We all know a child who only eats mac & cheese, PB & J sandwiches or chicken nuggets. Maybe that child sits at your dinner table every night.
It can seem like too much trouble to fight with kids about their limited palate and incorporate more healthy items into their diet. “I just give them this because I need them to eat something,” is frequently heard by parents of picky eaters.
More than 18% of people aged 2-19 years are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A healthy, balanced diet is important at every age, and getting your child to eat healthier can pay big dividends. A balanced diet not only helps maintain a healthy weight, but it can also fight off conditions such as diabetes, depression, anxiety and ADHD. And learning good nutrition habits as children establishes a healthier long-term relationship with food.
It may help to remember that no child is born with a predisposition to only eat hot dogs or dinosaur-shaped pieces of highly processed, breaded chicken. They learn that behavior through the gradual introduction of these foods into their diet.
Ways to Encourage Better Eating Habits
Here are some suggestions to make nutritious options seem more appealing to kids, whether they’re already picky or you want to avoid that behavior in the future:
- Mix healthy options into dishes they enjoy: Add vegetables to soups or casseroles they eat, or pair vegetables with a healthy dip option.
- Cook more at home: Preparing meals at home is usually healthier than a trip through the drive-through or ordering a pizza. Have your children help you prepare meals, and talk about the ingredients and how they add nutrition and flavor to the dish.
- “Eat as I do, not just as I say.”: Be a good eating role model for your kids. Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and protein alongside them as you ask them to do the same.
- Have healthy snacks on hand: It’s harder to snack on flavored tortilla chips if you don’t buy them – keep your snack inventory stocked with whole-grain pretzels, yogurt, fruits and vegetables.
- Make one meal for the family and stick with it: If a child knows they can get pizza or chicken nuggets every meal, guess what they’ll demand? Make one meal with two side options, letting the kids pick and choose what they want to eat.
- Treats are OK sometimes: There’s nothing wrong with an occasional ice cream sundae or tub of movie theater popcorn. Just make it the exception – not the expected norm. Moderation is key.
If you have concerns about your child’s health or need help getting your child to eat healthier, contact your pediatrician.