March is National Nutrition Month. Does that sound like fun to you?
For many parents, nutrition is NOT a fun topic.
Kids can often self-describe as “picky eaters”, and can frustrate their parents when they snub healthy foods on their plates.
If you’ve experienced this challenge, this article is for you. I’ve been called the “Picky Eater Whisperer,” and I’ve come up with 20 tips that you can choose from (you’ll see that choice is empowering as one of my tips).
I’ll also provide a small library of resources as well as access to a 30-day calendar of nutrition-related activities and recipes for your kids. Enjoy!
1. Repeat (and repeat, and don’t give up). It can take between 8 and 15 exposures for a child (or adult!) to be open to trying new food.
2. Create fun names for foods. In a study, kids ate twice the amount of “x-ray vision carrots” as regular carrots. Other fun names include “superhero spinach” and “magical trees” (for broccoli).
3. Highlight healthy foods on the right-hand side of the plate. Things on the right are perceived by the brain as more appealing. Weird, huh?
4. Keep things lively, fun, and pleasing to the eyes. When I went to the White House for the Healthy Kids State Lunch with my daughter, even the table arrangements were edible and beautiful. You just can’t beat the beauty of Mother Nature. See what the White House staff did with raspberries for one arrangement and asparagus for another. The kids LOVED them and got more and more excited for their “Healthy State Lunch”.
5. Apply color as your best friend. I haven’t met a kid that doesn’t love a rainbow. That is why my book series, Give It a Go, Eat a Rainbow has been so much fun to read to kids. The brain sees bright colors as being appealing. Each color also has health benefits to the body. Encourage your kids to have at least three colors (from Mother Nature) on their plate at a time.
6. Enlist a non-parent ally. When we created the Give It Go, Eat a Rainbow series, we created non-gender, race-neutral characters, Blake and Sammy. These characters are available for free download and can be cut out and colored in by your child to accompany him/her on eating adventures. Take the pressure off yourself as a parent and let friends and imaginary friends do the work of encouraging your child to try new foods.
7. Use hunger to your advantage. All food tastes better when you’re hungry!
8. Provide veggies as a first course. Following the tip above, I often provide veggie appetizers when the kids are hungrier. The next few tips provide more advice.
9. Fancy their fingers. Kids love to eat with their hands. So provide appetizer plates ahead of meals (in appealing color arrangements or even smiley faces or animals) to get them excited for their veggies and healthy foods.
11. Create strategic food combos. Add new foods with foods that your child already likes. So if he or she already likes carrots and you want to introduce hummus, pair them together.
12. Take baby steps. If your child is eating Wonder Bread today, maybe don’t go straight to the hearty, nutty bread. Make progress with brands that get healthier over time.
13. Remove competition. If you want your kids to eat healthier foods, reduce or entirely remove sugary, fatty, and salty foods around.
14. Nix the “clean your plate rule”. Children have a natural inborn trigger that suggests when they should stop eating. Don’t teach them to override that internal dialog.
15. Give them decision-making power. Choice is very empowering. This 30-day calendar of activities and recipes can also be used as a “game board” to select activities such as ingredient spelling tests, decorate a serving, and more. Let your child decide what is on the menu (in terms of both recipes and activities) and see the level of commitment rise!
16. Start early. Infants palettes are more open to tastes at 6 months than at 9 months. The window is pretty open until about 18 to 24 months.
17. Plant a home vegetable garden.
18. Chill out. Don’t get upset when encouraging kids to try new foods. Food can be very tied to emotion, as my free course on nutrition explores. The course includes a quiz where you can explore your Food Feelings and provides customize advice to help you navigate food and nutrition keeping your Food Feeling in mind.
19. Have fun with nutrition education. When I first started Nurture (a nonprofit organization dedicated to nutrition education over a decade ago), there were not many free materials available for parents and teachers. Today, there are more resources than one can possibly consume! I of course do recommend my free course (which includes free access to my book, Make Nutrition Fun: End Food Fights and Find Family Peace in Just 30 Days, but there are tons of other resources out there that I enjoy sharing. See below for a list of resources from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as quick and free downloads.
20. Be consistent and keep your heart in the game. Don’t give up!
National Nutrition Mondy is declared by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). It is a great time to brush up on your knowledge about nutrition and wellness.
Nutrition Tip Sheets
- Kids Eat Right: Visit the Academy Foundation’s resources for kids, providing recipes, articles, and quick tips to keep the family healthy and eating right.