I hate that most children's menus list chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese, or buttered noodles. No wonder most kids are vegetable-opposed.
Veggies: Vegetables should be a main focus in the home. Don't like veggies, you say? Don't push, but make sure they are out and available, always, in particular, when they are hungry. We don't force our kids to eat things they don't like, but they have to try it. I don't care if they spit it out but they will sample the asparagus.
Dessert: Many of you might think this is blasphemy, but dessert doesn't have to be sugar-laden pastries to "count." I'm not sure if my 2-year-old snacks too much or doesn't like my cooking (that can't be, right?) but many nights he takes two bites of dinner and claims, "I'm done." On those nights, his only dessert options are fruits.
Snacks: Snacking is also out of hand. I don't remember my parents with an endless supply of Zip-lock baggies filled with everything from fruit to pretzels. And now we have squeeze pouches of food for easier snacking (be careful with these; many are full of sugar). Snacking behaviors can have a big impact on how kids act at the dinner table. Picky eater you say? Consider how much you are offering during snack time.
My children are not allergic to nuts or tree nuts, so I pack nuts/almonds as a snack (obviously be careful). I also like cutting apples, cucumbers, peeling grapes off the vine (slice them in half for younger children to avoid choking), turkey jerky (make sure they do not contain nitrates are not full of sodium), Larabars, Rxbars, freeze-dried fruit and veggies, and popcorn (for older children, as it can also be a choking hazard). I try and limit dried fruit because of the sugar content and candy is a special treat.
If your child is overweight, very picky, or if you simply need a family nutrition tune-up, I highly recommend working with a registered dietitian (RD).
For a few tips from a true professional, I asked pediatric dietician Lara Field some questions. Field spent many years focusing on children with gastrointestinal concerns such as Celiac Disease (intolerance to wheat, rye or barley), malnutrition, and IBD - Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. She now works with all pediatric nutrition concerns.
What are some easy tips for getting children to eat healthier?
I think home should be a health haven. We depend on the foods that surround us on a daily basis. Less is more! Rather than purchasing a family-size bag of every snack food, choose less, and they will choose more healthy foods!
What are some of the missteps you see parents making?
It is crucial to let our kids dictate if they are hungry or if they are full. Many times parents have an agenda in mind, and when their kids don't comply, parents put the pressure on. This does not teach a healthy relationship with food. We need to have a plan and stick to it. Whatever your kids eat, they eat. Avoid offering multiple options.
What are a few of your favorite snacks for little ones?
You mentioned a few of my favorites: Trail mix (dried fruit and nuts), nuts, or a fruit and nut bar. However, snacks should really be an extension of meals. Fresh fruit and vegetables are typically what I suggest for kids not consuming enough of these during meals, thus they make great snacks.
Many parents run from work, to little league, to the drive through. Any tips for eating better at the drive through?
Avoid any restaurants that serve french fries! Typically, these establishments serve foods high in fat and low in fiber with very little nutritional benefit. Consider other places that are free of the fried! Further, I think it is crucial that kids learn to eat food at a table, and pay attention to their hunger cues -- am I still hungry or should I stop now? Eating in a car is similar to eating in front of a TV. Distractions of the environment around us may cause overconsumption.
For me, healthy eating starts at the grocery store. Stock up of fruits and vegetables. Make sure these items are a large part of all meals. I also recommend getting your kids involved with meal prep. Whether it's mixing up batter, seasoning meals, or stirring a pot, they are more likely to be adventurous if they've part of the process.
Lastly, talk about smart eating choices with your children. Ask them why it's important to eat greens, protein, fat -- I would love to hear what your healthy snacks are. Share your comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.