I live with with my sister’s three kids (ages 10, 8, and 5) and I have never seen such picky eaters in my life. I love them to death, of course, but their eating habits are horrendous.
Their parents both work and are always busy, so they’ve grown up on what I’ve deemed their “essential five food groups”: frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets, fries, hot dogs, and chips.
Occasionally I’ll see a rare smattering of vegetables or pasta, but it’s nothing to make up for the majority of their meals.
After looking around me and seeing friend’s kids doing the same, I grew incredibly worried. What are the health risks of raising children with this kind of processed, sodium-laden diet? As a Theatre Education teacher, my initial response was to think: there has to be a way to make eating healthy easy and fun, for parents and kids. So, after brainstorming a bit and trying a few ideas with my niece and nephews, here are some tips I found for those parents looking to bring healthy habits into their lifestyle:
#1 Disguise your food as something else
Parents, it is time you cast guilt aside and embrace the art of deception! If your kids are huge fans of spaghetti, why not try spaghetti squash as a nutrient-rich alternative to pasta? Try making some mashed potatoes with some mashed cauliflower mixed in, or substitute half of the meat in your meatballs with well-seasoned tofu. Clever substitutions can be a great way to trick your kids into eating healthily (and can be very satisfying to the chef that gets it past them!)
#2 Cook with them
It was amazing to see the turn around in my littlest nephew when I showed him how to cook. The other two weren’t so keen on it, but he was spellbound watching how this weird green thing, some corn, an onion, and some cheese turned into this bubbly, delicious zucchini corn casserole. Sometimes, the process makes the end product much less scary, and they’ll be much more likely to try something they had a hand in making.
#3 Make shopping into a game
My oldest nephew is a huge fan of computer games, so I was curious if there was a way to make shopping seem accessible to him using the computer. I found a service called Peapod, which allows you to shop online and get your groceries delivered to your door. When I handed him a shopping list and asked if he’d “help me go shopping on the computer”, he was dumbfounded that he was able to help. He found all of the great organic ingredients we needed for dinner and added them to our virtual cart. He loved feeling like he was helping shop for the family, and he ate his whole plate at dinner! Plus, the time spent on a trip to the store helped us prep the food we had ahead of time, so dinner took up even less time.
Though it can be a bit trial-and-error and the transition may take a while, it is so important to show your kids the value of healthy eating. You are setting examples that they will remember for the rest of their lives, so do your best to set them up for success. Besides, you can have a real blast while you’re doing it!