Having meals together as a family is probably one of the easiest and most important activities you can do to promote healthy eating. Surprised? It sounds easy; but honestly, sometimes the simplest things turn out to be the most important. Kids are little sponges and they are learning and forming their nutrition habits throughout the day. During mealtime kids learn about foods and their parent’s food preferences. Children are starting to form lifelong associations with food (positive or negative) and their own food choices (what they “like” and “don’t like”).
Here are some easy tips and guidelines to help you turn mealtime into fun family time:
- Start each week with a The Kids Cook Monday family dinner night. When the whole family pitches in during mealtime, kids are more likely to eat the finished product. Use the cooking time to teach your child about nutrition and serving sizes. Remember adults and older kids can be nutrition role models are younger kids are developing life long health and eating habits.
- Gather round the table. On family dinner night, eat around a table and let family be the focus by turning off the TV, cell phones and ipods. Use The Kids Cook Monday dinners as an opportunity to check in, catch up and share thoughts with each other.
- Don’t be a short order chef. Prepare only one meal for the entire family, but feel free to give your kids “cuter” proportions. An adult-sized plate can be daunting for a child, so be sure to start small. Try breaking up the meal into several tiny portions (with healthy foods first) so your child can feel that they’ve successfully cleaned their plate.
- Make healthy eating fun. Sometimes all a child needs to embrace nutritious eating is a bit of excitement! Try offering dips, finger foods, interesting shapes, meal themes or a wide range of colors. Avoid forbidding foods or using certain foods for punishments or rewards. Instead let your kids pick a special day when they can indulge occasionally, so kids learn the different between “everyday” foods and “sometimes” foods.
- Sneak in produce: You can boost the nutrition of any meal by mixing in fruits, vegetables or nuts. Add cucumbers or carrots to sandwiches, veggies to pasta sauces or nuts to salads. Put a teaspoon of flaxseed oil or yogurt in dressings to provide your child with brain building fatty acids. Keep an open dialogue about what foods your kid likes and serve them new foods with similar flavors to expand their palate.
- Don’t give up: Studies have shown that many kids won’t try a new food until it’s been offered several times, so keep trying! Don’t become upset if your child rejects a new food; after a few attempts it may seem more familiar. Offer unfamiliar foods as an appetizer or with tried and true favorites. Encourage your child to try at least two bites of anything new and be sure to applaud adventurous eating.