We all know kids are picky eaters, right? Let's teach them a new way to be picky. Pick whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies along with healthy proteins. Impossible? Not if you give them choices and very tasty food.A good place to start is by talking to your kids. Anytime is good but natural launching pad activities are when you are grocery shopping or cooking dinner. Get their brains thinking about what food does for us - how it helps us grow, keeps us healthy, gives us energy for sports, helps our brains learn and keeps us feeling good. Those topics easily transition into why it's important to eat healthy foods and not stuff that gunks up our bodies.
Even very young children can understand the basics. That's why they are bombarded with commercial messaging -marketers know it works! Get your message in their ears whenever you have a chance. Of course, if you make it fun, that's all the better. Here are some ideas.Get RealSupport your kids in choosing foods that look like…well…real food. Show your kids what carrots, bananas, beans and lettuce look like before they're harvested. Visit a local farm if you can. Help them see that fresh apples don't turn into fluorescent blue applesauce and strawberries don't turn into bright pink fruit chews without the help of a chemistry set. Challenge them to eat foods that haven't changed very much from growing in the field to being served on their plate. You can award stickers for every "real" food eaten. When they've earned 25 stickers, you could reward them with a special prize.Eat a Rainbow
Encourage your kids to eat a rainbow of colors every day. (Natural ones, that is!) When shopping, ask them to help you pick out an assortment of colorful fruits and veggies. When you get home, keep them accessible! Pre-wash fruit and keep carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, celery sticks and sliced bell peppers on hand for a quick, healthy snack. Make a chart and a game out of seeing how many days get filled up with all the colors in the rainbow.Hand Over the ReinsYes, sometimes kids balk at veggies and think the color green is reserved for frogs, trees and crayons. Giving them a say in the matter seems to help. Would you like to have broccoli or peas with dinner? Do you want your salad with lunch or dinner? Do you prefer cooked carrots or raw carrots? Note that the option is which veggie, not an option for no veggies. Offering favorite dressings and sauces to perk up a new food often helps too. Once a week, hand control over to the kids and let them create a menu for a family dinner. Ground rules: it must include a range of whole foods and kids get to help cook it (even if it does make a mess of the kitchen!).On Duty
Enlist your kids' help in making sure the whole family is on the right track. For example, show your kids wheat growing in a field and explain how whole wheat berries are ground into flour to make yummy stuff like crackers and pasta. But with refined grains, the bran and germ are stripped away. Hey! Those are the most important parts for helping our bodies be healthy and strong. What a rip off! (Indignation seems to work especially well with grade schoolers who are forever looking to make sure they are being treated fairly on the playground!) Give your kids "duty patrol" where they can check up on menu plans, shopping lists and, if they are really into this whole patrol thing, ingredient panels on packaged foods.
Truth? In our culture, all of this is hard. Many of the other kids at school are going to have food in their lunches that look and taste different. And with the way our food system is set up, the odds are stacked against parents. We have to keep working on educating our kids over and over and over again. We have to be willing to be the "mean parent" who doesn't serve what everyone else's parent does. But helping our kids navigate the minefields of our food supply is just as important as any of our other parental duties…and just as challenging and rewarding. We win some food battles and we lose some - I know I do. What battles are you winning and how?