Whether you have a picky toddler or a hard-to-please teenager, mealtime and snacking can often be a challenge for even the most seasoned parents. You want your children to eat healthy, nutritious foods, but the sugary sweets and fast food are easy and sure to please. So, what’s a parent to do? Lake & Sumter Style, along with a little help from a handful of professionals at Sumter County’s Extension Service, has compiled some suggestions to get your little (or not-so-little) one to eat a more well-balanced, healthful diet.
1 Keep fresh foods on hand.
Buy a few plastic containers and keep fresh fruits and veggies in the house. Have the produce washed and cut into bite-size pieces for easy snacking. Have some dipping sauces, such as ranch dressing, on hand to add a bit more flavor.
2 Choose the good carbs.
If carbs a must-have for your child, opt for the healthy grains. Stock the pantry with whole-grain breads, crackers, breadsticks, cereals, and English muffins. Avoid refined grains—Goldfish crackers, white bread, and pretzels—as they have less fiber, vitamins, and minerals than whole grains. These days, they even make whole grain mac ‘n cheese.
3 Allow your child to have a choice.
Take your child to the grocery store and have them pick out which fruits and veggies will go in their lunches. Children who have an active role in food selection are more likely to eat the products they choose.
4 Avoid sugary drinks.
Instead of soda and Kool-Aid, have a selection of healthy drinks on hand. Try low-fat or fat-free milks (if you child is under 2, stick with whole milk for the added fat content), water, calorie-free “seltzer” drinks, or 100 percent fruit juice.
5 Try some peanut butter.
According to “Tips for Nutritious School Lunches,” a handout from the Extension Service, peanut butter is a quick, easy, healthful snack or sandwich choice when used in moderation. Add some to a slice of whole grain bread, try it on a banana, or add it to crackers for a tasty and filling snack.
6 Pack a nutritional punch.
According to the Sumter County Extension Service, when making sandwich spreads, including tuna, chicken, or egg salad, add in pureed (a food processor does wonders here) carrots, celery, or another veggie of your choice. Chances are your child won’t even notice. Purees can also be added to pasta sauces, casseroles, and meatloaf!
7 Go for homemade.
Want a healthy breakfast (or snack) alternative to the sugary cereals? Try making fruit smoothies or homemade fruit juice popsicles. When creating your smoothie, add reduced fat yogurt or fat-free frozen yogurt for a thicker consistency.
8 Pop some corn.
Popcorn is a healthy alternative to greasy potato chips and is a filling snack.
9 Make healthy eating easy.
Have single servings of fruit (either purchased this way or arranged by you) available. Use applesauce, peach and pear chunks, dried fruits, raisins, and mixed fruit.
10 Add variety.
Try a variety of meats on sandwiches, including turkey, chicken, and ham. Also experiment with different cheeses and breads. Instead of plain wheat bread, try a wheat wrap—your child may like the new experience. Parents can also try different shapes and textures of food. Use cookie cutters to make a heart-shaped sandwich, and use a crinkle cutter to chop veggie slices.
11 Don’t make meals a battle.
If they don’t eat the last green bean or two, it’s okay, according to Kidshealth.org. Making meal times a nightmare—for parents and kids—will only leave kids dreading it more.
12 Don’t banish the sweets.
Instead of taking away the sweets all together, limit them to special occasions or once a week. If you take away brownies or cookies for good, your child want them even more.
13 Practice what you preach.
Kids learn by example. If you want them to eat healthier foods, then make sure you do the same. It’s not fair if they have to eat veggies while you’re munching away on potato chips.
This is especially important for quality family time. According to Kidshealth.org, having a set meal time discourages day-long snacking or grazing and your children are more likely to be hungry and eat a well-balanced meal.
Sources: Parents.com, kidshealth.org, mypyramid.gov, and the University of Florida IFAS Extension Service