It takes a lot of energy to get through a long day of school, after-school activities and sports, play dates, and homework. A diet heavy on soda and junk food just won’t cut it. Good eating habits start at home. I was never a difficult or picky eater as a child, and I believe I have my parents to thank for that. My memories of childhood mealtimes are somewhat hazy at this point. However, I do remember a few guidelines that my parents followed, and based on what I have read in current literature on the subject and experienced in my work as a private chef, their approach to tricking … er, encouraging, me to eat my vegetables was spot on.
Here are a few tips to coaxing your own kids to enjoy healthy foods and establish good habits that will endure for life.
Give them choices
Let kids be involved in making choices, starting with the shopping and carrying through to the dinner table. For toddlers, take them with you to the supermarket, or even better, to the farmers’ market, and encourage them to choose: “Would you like strawberries or pears today?” With older children, enlist their input in meal planning: “Chicken tonight, guys, or how about burgers?” Children are more inclined to eat something if they've had a hand in the selection process.
Let them help
Allow kids to help, and not just with the dishes! Kids love to participate in the actual cooking. I have clients whose young boys look forward with considerable excitement to making their own individual pizzas with me, and another client’s little girls are thrilled to learn how to roll tiny meatballs for their dinner (click for recipe below).
It pretty much guarantees they’ll eat their dinner if they get to create some of it themselves. (And years later when they get to college, they’ll be grateful to have even minimal culinary skills to feed themselves and their roommates!)
Offer healthy options and try to include a few things you know they’ll like, but then pull back and let them decide what and how much to eat. For the small-fry, you may need to present something 10 times or more before they’ll try it; studies show that sooner or later, they probably will
try new things if you let them get used to the notion. And avoid “clean plate syndrome”; it’s best if kids learn to stop eating when they’re satisfied. At the same time, serve up sensible portions so they become accustomed to not overeating.
Get ’em out of the house
Giving kids play time is important for so many reasons. One thing I clearly remember from my childhood was my mom’s insistence that we not plop ourselves down in front of a TV set (and nowadays, a computer screen) after school, but that we get outdoors and engage in whatever fun activity or sport sounded good to us that day. The benefits are obvious—physical exertion is good for the heart, the muscles, and all other body parts, not to mention the spirit—and the resulting healthy appetite will encourage your kids to happily consume what’s on their plates.
There are many other good ideas out there—avoid processed foods and sugar, promote veggies and fruits as snacks, and serve water instead of soda. These few guidelines are a good beginning on the road to healthy eating habits.
Neil Zevnik is a private chef based in Los Angeles.
Let kids munch on fun foods full of good-for-you ingredients like these:
JUST GREAT STUFF Powdered Organic Peanut Butter, in Original or Chocolate flavor, has 90% less fat than regular peanut butter. Great for making sandwiches or adding protein to shakes.
AMAZING GRASS Kidz Superfood Outrageous Chocolate flavor takes the "yuck" out of eating veggies, with three full servings in one chocolatey drink.
BRAD'S RAW FOODS Leafy Kale Nacho is a crunchy, cheesy snack you can feel good about. They're organic, gluten free, nut free, and 100% vegan.
SENSIBLE FOODS Apple Harvest Crunch Dried Fruit contains zero added sugars and is 100% organic, and its crispy crunch makes eating fruit fun.
CORAZONA'S Banana Walnut Oatmeal Squares are made with whole rolled oats, real bananas, and natural sweeteners—and they're easy to stash in backpacks and lunchboxes.
SIDETRACK SICK DAYS
The classroom is a breeding ground for germs and viruses. Make sure your kids are prepared for cold-weather bugs. These products work to bolster the immune system and fend off colds and flu.
COROMEGA KIDS High DHA Omega3 Squeeze delivers immune-boosting omega-3 fatty acids in tasty Orange- and Lemon Lime-flavored squeeze-packs. Available with added vitamin D3, too.
FLORA DR. DUNNER Sambu Guard for Kids combines three standout cold and flu fighters: elderberry, echinacea, and vitamin C, for powerful immune support.
NATURE'S PLUS Source of Life Animal Parade Kids Immune Booster animal-shaped chewables feature a fortifying combination of vitamins A, C, and E, zinc, green tea, olive leaf, and probiotcs.
GAIA KIDS Echinacea Supreme helps to strengthen immune function and response with an alcohol-free blend of whole-herb extracts. Just add drops to water or juice.
EMERGEN-C KIDZ Vitamin C (shown here in Fruit Punch flavor) is a fun and fizzy drink that delivers vitamin C, B vitamins, and immune-supportive antioxidants with every sip.