With concerns about childhood nutrition and obesity in the national spotlight, today’s parents are looking for ways to encourage their children to develop healthy eating habits. Children prefer sweet fare, and many kids are naturally reluctant to try new foods. Additionally, many children prefer fast and processed foods over healthier choices such as fresh vegetables. These common traits often frustrate parents trying to promote healthy eating habits. Fortunately, parents can begin to improve their kids’ diets by using a bit of creativity to make small but powerful changes. Here are some simple tips for cooking to promote good nutrition and healthy eating habits.
1. Hide the Vegetables
Increase the nutritional value of foods a child already loves by sneaking vegetables into the mix. For pasta-lovers, transform tomato sauce into a nutritional powerhouse by adding vegetables. Use a blender or food processor to puree vegetables such as broccoli, carrots or spinach then add to a favorite tomato sauce. For kids who love macaroni and cheese, mash some steamed cauliflower and mix it into the cheese sauce. Mix mashed cauliflower into mashed potatoes. Add shredded carrots and broccoli to meatloaf for a healthy boost that won’t change the flavor. Add grated or diced carrots, mushrooms or zucchini to a favorite chili filled with healthy beans.
2. Top With Cheese
Many kids love cheese, so put it to good use. Melt cheddar or mozzarella, two kid favorites, over broccoli or zucchini. Replace mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower mixed with milk and cheese.
3. Serve Pizza
Pizza is a kid favorite. Even kids who don’t like vegetables will often happily eat them if they’re served on pizza. Make homemade pizza, using sauce containing pureed vegetables. Top with cheese, peppers, diced mushrooms and grilled eggplant or zucchini.
4. Serve Smoothies
Kids love these fruity beverages. Milk, yogurt and fruit create a chilly treat that provides calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium. Great fruits to try include strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, mango, papaya and bananas. Try fruits one at a time, or experiment with different combinations. Serve in a special glass or cup, with a silly straw for added fun.
5. Make Substitutions
Prepare favorite foods in new, healthier ways. Bake instead of fry. Replace white bread with whole wheat. Make ground meat more nutritious by adding whole wheat bread crumbs and shredded carrots to the mix. Replace ground beef with ground turkey, and white rice with healthier brown rice.
6. Make a Gluten-Free Diet Fun
Kids on gluten-free diets want to continue to eat old favorites. They also want to eat what other kids are eating. Plan to serve gluten-free versions of kid favorites such as spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, pizza and cookies. Gluten-free foods and recipes have become more common, so preparing foods that look and taste “normal” is easier than ever.
7. Get Kids Involved
Invite kids to help with menu planning, shopping and cooking. Participating in meal planning and preparation helps kids learn to make healthy food choices. Kids are also more likely to eat foods they’ve helped prepare. When planning and shopping, talk about nutrition and choosing healthy foods. While cooking, give kids age-appropriate tasks that get them involved safely. Remember to praise the young chef and acknowledge healthy choices.
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