As a registered dietitian, I frequently get questions from parents on “how do I get my kids to eat their fruits and vegetables?” As a mom myself, I sometimes struggle with my own kids who would live on desserts if that was possible. But knowing that I am a registered dietitian, you can’t imagine that would happen in my house, could you? Desserts of course, are okay in moderation but we want our kids to grow up healthy and strong to do all the things they want to do. Here are some strategies to make healthy eating more fun that have worked for my family:
- Plan a garden. Gardening can get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, studies do show that. And the fun part about right now, is that you can plan what you will plant! Ask your kids what their favorite foods are and then help them determine what ingredients from those foods could be grown outside at your home. Whether in containers, raised beds, or a tilled bed of soil, there are many opportunities to grow something with your child – even on the windowsill. If their favorite food is pizza, then encourage them to grow tomatoes and basil. If their favorite food is tacos, then grow cilantro and lettuce. It doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact, I am all about keeping it simple. Start small, invite them to be a part, care for the plants together and celebrate the harvest by making that favorite meal they told you about.
- Invite your kids to be sous chefs. Each week in our house, my kids have the opportunity a couple of days a week to work on cutting up produce for the meal. Not only does it get them in the kitchen with me so we can talk about our day, it gives them the opportunity to interact with their food. They learn about it while touching it, seeing it, and smelling it while preparing it for the meal. Soft fruits and vegetables are perfect for plastic disposable knives and safe for kids too. As your kids get older, teach them how to hold a real knife safely with the claw and saw method.
- Let your kids take ownership of the meal. My kitchen is small and doesn’t hold too many people before we are bumping into each other, but that is no reason to shoo the kids out of the kitchen! Let your kids choose the fruit and vegetable for the meal by letting them know what you have available. Show them the options, throw in a comment about why that particular choice would be a nutritional one and let them choose. By allowing for more ownership of the family meal, your kids will more likely eat the food they have chosen.
- Make fruits and vegetables the first thing you see in the refrigerator when you open the door. What we see is what we want. Or the opposite way – out of sight is out of mind. Don’t hide the produce in the crisper drawer, make it the first thing you see when you open the refrigerator. And once you bring it home from the supermarket, cut it up so it’s ready to go for the week ahead. Hint – the kids can help with this too! Challenge them to creating a rainbow of produce in the refrigerator.
- Create a theme night once a week. This is fun in our house, each week either Friday night or Sunday night is designated as pizza night. But it’s homemade pizza night, a night we encourage each family member to get creative in the kitchen together by creating an individual pizza with reduced-fat cheese, vegetables (everyone in our house has to choose one) and sauce on whole grain pizza crust. It’s something our whole family looks forward to.
Join my family in the United States of MyPlates Challenge which will feature a weekly healthy recipe on my blog along with tips to create a MyPlate meal, healthy shopping strategies and ideas to get your kids in the kitchen. We will be eating our way across America in a healthy, balanced and fun way! And if you join the challenge, you may become a featured guest blogger. I would love to have you!
Jen Haugen, RD, LD
Registered Dietitian and Mom to Riley and Emma
Check out her blog at http://jenhaugenrd.wordpress.com
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