Today we’re going to talk about a topic that seems to be popping up everywhere: how to get kids to eat healthy. And although I’m not a parent, I am passionate about the issue and recognize how important it is for children to maintain a healthy, balanced diet in order to promote a positive long-lasting relationship with food.
I could get into the details, and provide you with a million statistics, but really all I’d like to do is to increase your awareness and inspire you to get a little creative with the children in your life. I’d also like to direct you to Lunch Break for Kids, a national fundraiser that highlights ways for parents and kids to come together with chefs and schools to show how simple, good food can make children healthier, as well as build strong family connections.
Below I’ve provided some friendly ideas and suggestions, which are all of course my opinion. I am in no way in expert, I just love kids, so I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to share any tips, ideas, or questions you have in the comments.
1. Breakfast is important: feeding children healthy balanced breakfast is one of the best ways you can start their mornings.
Below are a few fun and healthy breakfast suggestions:
- Make a big batch of pancakes during the week using whole wheat flour or oatmeal to sneak in fiber and provide whole grains. You can also blend in fruit into the pancake such as a banana or even applesauce! Freeze the leftovers and simply reheat in the microwave. Try topping the pancakes with fresh fruit, jam, nut butters, or pure maple syrup. A couple of chocolate chips wont hurt either.
- Muffins are a great way to sneak in fruits and veggies in the morning. Try pumpkin muffins made with less sugar and whole wheat flour or oatmeal. Another tip? Substitute applesauce for some of the sugar and/or oil in the recipe! My Better-for you Banana Muffins are one of my favorites served warm and spread with creamy peanut butter. Kids love them!
- Breakfast quesadillas are another kid favorite. Eggs with a bit of cheese on a whole grain tortilla are delicious, or opt for something a bit more creative with my Peanut butter, Strawberry and Banana Quesadillas!
- In a hurry? I have a ton of healthy breakfast ideas for you to try. Try a whole wheat bagel or a slice of toast topped with peanut butter or another healthy nut butter. Another option is greek yogurt with a bit of low-sugar granola. Or blend a smoothie made with chocolate milk (dark chocolate almond milk is delicious too!), a banana, and yogurt.
2. Get in the kitchen with them: spending time with children in the kitchen is a great way to teach them about the nutrition in food and how it works in each meal.
- Introduce them to new foods and explain how it works in the dish. Children will become even more interested in the food that you have prepared when given the opportunity to participate in the creation of the meal.
- Offer them a chance to be creative by asking them what they think of the ingredients or if they would add anything to the dish if they could.
- Kids have a blast when they’re allowed to sample and smell ingredients, or participate. If you are baking, allow kids to try and crack eggs, roll out dough, mix in the blueberries in the pancake batter or even scoop cupcake batter into the muffins liners. Remember its okay if they make messes; they’re still learning!
- Name food funny names. Laugh with them. Ask them if food resembles anything. Make weird shapes with food. Above all, just have fun!
3. Plan out meals: Allow children to choose foods that they enjoy, save money, and avoid eating fast food.
- Try traditional comfort foods lightened up such as spaghetti and meatballs made with lean turkey and whole grain pasta, or even spaghetti squash. Make tacos leaner with chicken or turkey. If you prepare burgers, use whole grain buns and add a healthy side such as my sweet potato fries with fun dipping sauces or apples with peanut butter. If your child loves boxed mac and cheese, try adding chicken breast and sneaking in peas or broccoli, also try using less cheese, skim milk and whole grain pasta for the recipe.
- Write down, research and look for recipes that you can make ahead of time, or even freeze if that is convenient. Crockpot recipes are another great option. Stick to the meal plans and try your best to cook at least 3 days per week. Make extra batches and stick it in the freezer to save for another weeknight dinner.
- Have breakfast for dinner one day per week! Healthy pancakes, eggs and chicken or turkey sausage are easy and fun for kids.
- Incorporate more vegetables in meals. It’s very easy to sneak these in. Chopped broccoli in burgers or in tacos. Or even baked sweet potatoes with a little bit of cinnamon and brown sugar will make a great side.
