slices over cookies can be a struggle but important eating habits are critical in teaching your child lifelong healthy eating.
Your approach to food should be simple: make it easy and fun. There are many different ways to make food fun for your kids while keeping it healthy from the moment you go grocery shopping until the moment you serve it on a plate. If you succeed, you have a greater chance of your child actually eating the food you served them and possibly even making their own healthy choices.
Here is a checklist of fun ways to get your child involved and interested in healthy eating:
Depending on your child’s age, there are many different ways that they can help you in the kitchen. Pre-school age children can collect ingredients from the fridge, such as milk and butter, and from the pantry, such as sugar and flour. Elementary school children can wash off produce, peel potatoes and mix ingredients together; while middle school and older can chop and dice food, and even cook them on the stove.
No matter their age, allowing them to help you prepare meals will give them a first-hand account of exactly how their meal is cooked. They will be more willing to eat a healthy meal that they helped to cook rather than one served to them. In addition, you will be teaching your child valuable cooking lessons that will encourage them to cook instead of buying unhealthy take-out meals.
Turn On Music
Music has a way of making everything more fun. Have you ever turned up some tunes while you were cleaning your house? While it may not get you pumped to scrub the toilet bowl, it does give you something else to look forward to while doing it. Let your child choose a radio station or a CD, and sing along while you cook dinner. You can even take a dance break now and then! Your child will begin to associate cooking meals with having fun, which can develop a love of cooking throughout their lives.
It’s no secret that kids love to play make-believe. A fun way to play a game centred on healthy meals is by playing restaurants. Parents play the role of restaurant guests and your child(ren) can play the role of waiter/waitress or chef. Have your child create their own menu for their restaurant. Tell them that each meal should have protein, starch and vegetables as an aside. This alone will give them a chance to use their imagination and come up with their own unique menu for their imaginary restaurant. When the menu is prepared, have your child come to take your order. You can even take it a step further by helping your child to prepare the meals that were “ordered”, and allow them to serve them at your table. Don’t forget to leave a tip for a job well done!
Be Creative With Meals
If your child is reluctant to eat fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods, you may have to be a little creative with food. You can cut up vegetables and arrange them in a way that looks fun to eat. For example, place a piece of celery on a plate with peanut butter and raisins on top, and call it “ants on a log”. You could also use cookie cutters to make shapes in your child’s whole wheat, turkey, lettuce and tomato sandwich. If you are particularly crafty, you may be able to carve cucumber slices into stars, carrot slices to spell out your child’s name and asparagus spears twisted into hearts. It certainly beats a plate with vegetables just lumped in a pile.
Use Different Colors
In the same vein as being creative with the shapes of food, you should also use a variety of appealing colours. A plate filled with bright, beautiful colours is much more appealing to a child than a plate of greens. A really cute idea to get your child to eat fruit is to make rainbow fruit kebabs. These kebabs have fruit arranged in the same order as the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Buy wood skewers and add chunks of strawberries, oranges, pineapple, kiwi, blueberries and purple grapes. Not only will these be fun to eat, but they will also offer your child a variety of vitamins and other nutrients based on the variety of colours.
Offer A Variety Of Foods
If your child refuses to touch spinach, then give up on it for now. Don’t continue to offer the same vegetables, or meals for that matter, whether your child likes it or not. A huge part of healthy eating is eating a variety of nutritious foods. Since each food has different nutrients to offer, it is important that you eat different foods to obtain them. No one wants to eat the same foods over and over, and neither do your children. New foods are viewed as exciting by kids and they are more likely to try a new food than the food they have tried before and not liked. If you really want your child to eat more vegetables, then offer up two or three different veggies for them to choose from at dinner time. Sometimes just giving them the option to choose is enough to get them to eat healthier.
Use Cute Names For Food
To get your kids to eat healthily, you have to think like a kid. Would you rather eat “mixed fruit” or a “rainbow delight”? How about “Popeye’s Omelet” instead of eggs and spinach, “Chicken of the Sea” instead of tuna fish, or “Go Bananas Smoothie” instead of a fruit and vegetable shake. Appealing to your child’s sense of hearing is just as important as appealing to their sense of sight. You want your child to think “wow, that sounds cool” when you present them with a healthy meal, not “ugh, that is so boring”. You may be serving your child the same exact meal but the name makes all the difference.
Let Your Kids Pick Out Their Own Meals
Most of the appeal of going out to eat at a restaurant is being able to choose your own meal. When we have control over what we eat, we are more inclined to eat it, right? I’m not saying you should be treated like a short-order cook but giving your kids options can make eating healthy more fun. You can choose to give them a list of meal choices and then allow them to be the deciding factor on what meals will be served, or you can give them guidelines and let them come up with their own meal suggestions. Either way, you will add some excitement to eating healthy and will give your kids the chance to make their own healthy decisions.
Since it is essential that we teach kids at a young age the importance of eating nutritious, well-balanced meals, we have to take every chance to make it more fun. By enlisting the help of your child in meal preparation, cooking the food and even making food served to look more appealing, you are doing more for your child than you may know. A little bit of fun in the kitchen can mean a great deal of healthy eating in the future, for your children.
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