As parents, one of the biggest concerns is how to choose healthy foods for our kids and how to actually get them to eat them. It is so easy to fall into the mac-and-cheese meals, especially when you have picky eaters. But then we get trapped in worrying that our kids aren’t getting the proper nutrients.
They’re Never Too Young to Get Involved
Start getting your kids involved with food at a young age. One parent was trying to get her kids to eat smoothies for breakfast, but they weren’t very interested. With any children over age 2, they are old enough to help and that can get them interested.
Helping can be really simple. Pull a chair over to the counter and let your child stand beside you. The two year old can drop blueberries into the blender (and will feel really important if you let them do that!) The four year old can peel the banana and put it into the blender. And the six year old can even cut a pear into chunks before adding it in. Even the two year old can push the button to get the blender going.
Smoothies are simple because so many of the ingredients can just be added whole and there’s very little measuring involved. But children can also help with more complex meals. Give them the simple tasks that don’t involve sharp objects and when they are a little older, show them how to be careful with knives and the stove.
Getting your kids involved can help make them more willing to eat the food, because they helped prepare it. It also helps them learn to cook, which is an important skill as they grow up and want to eat healthy.
If you meal plan, or write a simple shopping list before you go to the grocery store, get your children involved in that as well. Let them choose the healthy food that they would like to have in the house and the healthy meal that they would like to have one or more nights a week. When you ask what meal they would like, if the only response is pizza or chicken nuggets, try just giving them two or three meal options to choose from.
As your children get older, you can let them pick the meal, read the recipe, and write the shopping list. They can explore in cookbooks or on recipe websites for a meal they would like to eat. Then they can write down the needed ingredients and check the pantry for what you already have. Reading and understanding recipes is an important step in learning to cook.
Children feel really excited and proud of the meal when it is one that they have chosen.
Get your children involved in the grocery shopping. Yes, this can certainly make a trip to the grocery store take longer, but it can make them more willing to eat the healthy food, because they were involved.
As you shop, talk to them about the food you are buying. Let them pick the apples and put them in the bag, or which bunch of bananas you buy. If they see something unusual and ask about it, take it home and try it.
Besides taking them to the grocery store, also try taking your kids to the farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets are wonderful places full of vibrant energy. The kids can walk down the aisles of tables and the beautiful produce is right at their eye level. They can see and smell (and often taste!) how good that fruit or vegetable is as they walk through the market.
Many farmers will have samples that you can let your children taste. And as Katherine Kelly, co-founder of CultivateKC, explains, meeting farmers can teaching children about locally grown food and create a connection between the farmer and the food and the eater. If they are excited about a food that they see, let them try it or buy one to take home.
Try New Foods
It is great to try a small sample at the farmer’s market, but also look for foods that you haven’t tried before and buy some to take home. One week, you might take home a new squash. Another week it might be beets. Make it a game with your children and let them pick it out.
When you are having that new food, spend a little time during dinner learning about the food. Where did it originate from? What cultures use it in a lot of their cuisine? What important vitamins or minerals does it have? And find a good recipe for it.
Cooking the Meal
Getting your kids involved in cooking the meal can make them feel very proud of their accomplishments and very eager to eat and share the food. Start by letting your children do the simple, small steps to prepare the meal like adding ingredients to the bowl or pot, counting how many are needed, or stirring. As they get older, teach them how to chop things carefully and how to get comfortable with cooking.
Once they are mature enough, they become the chef and you become their sous chef. You can help with any part, but let them be completely in charge. Praise their meal and how well it turned out. They’ll be excited about cooking and making good, healthy food for the family.
One way to make this a little easier is to use a meal delivery service. In Kansas City, Happy Food is a company that is really great. They send you a box with the pre-portioned, pre-chopped ingredients, and all you have to do is cook it. This can be great when you are cooking with kids because it lets you skip the knife steps of a recipe. It is also great for older people who might be dealing with arthritis. Happy Food is doing a great job of providing fresh, healthy meals with a lot of options for different diets.
There are so many ways to get your kids involved with food which can make them take ownership and feel proud of what they have made and the way you eat. Letting them have some choice can make them more willing to try different foods.
Try to incorporate these as small changes. On Saturday mornings, when you aren’t in a rush, let them help with the breakfast smoothie. As you are planning your Saturday grocery trip, ask the kids for their input. On Sunday afternoons, let your children help you cook. This will make a big shift in how your family eats.