"I want my kids to eat good food, too," patients sometimes tell me. "Do you have any tips for helping me trick them into eating healthy foods?"
I can understand how change can become nerve-wracking for parents and kids. Just like you might feel nervous starting a new way of eating, your kids might feel nervous about missing their daily favorites.
The key here is creating new favorites together. Build healthy habits for your kids at an early age to create a path toward optimal, vibrant health. That might be tough with picky eaters, but think about the alternative. You don't want your child to suffer lifelong obesity and poor health.
After all, four out of 10 kids are now overweight, and tragically, one in three children born today will have diabetes in their lifetime. One in four teenagers has pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Our kids today spend far more time eating processed foods in front of iPads than preparing wholesome meals and eating, as well as engaging, with their families. We've raised a generation of kids who no longer want to learn to cook. To save our planet and save our children, we must stop this cycle. We have to help our kids to fall in love with cooking.
While changing your family's way of eating might seem easier said than done, these five strategies can introduce your kids to good-for-them foods that also taste good:
1. Take things slowly.
Ideally, healthy eating should start when your child is young—but don't let that stop you with older kids. Take it one food at a time so you don’t overwhelm them and you can track what foods work and don't work.
Wait three to five days before introducing a new food so you can observe reactions or sensitivities. Stop a food immediately if your child responds poorly or shows signs of food allergies. Please don't feed babies caffeine, chocolate, stimulants, or honey; common allergens like wheat, dairy, corn, and eggs; and whole chunks of food like grapes, meat, or nuts. Kids digest vegetables and fruits easier than grains, though you can try hypoallergenic grains like quinoa and brown rice.
2. Involve your kids.
Children need to feel included. Just like adults, they crave meaning and purpose. Helping prepare meals helps build their self-esteem and identity. Culinary skills also build on different areas of learning and cognition that enhance your child's brain. Your kids can learn math skills, reading, creativity, planning, science, culture, and history while they learn to cook.
Starting at around three, kids can help you in the kitchen. Your kids can take ingredients out of the pantry or refrigerator and pick herbs from the garden. They can also help assemble dishes, especially simple and colorful ones such as salads. They can crack eggs, measure ingredients, and, when they get older, peel or grate veggies.
3. Make cooking fun.
Mixing some fun into cooking enhances their experience. My kids love listening to music while cooking together. A few well-planned strategies make cooking attractive and "cool."
4. Let your kids choose.
Kids like options. Brainstorm what to include on the weekly menu. Provide ideas and have them weigh in. Let them pick among different recipes. Children look forward to these meals, and you get to teach them how to design a healthy plate.
5. Have your kids create the shopping list.
Teach them how to choose the highest quality fruits or vegetables by showing them what to look for in texture, color, and aroma. You can also teach them how to shop the perimeter first and remind them why middle aisles aren't as healthy.