by Katie Martin, Instructor, Healthy Learning Paths
Recently, a friend asked for help to get her six-year-old daughter, “a very picky eater,” to eat healthy foods. Sound familiar? In fact, picky eaters and lack of eating are common issues among children that can drive parents to embark upon a junk food journey. Just what some kids are hoping for!
You may worry that your child will starve unless you give her exactly what she wants. Children do not starve themselves and will eventually eat what is on their plates. But consistency, patience and perseverance are necessary to help children abandon picky habits. Here are a few helpful tips on how to put picky eaters on the path to healthy eating:
- Provide healthy foods, especially fresh vegetables and fruits at every meal. Experiment with color and texture for a colorful plate. Offer choices of vegetables and fruits. This empowers the child to practice making healthy decisions. All kids need to practice choosing healthy. Most importantly, model healthy eating too!
- Constantly expose your children to new foods and how to prepare them. Get your kids meal planning at the grocery store and cooking with you in the kitchen. Look through cookbooks or explore online recipes together and have your child help chose the recipe. When children help prepare meals, they are more eager to eat what they helped create.
- Preparing food together is a terrific skill for children of all ages. From washing vegetables to measuring, and even setting the table, these skills need lots of practice and are useful over a lifetime. Practicing these skills also builds self confidence in children and responsibility.
- Lastly, when you sit down for your meal, eat as a family. Try lighting a candle on the table and see what impact it has on the conversation. Remember a child does not want to eat alone. Electronics at meal time, steal opportunities for discussion, sharing and even laughter. These are precious moments for the entire family!
Try not to make food a stressful part of your or your child’s day. Children feel anxiety when parents are stressed. Stress can create an unpleasant meal environment for everyone. Practice the suggestions above and never give up. Healthy eating is a lifelong learning process for children just like learning math or reading. Remember you are not alone and we are here to help. To learn about our Healthy Learning Kids nutrition lessons, visit healthylearningpaths.org.
Here are a few ways to add healthy foods to family favorites:
1. Add chopped spinach to meat sauce of any kind (it doesn’t change the flavor)
a. Taco/burrito meat
b. Spaghetti meat sauce
2. Add vegetables into chili or macaroni and cheese
a. Shredded carrots
b. Chopped up spinach
c. Shredded zucchini
e. Green beans
3. Add mashed cauliflower into mashed potatoes
It takes time, practice, and patience. But don’t forget to approach the process with a healthy dose of fun and humor along with way! Bon Appétit!