We know that good nutrition habits help children to stay healthy, develop properly and become healthy adults. How can we help create healthy eating habits or get picky eaters to try new foods?
1. MAKE MEALS FUN
There's a variety of visual tools you can use to make nutritious meals pleasant and even exciting for children. Get creative about how food is actually presented. Try using bright colors, unique shapes, and special plates and be sure to discuss the benefits of good eating right from the start.
Strawberry Rice Cake Stacks
Begin with a mini-rice cake and add a dollop of flavored yogurt (dairy or soy). Top with bite size strawberry or blueberry for color or make a funny raisin face. This quick and easy bite-size snack has a nutritious dose of dairy and fresh fruit -- and kids really enjoy it.
Kids love finger foods and anything that's made miniature. Use tiny buns and fill with a scaled down hamburger, veggie-burger or lunchmeat. Mini-veggies on the side such as cherry or grape tomatoes or cocktail pickles would compliment the entrée! Bite size chunks of cheese will surely please even finicky eaters.
A colorful bowl, placemat or fancy fork or spoon can make a child feel special at meal time. A personalized plate or dish set with the child’s name or favorite color or cartoon character can enhance the eating experience and encourage a few extra bites. (http://www.alphabetplates.com/home.php)
Use cookie cutters to transform ordinary sandwich bread into special shapes for snacks or lunches. Make the sandwiches the usual way by using two pieces of bread and filling (almond butter and jam, cheese or grilled cheese, or lunchmeats), then cut them with a fun shape cookie cutter to make a child-friendly sandwich.
Use cookie cutters in the shape of an airplane, animal, hat or another shape, depending upon the cookie cutters you have available. If you don’t have cookie cutters, use a regular drinking glass to make a circle shape.
2. HAVE CHILDREN ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE IN MEAL PREPARATION
Meal planning and preparation activities provide an opportunity to engage children to use all of their senses as they learn in meaningful ways. Children can help select foods when grocery shopping. Young kids can retrieve things from the pantry, garden or refrigerator, help measure ingredients, and stir or mix various foods. Older children can help read recipes.
Grocery shopping and meal preparation engages children and helps them to develop physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and language skills. Studies show that when children are involved in meal planning and preparation they are less likely to be picky eaters and much more likely to try new foods!
(Image from Lunch Punch)
Contributed by Leslie K. Kay-Getzinger, MS, RD, Regional Dietitian for Nutrition Management Services