How to make healthy foods fun for kids

Chances are, your grandmother can’t understand today’s emphasis on making foods “fun.” She grew up in a time when food filled empty bellies. Kids simply ate or went to bed hungry.

Tips for parents

It’s all about presentation

  • Fill a six-cup muffin tin with one or two dips and a rainbow of
    vegetables cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • Put finger foods on toothpicks. For example, thread cheese and
    meat chunks, firm tofu, cut-up fruit or grapes onto colorful
    toothpicks the child can pick up.
  • Don’t be afraid to season vegetables with a little grated
    cheese or butter plus herbs and spices.
  • Let a picky eater pick the dinner vegetable. This way, the
    child feels more in control.

In today’s world-even though many families still are struggling to provide adequate calories on the table-there’s an increasing emphasis on making foods fun.

“Family meals and food serve many purposes as we raise our children. It’s a social event, it can be fun, and it serves to fuel growing children,” says Kathleen Mansour, MD, a pediatrician with Millennium Pediatrics in Naperville and a mother of three daughters. “Those who tout making food fun are trying to encourage children to eat healthy foods by making them engaging and enticing.”

Brian Wansink, professor of marketing in Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, has conducted studies showing that kids will eat more vegetables if they’re given cool names. For example, giving carrots and broccoli names such as “X-Ray Vision Carrots” or “Broccoli Bits” can increase consumption. He also found colorful foods, with the entrees placed in the front of the plate and with figurative designs, were preferred.

While it’s never too late to expand your child’s food horizon, children tend to crave starchy foods like bread, crackers, pasta and corn if they haven’t been exposed to enough fruits and vegetables.

Mansour says her girls get excited when she makes meals fun, such as putting their initials in pancake batter, making ants on a log, or cutting sandwiches with cookie cutters. “It’s not required to get them to eat, but it puts smiles on their faces when it does.”

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