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How do you make kids think healthy eating is fun?

Posted by Nirmala N.

For people who have children, how do you get them to eat their fruits, veggies, and other healthy stuff--maybe even favor them over other junkie alternatives? Here's a suggestion a close friend of mine has. She includes at least one heaping serving of fruits and veggies in her eight-year-old's meals each day. To keep her son from getting bored, she cuts up fruits in fun shapes (animals, trees, etc.), skewers them on sticks, and sometimes lets him use dipping "sauces" like peanut butter or yogurt. Yummy!
Answers (11)
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Goofy names. My parents' strategy, which worked, was to come up with goofy names for snacks. Like, celery with peanut butter and raisins was "ants on a log", so then we could giggle about eating ants and mud, while getting veggies, protein and fruit. Get creative with what you call things, and kids' eat anything!
Let kids get involved. The best way to raise a healthy eater is to let them get involved in the process. Let them help pick out fresh fruits and vegetables at the market. They can help with menu planning and food preparation. If they love a certain food don't cut it from their diet, help find healthier ways to prepare it and teach them what an appropriate serving of that food is. The more input they have the easier it will be to get them on the right track. They?ll feel like they are eating these foods because it's their choice not because they are being forced.
Mr. Egg. A meal I served my children consisted of creating a 'person' using a hard boiled egg as the head (I cut off a small slide so it wouldn't slide on the plate), a half a canned pear as the body; for legs and arms any combination of carrot sticks, sliced green pepper, sliced grilled chicken; for the eyes and nose, raisins, blueberries or cranberries; for the mouth a slice of apple and for the hair, sliced or shredded cheese. Any combination of healthy foods can be used to create your character. I recently viewed a study done with young children whereby when given a choice of a cupcake or cookie versus an apple, the cupcake or cookie was chosen. When the fruits or vegetables were 'packaged' differently, they chose the healthy choice. Example: When a sticker was placed on the peel of a banana, they chose the banana. Children also do well when given choices. On one banana place a Superman sticker, on another a Spongebob Squarepants sticker, then ask: "Would like a Superman banana or a Spongebob banana?" Watering down juice reduces sugars and increases water intake.
Kids Want What They Can't Have. One way to make a child interested in healthy food is to make it off limits. WHAT?! I know, I know. I don't mean entirely. What I mean is, create a demand for it by building it up. A week or two before introducing a new, healthy food, you eat it in front of your child often. Have your husband/wife comment that you should share that with your child. You say, "Oh, this is grown up food. Maybe in a few weeks, when she's a bit older." You get where I'm going with this. By the time you are ready to introduce the food, the child is so excited to be grown up enough to try it.
Renaming food. When my brother and I were younger, my parents gave different names to certain food-and in each case, we ended up loving it. For my brother, eggplant parmagiana (with tomato sauce and mozzarella) became "Pizza Plant." For me, swordfish, according to them, was "white steak." Til this day, pizza plant and white steaks are still some of our favorites!
Great ideas! Right now, my son eats his fruits and veggies, so I have no worries but in future, it'll do me good to have a stockpile of ideas! I like to mix fruit with yogurt, give him things to dip veggies in, and add whatever I can to things like wraps and quesidillas. I also still feed my 2-year-old baby fruit because he devours it and you can't beat that!
Oh my-- I think first stressing out less over what your child is eating is a great start. Also not getting fixated over the perfect meals for one day but look over several days to make sure they are getting a variety of foods. As a mom with a picky 10 year old boy and a pediatrician, I know food and healthy eating can become an obsession and a battle ground. Slow changes work best also not being rigid helps a lot. Also looking at your own plate and making sure you are being a good role model for your child goes a long way.
As a mother of two, I've also found that 'sneaking' fruits and veggies and other great stuff (i.e. like flax seed, oat bran, etc) into recipes is a sure bet. Puree vegetables and sneak them into your favorite meatloaf or making a 'fruit smoothie/shake' take the 'olympic gold' in our house.

One more thing... If you're looking for a fun resource full of ideas how to 'sneak' healthy foods into your kids' meals, check out the Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld:

Her new book, Deceptively Delicious, is packed with Jessica's own mouthwatering recipes, tips on making healthy snacks and improving store-bought foods, ...

I found that by not making a big deal when they don't eat it, they will try it later on. We also don't force them to eat the food all in one sitting. We keep their plates and when they come looking for food, explain to them that they need to finish eating their meal. It's worked well for both our 3 and 2 year olds.

They like a wide variety of veggies, so we keep plugging along.

I never did allow my kids to know what naughty foods were their first few years on the planet!!! They didn't have a craving for sugar or Mcdonalds chicken nuggets or coke because they never got it!  I found that if your food is pretty colors and in tiny chopped up bites prepared easily they would eat just about anything that was healthy!   They key is not to get them on bad habits because we are too tired or lazy to prepare healthy dinners!  Etc  etc.  It works!  Thanks
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