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Should You Sneak Healthy Foods in Your Child’s Meals?

I know I’m not exactly offering up any earth-shattering information when I say that kids can be extremely picky eaters.

Every parent knows this, and every parent knows that their efforts to balance proper nutrition with a child’s willingness to eat what’s in front of them can be a struggle that will leave you wanting to pull your hair out.

A quick Google search on, “How to sneak vegetables into your kids’ food” will nab over eight hundred thousand results. I’m not saying that a lot of them don’t have some great ideas and delicious sounding recipes. They do!

The problem I have with this tactic is that sneaking food to your kids robs them of the opportunity to decide what they like.

If you’re mixing a little pumpkin into their waffles or blending zucchini into their muffins, they may get the nutritional benefits, they won’t learn to love pumpkin and zucchini; they’ll develop a taste for waffles and muffins.

• Be honest

If you want your kids to develop healthy eating habits, teach them about what they’re eating! Creative recipes are great, and can encourage kids to eat healthier foods, but don’t try to smuggle the good stuff in. Let them know what they’re eating so they can learn to make positive associations with wholesome foods.

• Let them make the call

The old saying, “You eat with your eyes first,” is especially true with with kids. Visual stimulation can be a big motivator, so take them to the grocery store and ask them what they think looks good. If you’ve got the time, go online or look through a cookbook, pick out a recipe and prepare it together. Kids love to try things that they’ve had a hand in cooking.

• Explain the payoffs

I’m not just talking about the old, “Carrots are good for your eyes,” or, “Spinach makes you strong,” lines here. Give your kids a genuine explanation of what nutrients are in whatever you’re making and what their benefits are. You’d be surprised how much enthusiasm it can build, and how far it can go in teaching them long-term healthy eating habits.

• Don’t force it

Insisting that kids finish everything on their plate won’t just cause a power struggle. More than likely, it will make them resent mealtimes altogether. The rule in our house is that our kids can eat as little as they want, but they have to try everything that’s offered, and no after-dinner snacks are allowed.

• Plan your timing

Your biggest ally in the battle for proper nutrition is hunger. Kids will eat when the urge strikes them, so offer up fruits and vegetables as a snack before dinner, after school, or whenever they’re prone to raiding the cupboard, and keep the granola bars and crackers out of view.

• Lead by example

There’s no better way to encourage children to eat healthy than by doing so yourself. Kids will emulate your behavior, so whatever choices you make when it comes to your eating habits will inevitably rub off on them. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will encourage your kids to follow suit, and will leave you feeling (and looking) fabulous.

• Try everything once

Offering a wide variety of healthy foods to your kids can help to ensure they get everything they need from their meals, helps them discover new foods they like, and makes meals look more appetizing. Use different colors when selecting your vegetables and try your hand and some creative presentations. Colorful meals don’t just look better; they offer a wider assortment of nutrients as well.

• Pick your battles

It takes kids a while to get used to new flavors and textures, so don’t give up the first time your child tells you they don’t like something. Ask them what specifically they didn’t like about something when they push it aside, and try a different preparation the next time. Bear in mind, though, that kids have personal preferences too, and sometimes they just flat-out don’t like certain things. If your child still hates green beans after the sixth or seventh time he’s tried them, it might just be time to take them off the menu.

Teaching your kids healthy eating can be a royal pain in the neck, no doubt, but it’s a great skill to learn early in life. It’s also one of the few parenting practices that can benefit you as well as them.

It’s a great opportunity for the whole family to put aside some bad habits and adopt a healthier, nourishing lifestyle.

With all of that being said, I recommend you keep a reasonable-sized portion of chocolate or potato chips hidden somewhere in your closet. After all, you’ve got your sanity to consider.

If you are tired of battles around mealtime, check out The Food Sense Program! Designed with the help of a nutritionist, it is a guide to help your fussy eater trying new and healthy foods!

Learn more here.

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Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
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