Is getting your picky eaters to choose healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans the parenting equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest? If you answered yes, you’re probably well aware that your child’s diet may be coming up short on some of the best disease-fighting nutrients.
Plant-based foods provide vitamins and minerals that help strengthen your child’s immune system and protect the body’s cells from damage that can lead to cancer later in life, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.
So if your little bitty picky one insists on macaroni and cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner or only knows the words “chicken fingers” when it’s time to eat, here’s how to break the one-meal-only habit and get him or her to choose from a variety of nutritious foods:
- Encourage kids to eat different foods. Eventually, they will try something new. Pack patience; some research suggests it may take up to 20 or even 30 tries, but it will happen.
- Sneak in nutrients. Puree fresh vegetables in the blender and mix them into a sauce, like tomato or cheese sauce. Chop fruits or vegetables and mix them in your next baked item, such as muffins, a casserole or meatloaf. Blend fruit with milk, yogurt and ice to make a refreshing smoothie. Serve with twisty straws to make it an even more tempting treat. Freeze fresh 100 percent fruit juice into ice pops for a healthy snack.
- Put your kids snack patrol. Let them get creative and whip up fun snacks, like personal pizzas made with whole-wheat English muffins, ants on a log (celery, carrot sticks or cucumber for the log; add peanut butter, and then top with raisins or dried cranberries) or homemade trail mix.
- Plan healthier home-cooked meals. Serve high-fiber cereal with low-fat milk, a hard-boiled egg and yogurt with fresh fruit for breakfast. For lunch, pack carrots or celery sticks (with a low-fat dip) and whole-wheat bread with tuna and low-fat mayo or mustard. Try tacos made with corn tortillas and stuffed with lean ground turkey, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes and salsa for dinner.
- Get started when your children are young. The earlier they taste nutritious, disease-fighting foods, the sooner they will get used to eating—and even liking—them.