Feeding your children right might seem like one of life's greatest challenges, but it's a lot easier than you think. THE most important factor in making sure your children eat a good diet is that you eat the same and at every meal. You model the behavior your child will imitate. If you or your spouse turn up your nose at broccoli, you can bet those “little trees” won’t grace the lips of your child.
Another important rule to remember when it comes to food and kids is that it is the parent's job to prepare and offer nutritious foods. It is the child’s responsibility how much and even whether she eats. Forcing food doesn’t work. Instead, offer only nutritious foods. Let your child pick and choose which of those foods he/she wants to eat. That way you avoid the dinner-table power struggle. Of course, that starts with stocking the kitchen with only nutritious, real foods, including colorful vegetables and fruits, low-fat milk products, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. If all your child has to choose from is nutritious foods, he/she automatically will make good choices.
Use your child’s sweet tooth to your advantage. Skip the sugary processed desserts and instead, serve chin-dribbling watermelon. Watermelon is available year-round and is packed with nutrients your child needs, such as vitamins A and C, potassium, fiber, and lycopene. Because it is 92% water, it also is a fun way for your child to stay hydrated. You can blend watermelon into smoothies, slip a slice into a sandwich to add moisture without fatty mayonnaise, or place a bowl of watermelon chunks on the table for your child to snack on while doing homework. At dinner, children can make their own kabobs using chicken, vegetables, and watermelon pieces. You even might entice them to try salad if there is a bit of sweet watermelon added to the bowl!
Coaxing your children to eat more colorful vegetables requires a game plan. Serve vegetables in different ways. If your child won't eat steamed carrots, try serving baby carrots with a dip or shredded carrots in a taco. Keep portions small in the beginning, such as 2 baby carrots or a teaspoon of grated carrots. Also, add vegetables to your child's favorite foods, such as green peas to chicken noodles soup. Or, hide vegetables. Puree vegetables and add to stews, soups, or sauces. For example, add grated zucchini to muffins or spaghetti sauce.
A few extra nutrition tips include:
- Have an assortment of nutritious snacks, such as pea pods or watermelon and yogurt dip, on the table when the kids get home from school. Or, pack an extra snack of whole-grain crackers, cheese, watermelon, etc. in the lunchbox for those kids who are in after-school programs.
- Bring foods with you. Keep fruit and a bag of air-popped popcorn in your purse or glove compartment. Pop the popcorn in the daycare's microwave while you're gathering up your child's backpack and lunch box. It'll be ready for a quick snack by the time you are, and helps avoid pulling into the drive-thru on your way home.
- Make desserts nutritious and fun. For example, serve “whipped cream mountain" (a parfait glass layered with different colored fruits and topped with a dollop of low-fat whipped cream and a cherry)
Your child’s diet provides the building blocks for a growing body and brain. Healthy habits formed today will pay off a thousand-fold down the road with better health and a sharper mind!