Getting Kids to Eat Healthy

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Photo courtesy Storey Publishing (c)2010
Neophobia, or the unwillingness to eat unfamiliar foods, appears to reach a peak in early childhood and taper off in subsequent years. Try these smart eating tips to raise a healthy child.

Excerpted from The Cleaner Plate Club(c) by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin, used with permission from Storey Publishing. The following excerpt can be found on Pages 18, 60, 61, 87 and 88.

There will be many issues over which you must battle with children, like safety and schoolwork. But food? Food can be something that sustains a family and brings its members together. If the family meal has become a family feud, then perhaps it’s time to shift gears and try a new approach when getting kids to eat healthy.

• Kid-Friendly Vegetarian Recipe: Tarragon, Red Grape and Ricotta Salata Salad

Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables: Tips to Triumph over Vegephobia

LOOKS MATTER. Sometimes it is all about presentation. When vegetables are colorful, attractive, and fun, kids enjoy them more. For younger children, making “salad faces” on a plate, arranging carrot sticks like a burst of sunshine, or using a cookie cutter to make star-shaped red pepper bites can be a creative way to get past the “just one bite” barrier. As kids get older, adding special touches–garnishes, colorful plates, or other festive elements–can be the difference between a grimace and a grin.

JUST DIP IT. Like raccoons in the wild, kids have some kind of crazy attraction toward dunking their food before eating it. Use this behavior to your advantage by offering cut vegetables with healthful dips. Use anything from a natural ranch dressing to homemade Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette (page 95), Lima Bean Hummus (page 239), or White Bean-Pesto Dip (page 240).

TRY AGAIN. AND AGAIN. Repeated offerings are the key to preparing a child to try a new food. Prepare an item different ways; there’s a good chance that, with time, you will find one that works.

GO RAW AND COOKED. Textures play a significant role in kids’ food preferences. Try serving vegetables in both raw and cooked forms. Often, the nutrition content varies between raw and cooked vegetables, just like the texture. Get the most nutritional benefit from each vegetable by serving it both ways.

ADD A SPOONFUL OF HONEY (OR CHEESE). Research has proved that adding a touch of sweetness can help kids develop a taste for a new vegetable. We’ve seen a similar effect with adding cheese. Adding just a touch of these kid-pleasers may be all you need. Just be sure to keep the vegetable the main event rather than an afterthought.

POWER TO THE (YOUNG) PEOPLE. Like all of us, kids want to feel respected and in control. Let them choose the vegetables that they want to try and let them be involved in deciding how they’re prepared, or let them help cook. Studies show kids are far more likely to eat foods that they helped select, grow, and prepare.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Giving food a tantalizing name can make all the difference. Ali once convinced a table full of skeptical preschool and early elementary school girls age four to seven to dive into a bowl of kale by naming it “Power Fairy Food” (they loved it).

Meet Your Vegetables: Herbs

While not officially vegetables, herbs can be used in place of, or in addition to, salad greens, as in a Caprese salad pairing basil with mozzarella and tomatoes. Few ingredients so escalate a dish from ordinary to extraordinary like fresh herbs.

 Herbs are easy to grow in containers on a windowsill, making them perfect for a kitchen garden. They also can form the basis of a starter garden to get kids interested in growing food. In our personal experience, herbs fall into the “hard to kill” plant category — a good quality for young gardeners and those adults cursed with a “black thumb.”

Good for Your Family Because . . .

While not generally recognized as “health foods,” herbs are worth exploring for their interesting history in medicinal uses as well as for the flavor they add to everyday meals. Basil offers flavonoids and has antibacterial properties. Rosemary’s anti-inflammatory compounds were historically thought to improve circulation and memory. Sage is a proven mood-booster, and thyme has been shown to have some antimicrobial properties.

Selection and Storage

Herbs can be available all year round, depending on where and how they’re grown. Many can be dried for use in the winter months. The least expensive option for fresh herbs is to keep a small garden. If you’re purchasing herbs, select those that appear fresh, not wilted, and that have no dark spots or yellowing.

Most herbs store best when wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a bag in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. Use within a few days. Dried varieties should be kept in sealed glass containers away from light.

Try this kid-friendly vegetarian recipe: Tarragon, Red Grape, and Ricotta Salata Salad

Buy The Cleaner Plate Club.

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