Children are born with a predisposition to prefer sweet, salty and savory tastes, so getting them to eat the flavors associated with many healthy foods will take time, persistence and positive experiences. With your patient guidance and their personal involvement in choosing and preparing healthy food, kids of all ages can re-wire their taste buds to like and even prefer healthier fare.
Introduce Foods Slowly
Pressuring or bribing your child to eat something they are unfamiliar with or don’t like the taste of is not the path to success, according to USNews.com. Instead, start when they are young, offering positive opportunities to try new foods, one bite at a time. And since kids might need at least five to ten exposures to a new food to begin to like it, be patient with the process. Also, pick a time of day when they are hungry enough to eat the only choice in front of them, such as an afternoon snack of hummus and crackers. For older kids, have healthy food choices ready to grab as they head out to school or sports activities, giving hungry tweens or teens the chance to make their own decisions on which new foods to try.
Model Good Behavior
Kids look to parents to show them how to behave, and the area of nutrition is no different. According to Parents.com, your non-healthy eating habits can lead your kids to believe this is normal and therefore send the wrong messages about food. On the other hand, if your kids see you trying new vegetables, fruits or whole-grain bread, they’ll learn it’s OK to venture into new food territory and that they may even find some new favorites. Other ways to be a good role model: let your kids see you reach for a healthy snack and opt out of super-sizing.
Get Kids Involved
Kids who help plan, shop for and prepare healthy meals will show more interest in eating them too. Work with your kids to come up with a list of easy, healthy and delicious food ideas for snacks and meals. Take them with you when you go grocery shopping or to the local farmers market. Use these trips as an opportunity to talk about reading nutrition labels, choosing ripe produce and the benefits of fresh versus pre-packaged foods. When you get home, have them help you make the meal. Young children can open packages and wash produce, and as they get older, they can mix up a salad, cut vegetables and help bake or cook.
Make it Fun
Kids are all about having fun, so make eating healthy fun too. Registered dietitian Julie Burns, on Parents.com, suggests giving food silly names, such as calling broccoli florets “baby trees,” or using cookie cutters to create mini anything and everything. Show your kids that desserts can be a part of a healthy diet and fun as well, by creating frozen yogurt pops or fruit parfaits. When eating healthy is fun, kids will learn to see it as a natural part of their everyday lives.