As the mom of a 10-month-old and nearly 3-year-old, I know it's not always easy to get your kids to eat the things we know are good for them. (Most toddlers aren't exactly lining up for another helping of kale!) But that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying.
Studies have shown that the more kids are exposed to healthy foods—even if they won't try them the first few times—the more likely they are to eat them eventually. Of course, seeing their parents eat colorful, varied, and wholesome meals makes all the difference. With that in mind, here are my five top tips to getting your family's picky eaters to expand their palates.
1. Try healthier versions of their favorite options.
If your kids love pasta (who doesn’t?), try pasta made out of lentils, beans, or veggies. For example, this black bean pasta is made from just organic beans and water, and comes loaded with protein and iron. Sure, it still has that bean flavor, but being shaped like pasta just might be enough to convince your little ones to give it a shot. If your kids always like white bread, try switching to a multigrain option. If they like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, try mixing peanut and almond butter, and crush fresh raspberries for a "jelly" substitute.
2. Sneak greens and veggies into smoothies and popsicles.
The sweetness of the fruit will soften the taste of the bitter veggies, and mixed together, these smoothies are the perfect nutritional powerhouse! I add baby kale (a little less bitter than regular kale) to any smoothie or popsicle I make. You can also add carrots, broccoli, spinach—as long as your mixing fruit in too, they’ll be sure to love it. If the kids aren't fond of the green hue, just make sure to mix enough enough colorful fruit like blueberries or blackberries to mask it.
3. Get creative with your presentation.
Make flowers out of zucchini and carrots on the plate, or use broccoli to make trees. Now you might be thinking, “who has time for this?” and you’re right. I’m not talking about overly fancy, time-consuming creations! There are really simple, easy things you can do to make food a little more fun to eat for your kids. Pinterest is a great place to start looking for inspiration.
4. Often it’s texture that kids are into—or adamantly not into.
I hear you loud and clear. There’s a trick for that too. If your child likes purees, make veggie purees. If he or she likes mashed potatoes, try mashed cauliflower. If he or she likes a crunch, bake sweet potato or carrot fries. You can also make baked veggie chips out of kale or beets. Just cut in thin slices of your vegetable of choice, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and bake for 20 to 30 mins at 300 degrees or until they’re crispy. Experiment with different recipes—like these Brussels sprout chips or kale chips—to find one your kids will love.
5. And finally, my last and most important tip: relax.
The fact that you’re even reading this article shows that you’re aware and you’re trying. What matters most to their diet is overall daily and weekly nutrition. So as long as you’re exposing them to a variety of foods and not always giving them processed, pre-packaged options, your kids will be fine! Most of all, don’t make mealtime into a battle ground. We want to avoid a major power struggle over what they eat, which can cause larger problems later in life. So have fun with it, get creative and remember—like with all things—this too shall pass and your little ones will be eating all their veggies in no time.
Photo credit: Melissa via Flickr