By: Karen Sullen
While at the grocery store, the mother of a precocious toddler makes suggestions of healthy food items to be purchased as they meander through the aisles. To the mother's chagrin, the toddler meets each suggestion with a disapproving expression, as she repeatedly says, "I don't think I like that!" All too often, children make up their minds whether they "like" foods before they've even tasted them. Parents want their children to eat fruits and vegetables, while children want cake and chips. The food choices of parents and children rarely align, and, thus, the food war is on! Don't worry. It's a war that both can win, just by choosing "fun foods" that are also good-for-you foods. Here are some tips to help children make happy, healthy food choices:
Like father, like son: Parents have tremendous influence over children when they are young, as demonstrated by their imitation of parental behavior. If parents eat healthy, most likely children will also. Start early by presenting children the same healthy choices the family may be eating. Don't start giving sugary snacks, and you won't have to stop feeding that sweet tooth later. Even if finicky eaters frown when given a healthier option, encourage them to try it first. Play into their sense of adventure to help children explore other food options.
If parents don't make a big deal, children won't either: Sometimes parents assume that their children won't like salads or veggies, and they don't even serve it. Even worse is prefacing the meal by saying, "You probably won't like this, but…" essentially telling children that they shouldn't like it. So why should they? Instead, encourage them by saying, "These veggies are so good, and they'll help you grow nice and strong." Soon, eating vegetables will be no problem.
Festive foods are always fun: Have fun with food by making it colorful and festive. Avoid giving children a bland buffet, where everything is one color. Keep it interesting by incorporating as many colors as possible. Making it silly always helps, too! Try creating a leaning Tower of Pisa out of sliced bananas. Giving foods a silly name may keep it interesting, as well. Presenting foods in their favorite mealtime set may also encourage happy eating.
Kid cuisine deserves a kid chef: Somehow, foods taste better to kids when they help to prepare them. Get children involved in making their own kid cuisine. Let them wash and slice fruit for a yogurt parfait or make their own popcorn bags. There are lots of great recipes for children, just be sure recipes are age-appropriate. Your children will enjoy helping out, and you will enjoy helping them to a healthier lifestyle.
It's also helpful to keep snacks out of sight. Research suggests that children sometimes eat or want food just because they see it. A lot of times, they also snack out of boredom. If the snacks are not so readily available, it might encourage them to channel their energy in another direction, like reading a book or playing a game.