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Wednesday
Sep112013

12 Tactics That Help Kids Eat Better

Surprisingly, one of the most common questions I get from clients isn’t about my clients themselves. It’s about their kids. Having committed to the Healthy Way of Eating, many want to know, “How do I get my kids on board?” Not only do we want our kids to have the same (or better) health advantages than we did, the idea of streamlining food preparation can make our weight loss commitments that much easier! Whether you’re just beginning your transition to healthy eating as a family or have been struggling for years, check out these 12 tried and true tactics that can get your kids saying yes to a healthier diet. 

Overall Philosophy

When it comes to kids’ nutrition, my core advice to parents is this: you have the opportunity to be a great role model and the chance to establish the division of responsibility. At meal time, parents’ responsibility should be the “what” and the “when,” while the child’s responsibility is the “how much.” Know your parenting style with regard to eating, and know that each kid is different. Both elements will influence how long your child’s transition to healthier eating will be as well as how long your patience will be tested! 

For Breakfast:

  • Don’t rush them. I know, I know: this is a hard one for most parents. The majority of us are running around in the morning just trying to leave on time. But assess your morning routine and see if there’s anything you can do to allow them to sit down and eat versus rushing or opting for unhealthy convenience foods at their first meal. Effective changes might include going to bed earlier in order to wake up earlier or even doing some prep the night before. You could also ask them to help out with the breakfast routine!
  • Let them drink it. Breakfast smoothies and shakes are great for multiple morning scenarios. Whether you ran out of time or you have a little guy who has a light tummy for solid food first thing in the morning, using your blender to make a concoction for the whole family is a great way for everyone to get in some quality nutrients, including healthy fats (natural nut butter or coconut milk), fruit (berries, banana, etc), vegetables (spinach, kale) and protein powder.  
  • Make them smile. The sunny side up eggs and bacon “face” on a plate rarely gets old. You can apply the idea to other dishes such as a berry face on top of some Greek yogurt for a breakfast parfait. Alternatively, plate up some cut up avocado, fruit and breakfast sausage with the same idea.

For Lunch: 

  • Rethink the container. Instead of the traditional brown bag lunch, try to find fun containers that have separate sections for different foods. My favorite for kids is Lunchbots stainless steel containers. They’re perfect for packed lunches and offer several compartments to keep foods separated. The sections even serve as a reminder to work in all of the food groups (a section for healthy fats, protein, fruits and vegetables).
  • Don’t forget the dip. Even as an adult, I find “dipping” a fun way to eat! Prepare fruit and vegetables by cutting them into easy-to-dip shapes, such as thin carrot sticks and sliced cucumbers. Serve them with a natural ranch dip or hummus. Pair up apples, bananas or pears with natural nut butter.  
  • Let them pack and plan it. If your children choose hot lunches from school on occasion, spend time on the weekend helping them make good choices about which meals they’ll eat from the school menu. If you decide to opt for cold lunches on certain days, give them the chance to plan their lunch by choosing the vegetable, fruit, etc. for each of the meals. Let them help prep their meals the night before or in the morning. They’ll be more likely to eat it because they helped make it.

For Dinner:

  • Play Restaurant. I’ve known many parents who serve their dinners in courses, starting with vegetables as the first course! This is when kids are the hungriest. Naturally, when they’re hungry, they’ll be more likely to eat what’s in front of them.  
  • Gather around the table. The average American eats breakfast and lunch away from home and dinner often distracted with television, cell phones or other technology. Commit to having dinner around the table (with no T.V. or other devices) as often as possible. If you prioritize eating together every night, that’s over 365 opportunities a year to show and teach your child how to eat right. 
  • Let them plan. I’m a big fan of “themed” dinners. Many of my clients keep a white board on their refrigerator and let the children see what’s on the docket for upcoming dinners. The kids often get to weigh in with their ideas and help plan meals around the themes. You can ask children to help with the grocery list or shopping or even allow them to help prepare the actual meal itself!

For Snacks:

  • Put it on a stick. It’s amazing how much more “fun” eating vegetables can be when they come in bite size portions on a stick. One of my clients’ favorites include a mini Caprese salad on a stick (mozzarella balls, halved cherry tomatoes and spinach), but you could do fruit kabobs with berries and melon chunks or do natural cheese and meat sticks. Crinkle cutters are another best practice to make fruits, veggies and cheeses into fun shapes to eat.
  • Create a water competition. Most kids don’t drink enough water. Sometimes their thirst cues can be confused for hunger. Give them a stainless steel or glass water container to drink out of every day while they’re at school and at home. Let them know the number of times they need to fill it up each day, and make a game out of it. For example, if they meet their water quota for the week, let them choose a family activity for the weekend. Make sure they drink most of their fluid between meals. 
  • Give them choices. Most of my parent clients use a drawer in their refrigerator as the snack bin. Their kids know they are allotted one choice after school out of the bin. The bin could include string cheeses, cut up veggies and fruit in snack bags, hard boiled eggs, natural bacon strips, Greek yogurt, etc. Don’t give into the perfectly portioned and highly processed “snack packs” at the grocery store. Have your kids help with the prep of natural, healthier foods as needed.

What have been your most successful strategies for getting your kids to eat a healthier diet? Share your favorites from above or the tips you’ve tried. Thanks for reading, everyone!

This month is national awareness month for the Life Time Foundation. The Life Time Foundation mission is to improve elementary school lunches around the nation.To find out more information or to help donate to healthier school lunches, go to https://www.lifetimefitness.com/content/foundation/en/home.html 

Written by Anika DeCoster – Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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