Do you want your children eating healthy, even if it means tricking them a little? We all know that feeding children can be ruthless. Sometimes, it seems like the more effort you put into a meal, the quicker they are to push it aside. Microwave some chicken nuggets, though, and you’re queen (or king) of the kitchen. Once I learned how quick and easy it could be to incorporate healthy foods into my children’s routine, though, I wished I had started trying sooner. Here are four easy (and harmless) ideas you can try this week:
1. Make Popsicles with a secret ingredient
Making a fruit smoothie is easy. Do you just add a little Greek yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, ice, a splash of water, and…spinach? Yes. The fruit masks the flavor (and sometimes color, depending on what you’re using) of the spinach, so your children can’t even tell you included anything green. Pop that smoothie into small molds and freeze. My toddlers request these several times a week. And, unlike serving an ice cream cone, you don’t feel guilty about satisfying their sweet request.
To start, try blueberries + honey flavored Greek yogurt + spinach. If your children are receptive, you can slowly graduate to more complicated combinations. The process is flexible, so you’re usually able to buy what’s on sale and still end up with a winning frozen treat. As a bonus, you can even try tossing in some chia seeds or flax.
2. Shred carrots
Shred fresh, whole carrots using a cheese grater and they’ll work in a lot of dishes. Put them in sauces, tortillas, stir fry, baked beans, pasta salad, or anything your children will willingly eat. Because they’re shredded, the pieces are small and less likely to get pushed to the edge of the plate. While you’re at it, shred some extra and put them in the freezer. Next time you make a savory slow cooker meal, pour the bag of carrots along with the other ingredients. It won’t modify the taste much but will certainly add nutrition.
3. Mix it up
Variety is important in the kitchen. When children experience different types of food, they’re less likely to be turned off by an unfamiliar texture or taste. Of course, it’s normal to have quick go-to meals for hurried weeknights. However, make a point to give your child a new dish—or even a favorite cooked a new way—at least twice a week.
Do your children throw a fit when they see steamed Brussels sprouts on the plate? Try roasting the same vegetable in the oven instead. The texture completely changes, but you’re still getting a nutrient-dense side dish. Show your children that it’s ok to experiment with food until you find something you like.
4. Let them help
Letting children help prepare a meal gives them the opportunity to take ownership. They are far more likely to eat a dish they helped cook than one-handed off to them, even if the food they’re getting is exactly the same. Yes, you might have a bit more cleanup to do when tiny hands are involved. If your children eating healthy, though, it’s worth it.
I always chop fresh vegetables and put them into scrambled eggs, which is a staple in my home. I let my daughter pick the vegetables from the refrigerator and bring them to me. Of course, at two years old, she is too young to use a knife or be around the frying pan. However, she gets a lot of pride from simply opening the crisper and making a choice between peppers and zucchini. It gives her familiarity and confidence in the kitchen that I know will stick with her for years. She usually asks for seconds if it’s something she helped prepare.
Even if you’re just making a sandwich, let your children help and deal with the mess later.
If you can help it, don’t reward your kids with food. If they do something grand, try instead to reward them with an extra activity instead of an ice cream cone. In the early stages of life, you’re in charge of how they formulate their relationship with food. Food is fuel and, when possible, should not be tied to emotions.
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