The idea of setting kids off on a lifetime of good habits that creates and fosters a healthy relationship with food can feel like a daunting task. Getting kids excited about more than just French fries and chicken nuggets can take work, but that doesn’t mean food can’t also be fun.
Pediatric feeding expert and author Melanie Potock says the No. 1 concern she hears from parents is that their kid never grew out of the “picky eater” phase, or what she likes to call “the chicken nugget rut.” To get kids to love any food, especially vegetables, Potock says, “I always say follow the three E’s: expose, explore, expand.”
One of her books Adventures in Veggieland is actually all about using creative ways to get preschool and elementary school-age kids interested in veggies.
Put a food friend in your kid’s lunchbox
For an easy and cute way to expose your kid to foods that they’re less likely to immediately gravitate to, Potock suggests putting a single raspberry in your child’s lunch each day.
“If you want your child to learn to eat a fruit, you’ve got to expose them to the fruit,” she says.
She suggests a Bento-like box with one latch where everything is immediately in view in individual compartments, but not in separate packages or containers. Potock says each day when they open their lunchbox to find the raspberry,
“They’re making friends with it. They’re getting to know it, and they just might try it.”
Roll dinner dice
Potock says another way to help get kids involved in the process is to give them a choice between different healthy options. This could mean letting them pack their own lunches by laying out two snacks, two drinks, et cetera.
Also, consider buying customizable dice or blank blocks and designate one for proteins, one for veggies, one for a starch and one for dessert.
Let your youngster help you mark and decorate them with different healthy options and make a game out of planning dinner.
Apply temporary beet tattoos
With the help of mini cookie cutters and a kid-safe knife, beets can be used to deliver temporary tattoos. That’s right! Beet juice will temporarily stain skin making for a fun afternoon in the kitchen.
Sit beets, stem up, in about an inch of boiling water until the bottoms are fork tender (4 to 6 minutes). When they’re cool, cut them in half, width-wise. On the half with the stem still attached, use a cookie cutter to make your shape and then use the kid-safe knife to remove the excess, leaving behind a stamp.
The tattoos will wash away during bath time.
Have fun with plating
Who says food has to be served on a plate or in a bowl? Consider making one night a week or month, “Crazy Plate Day.” Maybe spaghetti gets served in a toy dump truck or veggie crisps out of an old vase (that’s been scrubbed down, of course). Maybe your kid and you design your own whacky vessels.
Use this as an opportunity to introduce a new healthy food or a dish from a different culture to encourage your little one to expand his or her palate.
Start a garden
If you’ve got the space and time, consider starting a small garden. Let your tyke be a part of deciding what you’ll grow, and let them help you buy the seeds and materials.
They’ll get their little hands dirty, and, when it’s time, encourage them to be a part of the picking, cleaning and preparing process. They’re more likely to be interested in trying those tomatoes if they know they had a hand in getting them from soil to salad.
If your circumstances don’t allow for a garden, maybe spend a Saturday morning here and there exploring your local farmers market. Let them squeeze the peaches and meet the growers.