Some people may think that if kids are left to their own to pick out their food choices that they’d have a plateful of unhealthy food. But I don’t believe that to be true. While there’s a chance they may try to sneak in a candy or a cookie I think that given healthy options and the right knowledge to go with it, kids will pick what’s best for them.
I saw this many times with my own kids but it wasn’t until I volunteered to host a preschool Valentine’s party that I saw it was fairly common with most of the 3-5 years old there, too. My menu plan for the event was blueberries, strawberries, grapes, cheese cubes and some Valentine’s-related cookies. While my heart was hopeful for a good outcome, I couldn’t believe what happened. By the time the party was over, I had to throw away several cookies and was asked numerous times for “seconds” and “thirds” on all the fruit and cheese.
I see this happen a lot at birthday parties, too. Kids tend to migrate towards the fruit and veggie platters–especially if there’s dip involved! Now, I’m not saying I’ve done extensive scientific research here but what I am saying is why not give it a try? Why not provide kids with healthy options and an education to go along with it on why they are important?
So with that in mind, I wanted to do a series on “How to Get Kids to Eat Healthier” and share some things that have worked for me. Since there’s quite a bit involved, I’m going to break it into a mini-series of shorter segments.
The first thing that I think is important is to teach kids about balance. To be honest, some of us adults are still learning about this, too! If your original plan is to shove a bunch of veggies in front of kids and hope they’ll consume them because you’ve said, “You can’t eat junk! You need to eat healthy!” then you might be setting yourself up for failure. Kids want to understand the “whys” of everything. And if we trust in them and explain things in a way they’ll understand, they might just surprise you and eat some of those veggies without having to be forced.
While there are several interpretations on what we should and shouldn’t eat, I thought I’d go with a simple approach. Start off simple and add more knowledge as you go along. So the first thing I recommend is the “MyPlate” set up as a guideline for foods. And instead of making the knowledge of learning what categories food fall into a boring school-type lesson, how about making it a fun game?
I had found the “Healthy Helpings” game online and picked that up for my kids as they love board games. But honestly, you can probably make your own version if you don’t have the money. What the game does is gives each player a plate divided into the MyPlate food categories and the goal is to fill your plate with a game piece for each section. The game pieces are pictures of foods that you must figure out where they go. Is a carrot a vegetable or a fruit? And of course, with all games, there are ways to steal or earn extra game pieces or lose a turn.
My kids played this and had so much fun picking out their healthy plate options–and learning as they went along. Now I must warn you, once you start playing this with them, you’ll have to be careful of the dinners you cook for them going forward or you’ll hear things like, “Um, Mommy, you forgot our dairy option tonight!” I actually found myself making healthier and more balanced meals due to this!
And if there’s one thing I’ve learned is this–let kids make their own choices. Try mixing things up each week at the grocery store by saying, “OK, this week, you can pick out any vegetable for a meal that you’d like.” Or go to the extreme and let them pick out an entire meal that has to include the MyPlate categories. If they are old enough, let them help you cook that meal and see how it transforms from ingredients into a meal. And if they aren’t old enough, let them (safely) watch you as you prepare them and have a good chat in the kitchen while you are at it!
This is just the beginning of teaching them about balance. About teaching them about plate portions. And about teaching them that they are in control of what food goes into their bodies.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
Note: If you want to get more complex in the learning, you can use the “Healthy Eating Plate” created by Harvard – School of Public Health.