You can make all the happy faces you want and tell your kids how yummy those healthy lima beans are that mom made, but chances are they will look at you with that no-nonsense, wise expression only the truly young possess, stare into your soul with all-too-honest eyes and send you a telepathic message: Either you’re crazy, or you have really, really bad taste, Dad. Ouch.
Let’s face it, we all were picky eaters as kids, and some of us probably still are. However, as adults, we’ve been forced to try new things, our taste buds have changed and, for the sake of living longer and healthier lives, we’ve become accustomed to some of the foods we didn’t use to like. (I’m talking to you, spinach.)
Talking ourselves into eating healthy is one thing, but convincing your kids that broccoli and peas aren’t secret poison is another. Luckily, there are ways to sneak in a healthy, veggie-packed, high-fiber diet without them even knowing their meals are designed for health. So everyone wins.
Whole-grain banana pancakes
Most kids reach for sugary cereals for breakfast, but that’s a sure way to start your child off in the wrong direction. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2012 about 33 percent of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. We form our habits when we’re young, and waking up to a bowl full of cereal that exceeds the daily recommended intake of sugar isn’t something you want for your kid.
Instead, replace their sweet tooth with some natural sugar—fruit. Bake the bananas right into the pancakes for a sweeter flavor and add fruit slices on top once they’re done. Studies show kids are more likely to go for fruit if it’s sliced instead of whole. So this is a great way to introduce them to it!
Turkey burger with sweet potato chips
Experts say putting foods on a “no” list may make kids want them even more. However, you can adapt common staples to give them a healthier twist. Instead of making burgers with red meat and adding a side of fattening fries, try turkey burgers with homemade sweet potato chips. Homemade chips are less processed—just slice the potatoes then drizzle them with olive oil and a dash of salt and bake them.
Helping your children develop a healthy relationship with food is part of the battle of being a parent. You can make it easier on yourself and your children if you stock up on healthy choices so kids don’t mindlessly snack on junk food. By teaching healthy habits from the start, you’ll help prevent the disaster of yo-yo dieting, poor body image and experimenting with liver-damaging diet pills like so many adolescents do.
Soup looks simple, but a purée can contain hundreds of vegetables without you (or your kids) ever knowing. Kids need a surprising amount of fiber for their small size. According to the American Heart Association, from the ages of 1 to 3, they need 19 grams of fiber, and that increases to 25 grams when they turn 4. Yikes! Getting your child to eat that much fiber knowingly might be impossible, this is why a sneaky soup recipe might be the perfect meal.
Whole-grain pasta party
Have your kids help you plan and make a pasta recipe. PBS Parents advises that children are more likely to be interested in their food, and happier to eat it, if they have some say in the matter. Even really young kids can participate in simple ways by giving them choices. Give kids a few vegetables to choose from and add one to the pasta sauce. Buy whole-grain noodles for added nutrition, but in several fun styles. Which one will your child prefer? The bowties, shells or fettuccine? If your children are old enough, have them help you prepare everything.
Making homemade tacos is a great way to encourage your kids to eat healthy while still leaving a lot of choice and independence in their hands. After all, they’ll get to create their own taco. Use chicken to make tacos a healthy choice.
Prepare the usual fixings, but don’t forget to whip up some guacamole. Research shows kids are hardwired to like fatty and salty flavors. Since avocado is loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats, with just a dash of salt, your kids might discover green foods taste good (and so do the tomatoes and onions mixed in). Not only that, but having kids make their own tacos gives them some independence—with no one forcing anything onto his plate, your child won’t feel like you’re forcing something on him.
Having a positive attitude and involving your children in their food choices is the best way to get them to love the healthy meals you make together.