4. Try out healthier substitutions: Children will want to eat the foods that are offered to them more, so introduce them to healthier alternatives.
- Instead of allowing your child to have ice cream for dessert, try a fun alternative such as my banana ‘ice cream’ that they can make at home. Let them choose fun toppings, such as a couple chocolate chips, crushed graham crackers, coconut, or nuts. Also feel free to swirl in nutella, peanut butter, strawberries, or cocoa into the banana ice cream itself.
- During dinner, avoid loading up on empty calories. For example, instead of always serving bread with your pasta, try a salad first with a healthy dressing and seasonal fruits or vegetables.
- Simple switches are easy. For example, if your child loves french fries, try making your own baked fries at home with olive oil and sea salt. Choose to spread avocado or hummus instead of mayo on their sandwiches. Try and cook with leaner meats.
- As mentioned above, it’s easy to reduce the amount of sugar and calories in baked goods by using healthy all-natural substitutions. Instead of regular milk use unsweetened almond milk and easily save calories. When I bake I use applesauce or greek yogurt instead of all of the oil or butter; it makes breads and muffins moist and protein packed! I suggest trying some of my makeover banana bread recipes such as my Healthy Coconut Banana Bread, or the Dark Chocolate Raspberry Oatmeal Banana Bread for a healthy snack made with minimal sugar and little to no butter! Kids will ask you to make them over and over again!
5. Choose healthy snacks: It’s important to be a food role model because children imitate your eating habits.
- Choose fruits and vegetables instead of chips and cookies to provide kids with energy and good nutrition. Dips are a wonderful way to encourage children to eat vegetables. Mix nonfat plain greek yogurt with a Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packet and supply lots of carrots, broccoli, celery, and whatever else you think your child may enjoy.
- Other options? Apples and peanut butter. Hummus and carrots. String cheese and whole grain crackers. A handful of almonds with a banana. A slice of toast with peanut butter. Smoothie made with yogurt. All natural applesauce.
- On the go? Pack plastic bags with nuts and dried fruit. Toss in a few dark chocolate chips or some air popped popcorn if you’d like. Keep a few of these in your car, that way you won’t have to stop for fast food. I also love healthy all-natural granola bars. Try purchasing the kinds that aren’t loaded with sugar and covered in chocolate… or make your own!
Last but not least, remember to allow treats!
Enjoying sweets is one of life’s simple pleasures. As long as children can recognize how to make smart food choices, and how to have a healthy balance of food in their life, then having a cookie, an ice cream sundae, or french fries from their favorite fast food joint isn’t a big deal.
I hope you’ve enjoyed some of my suggestions. Now go have some fun!
The Hidden Valley® Original Ranch®, dressings & dips has provided me with free product to help with my review, but anything I receive from Hidden Valley does not affect my thoughts on its company or their product.
Thank you for the great baking experience!
The Mack Family
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Great advice! I would just say that non-fat is not better for kids (greek yogurt). Kids especially need lots of fat! Whole milk (not skim milk), coconut oil, butter, etc. 🙂 love your website, I tell people about it all the time. Also, cutting up veggies real small and putting in eggs is one of the best ways I’ve been able to get greens (broccoli, kale, spinach) in my toddler 🙂
I also recently started using my food processor to sneak veggies into dishes like spaghetti, mac, burgers, etc. My son actually stopped eating the eggs with chopped greens so I have to make them teeeny with food processor.
Thank you for this blog. I’m in the process of trying to transition my young adopted daughter to healthier eating, but her range of tastes is very narrow right now with all the other things she has to process right now. These are helpful suggestions, and I’m about to scour your website for more ideas. She especially needs protein sources because she doesn’t like some of the usual kid-friendly sources right now. Looking at your high-protein baked goods, and especially the ones that combine fruits or vegetables as sweeteners. I’m hoping to move into smoothies, but that’s not on her likes list yet. Thank you for your work on this!
Hi, Marty. Thank you SO much, I’m happy to hear that the recipes are helpful! I have a roundup of high-protein snacks that might be helpful to look through. Please let me know if you have any questions about recipes or need other ideas! 🙂