Parenting can be challenging at times, especially when it comes to raising picky eaters. But when you consider that the national child obesity rate is almost 18.5%, it becomes apparent just how important it is to make sure your children are eating a balanced diet. So if you're struggling with picky eaters, here are a few tips to help you cultivate a more balanced diet with them.
Create a Meal Schedule
Kids and adults typically need to eat every three to four hours. In a typical day, that means three meals, two snacks, and lots of liquids. When you create a schedule, you're preparing yourself and your kids for the day to come. You can even create an interactive calendar for your kids so they can check off what meals they've already eaten. And you as a parent will know exactly when you and your kids need a snack break. If you're running errands or going out for an afternoon, keep a small cooler stocked with snacks and drinks. If you want to limit processed sugars, stick with water. A mix of fruits, veggies, and packaged snacks is always good to have on hand in case you want to offer some options.
When you're introducing new foods to kids, especially fruits and vegetables, dressings and dips are going to be your best friends. You can spout all the fun facts you want about veggies, like how the tomatillo dates back to almost 800 B.C., but the fact of the matter is that kids are wary of things that don't look or taste familiar. Ranch dressing feels like the nectar of the gods when it helps your kids eat their veggies. And if you already know your kids like dressings and dips like ranch, hummus, or yogurt, it makes introducing new veggies a little bit easier. Not to mention that dips like hummus are packed with protein!
Hide Fruits and Veggies
This might not feel like the most honest way to introduce more whole fruits and vegetables into your child's diet, but it's definitely effective. Some days, it might seem easier to just hook your kids up to an IV so they can get their vitamins and minerals. Up to 90% of vitamins can be absorbed that way, anyway! But that's not realistic, and chewable vitamins aren't exactly the biggest health boons. So until your child learns to love veggies and fruit, it's okay to hide them in foods you know your child already loves. For example, if your family has a pasta and red sauce dinner, blend some cooked carrots into your tomato sauce. As long as they're soft enough and you use an immersion blender, nobody will be able to tell the difference. Here are a few more sneaky ideas to consider:
- Use shredded zucchini to make breakfast muffins.
- Make chocolate pudding with avocado as the main ingredient.
- Add a handful of greens to a fruit smoothie.
- Blend some minced mushrooms into your burger meat.
- Hide riced cauliflower in your baked mac n' cheese.
Get Your Kids in the Kitchen
Cooking is one of life's great joys. And when your kids realize they can do it too, they'll probably be more inclined to eat whatever they've created. If your kids aren't quite ready to be directly involved in cooking yet, a great first step to consider is taking them to the grocery store with you and letting them pick out a few produce items for lunches or your family dinner. As long as you can come up with a few ideas on how to use the items they pick out, nothing should be off-limits. The whole point is to get your kids involved -- crushing their hopes when they pick out an item you're not familiar with may only enforce the idea that it's not good to try new things. But when you let your kids get involved and plan meals with you, you're creating opportunities for them to get curious and excited about food. At the end of the day, that's exactly what you need to help your picky eater try new things.
Raising picky eaters can be tough! But when you set good examples and work to build healthy habits with your kids, you're setting them up to incorporate a balanced diet into their lives for years to come.