10 Fun Ways to Get Young Children to Eat Healthier

By: Angela Russ

Parents and caregivers have the sole responsibility to introduce healthy food choices to young children. Children learn from the meals you offer, the way you serve food, the way you shop, and the examples you set. They develop habits early that, once learned, can last a lifetime, so it's never too early to make a change. It's important to take every opportunity to promote a healthy active lifestyle. Try these ten creative ways to get young children to eat healthier.

1. Prepare Healthy Meals Together

Engaging children in the preparation of kid-friendly healthy dishes is so fun and so very messy, but children are more likely to eat something that they have helped to prepare. So, bring out those bowls, spoons and cups. While kids are helping, it is a good time to introduce portions, simple fractions and units of measure.

When you are finished preparing, show children how to set the table. Don't forget to dine together. Children who eat meals with their families tend to have better diets, not just because meals are planned, but because of the positive examples that are set at the table.

2. Get Creative

Make silly food faces out of fresh fruit and vegetable slices, and come up with amusing, silly names for the healthy foods you prepare. Celery and raisins become "ants on a log," peanut butter and pretzels can be "mud on a stick," and spaghetti with tomato sauce can turn into "wiggly worms."

The golden word is "distraction." The apple wedge is a boat, and their mouth is a river. Peas are a food made out of green. You can become a consummate actor or a verbal Picasso to get them to taste something new.

3. Pack Snacks Together

Children can also benefit from packing snacks for the day, or packing for a picnic. When planning a long-term getaway, encourage them to help with bagging individual portions of fruits, chilled veggies, cheese sticks, crackers, trail mix, water, 100% juice boxes, and other good choices. These are the images they will carry with them throughout their day.

4. Take Children Shopping

Young kids love to play grown-up. On a real excursion to the grocery store, allow the children to pick a new fruit or vegetable to try at home. Let them weigh their choice, bag it, and put it on the conveyor belt. Once home, let them help you present it to the family. Try to avoid flying through each aisle like a secret agent on a mission. Slow down and turn shopping into a learning experience.

5. Plan a Family Taste Test

Slice a variety of apples such as, Fuji, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, and McIntosh. Set out a variety of breads such as Sourdough, Rye, Potato, Whole Wheat, Pita, and Tortilla. After each taste test, compare the various textures and characteristics while you talk about your favorites. A great time to do this without spending a great deal of money is during dinner at a buffet.

6. Show Kids How to Grow Food

Many local growers are happy to share the farming experience with young children if you call ahead of time. Take a trip to your local farmer's market where you will often find fun activities for kids. Children are more likely to eat fruit or vegetables that they have grown and picked themselves. Use a planter, or assign a small piece of your yard to start your own private garden. You can begin with tomatoes and build from there.

7. Sing and Dance to Good Food Songs

Find songs with lyrics that promote healthy eating and an active lifestyle. If you can't find music in your local retail store, there are some great offerings available for young children online. Music CDs like "Smart & Tasty, "Bon Appetite," "Groovin' Foods," or "Smart Fruit & Veggie Songs," can be found with a simple internet search. Be prepared to pass the potato, count the bananas, scissor kick your celery sticks, interact with your children, have fun, and basically act like a fool. If you don't have access to music, make up silly, rhyming rhythmic chants about new foods.

8. Explore Healthy Foods Through Books

Find coloring books or read books that introduce fruits and vegetables as characters, or have interesting stories that revolve around healthy foods. Books such as "I Will Not Ever Eat a Tomato," "Counting Pumpkins," "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," "Food for Thought," and "Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z" make for some great fun and educational reading. A quick and easy resource for nutrition and health education books for children is www.neatsolutions.com.

9. Plan a Craft Activity

Let your child design something artistic such as a paper craft that can be proudly displayed on the refrigerator, pasta art on a plate, or a personalized placemat that can be laminated for repeated use. Some web pages offer free downloadable or printable activities that engage children. Search for your favorites or visit www.5aday.org, www.dole5aday.com, and www.nutritionexplorations.org for some interesting offerings.

10. Play Fun Games That Involve Healthy Eating

Children who have fun with healthy foods are more likely to want to taste them. Instead of "Duck, Duck, Goose," play "Grape, Grape, Juice." Play target practice by tossing play foods into grocery paper bags. Let your children select from their play food and serve you a nutritious meal.

Play verbal "I spy a color" games and board games that promote healthy eating and educate young children about good food choices. The Produce for Better Health Foundation at www.5aDay.org offers "The Fruit and Veggie Race" board game for all ages.

* Empower your young children to be agents of change in and away from home. They will not only eat better, they will inspire others to do the same.

About the Author:

Angela Russ is a mother, artist, educational trainer, and award-winning producer of music for young children. She presents music & movement to teachers nationwide, is a member of the Recording Academy, and is sole owner of the Russ InVision record label. For more information on Angela and her workshops and accomplishments visit www.abridgeclub.com

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