If you have kids, you know they can oscillate between bottomless pits and eating like a bird in the snap of a finger. Especially during a growth spurt, they just can’t seem to get enough.
Other times, they are verging on picky eating, and nothing is quite right. Unfortunately, you probably also know that in both extremes, it can sometimes be difficult to help kids choose healthy foods.
Unfortunately, you probably also know that in both extremes, it can sometimes be difficult to help kids choose healthy foods.
A CDC review noted that most children fall shy of major healthy eating requirements, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while eating an excess of sodium and empty sugar and fat calories. (1)
In fact, in surveys conducted from 2003-2006, kids ranging from age two to eighteen consumed about 40% of their calories through nutrition-less foods, including grain desserts, pizza, and soda. (2) Clearly, we need to help our kids do better, but fighting another dinnertime battle is not the answer.
Healthy Foods Without the Fight
In 2002, researchers in Michigan surveyed college students to analyze their long-term responses to being coerced or forced as a child to eat foods they disliked. An overwhelming 72 percent of students who recalled being forced to eat certain foods retained distaste for that food as a young adult. (3) While you may win the battle to get them to finish their plate, it looks like you may be losing the war to raise healthy adults.
While you may win the battle to get them to finish their plate, it looks like you may be losing the war to raise healthy adults.
So, if we cannot simply let our children eat whatever they please in order to keep the peace, but we cannot force-feed broccoli and trade vitamins for stress, what is a parent to do?
The key is in presenting good-tasting foods many times in order to familiarize the child with the food. A survey published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association noted that caregivers were only presenting their “picky” eaters with a new food three to five times before giving up. In reality, children need to see and experience a new food much more frequently – closer to 15 times – before they will begin to warm up to it. (4)
Top 10 Healthy, Good-Tasting Foods Kids Love
By creating a pleasant mealtime environment that presents varied, healthy, good-tasting foods to our kids, we are giving them a fighting chance at life-long healthy habits. Here are ten foods to begin to incorporate in your own family meals.
- Nut butters. A quick spoonful of protein and high-quality fat is an essential item in the parenting tool belt, but think beyond the peanut! Almond butter is loaded with more than three times the daily value of vitamin E, as well as high doses of minerals and B vitamins, and cashew butter forms a complete protein. (5, 6)
- Hummus. When you’re a kid, anything can be dipped! Whip up some hummus – pureed garbanzo beans with some tangy lemon and tahini (sunflower seed butter) – to give them a good dose of fiber and protein. Adjust the flavor with add-ins like garlic or roasted peppers, depending on your child’s preference, or skip the tangy and tahini and swap the garbanzos for black beans for a southwestern version of this Mediterranean favorite.
- Kiwi. Summertime at its finest! Kiwi comes in its own fuzzy little bowl. We know it’s good for us – complete amino acid profile, lots of vitamin K, and a huge dose of vitamin C – but did you know it’s also easy to eat? (7) Cut the kiwi in half and give your child a spoon. They can scoop the sweet, brightly colored flesh right out of the skin.
- Sweet potato fries. French fries have been a childhood staple for years now. It’s never easy or even advisable to simply eliminate a food entirely cold-turkey, either. Sweet potato fries kill two birds with one stone, by introducing a new vegetable while filling a void if you’re trying to cut back on typical russet fries. Baking them makes it even better.
- Kale chips. If you’re more of a chips family than fries, there’s still hope! But making your own potato chips is frustrating if you don’t have a slicer. Instead, try some kale chips the next time your kid wants a salty snack. Easy to whip up under the broiler as a salty, crunchy, yummy chip – that just so happens to provide 684 percent RDA of vitamin K and 206 percent vitamin A. (8)
- Green smoothies. Another way to get down kale (or any other leafy green) is tucked into a smoothie. Make “ice cream for dinner” by serving green smoothies filled with fruit, perhaps a nut milk or nut butter, and a handful of leafy greens like kale or baby spinach.
- Smashed avocado. The key here is to smash it, as texture is often a problem for kids who aren’t sure about a new food. Smash it onto sandwiches, into quesadillas, or dip whole grain pita chips or sliced bell peppers into it. When they really start to enjoy it, smashed avocado is an excellent replacement for mayo on most sandwiches.
- Raw crackers. Soaked lentils and seeds, including pumpkin and flax, can puree and dehydrate into hearty crackers loaded with nutrients. Sprinkle with coarse seas salt and serve with a bean dip or smashed avocado to compound the health factor.
- Berries. Simple often is better, and you can’t get much better than berries for a healthy, good tasting food. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries – nature’s delicious powerhouse, berries are nearly unmatched in antioxidant levels and loaded with vitamins. (9) , and they are sweet, versatile, and fun to eat. Kids will enjoy them raw (especially if you get a chance to go berry picking!), in recipes, or dehydrated for a special candy-like treat.
- Jicama. An unassuming, often unfamiliar vegetable, jicama hails from South America as a root vegetable with almost apple-like flesh. Peel and slice raw jicama for kids to get a crunchy, mildly sweet source of vitamin C and fiber. (10)
Some foods take on the flavors around them exceptionally well, and jicama is one such vegetable. Blend these flavors for a sweet, juicy snack your kids will love (and it also happens to be hot pink).
- 1 pomegranate
- 1 jicama, sliced or diced and skin removed
- Roll pomegranate on the counter, applying firm pressure, to break the seeds loose and release the juice.
- Over a bowl, carefully pierce the pomegranate to release the juice into the bowl. Finish cutting, then remove the seeds and place into the bowl.
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Add the jicama, then refrigerate overnight. The jicama will take on the flavor and color of the pomegranate. Enjoy raw.