As a mom, the most frustrating moment can be when you've spent the time to make a nutritious meal and then your child pushes it away or says "I don’t like it," even before trying it. Even when Mom and Dad try to be good examples by eating the same foods, it sometimes isn’t enough to convince a child to do the same.
Kids can be pretty picky and meal time can definitely be stressful on parents, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to get creative and to get your kids involved in the process. One of my coworkers suggests picking a weekend day and letting your child pick out any fruit or vegetable they want at the grocery store or farm stand and then going home to cook with it. (Hey, you might learn something, too!)
If your kids are young, use it as an educational moment to describe the color, shape, and texture of the food, or find out where it's grown. For older kids, turn it into an opportunity for them to search online for a new recipe and you can work together on preparing it in the kitchen. Make sure to praise their efforts at meal time, too.
By getting kids involved in the process, the likelihood of them trying new foods greatly increases. You’ll definitely still have those moments where you just can't make them happy, but hopefully they will be fewer and farther between. Try not to get frustrated.
Creativity doesn't have to mean extra meal prep for you or time in the kitchen, either. It just requires you to view things a bit differently and to bring some imagination into how you use your ingredients. Here are some of the top groan-producing foods for kids, which also happen to be highly nutritious, and some simple ways to make them more appealing.
This brain-boosting food chock-full of omega-3s is high on the list of offending foods for kids. The smell, taste, and texture are enough to promote a dinnertime tantrum. Rather than trying to push fishy fish-like salmon on your kids, start with blander fish like cod or flounder. Batter it lightly in whole-wheat breadcrumbs, bake it in the oven, and couple it with a kid-friendly staple like ketchup or even cocktail sauce. Include some of your kids' favorite side dishes with the meal and you'll be surprised that they may just eat it!
As a child even I would groan at the smell of Brussels sprouts, but oftentimes, it's overcooking and overboiling that leads to the awful aroma and our dislike. These mini-cabbages are packed with nutrition, though, so get creative! Go for fresh over frozen, which can get mushy and unappealing. Try to avoid overcooking and go with a quicker method like stir-frying. Slice them in half, sauté them in a little olive oil and garlic with a little salt and pepper, or add some nuts or occasionally a little bacon to spice it up a bit.
Trying to sell broccoli as little trees to kids isn't enough to boost their intake. Usually, overcooking broccoli leads to the smell that turns most kids off. To help with the aroma, avoid overcooking by adding broccoli to boiling water and simmering just until it turns bright green, about four to five minutes. Drain and sprinkle with Cheddar cheese and bake until the cheese is melted, about 10 to 15 minutes. You’ll quickly make this a family favorite.
Roasting is also a great way to increase broccoli intake. Mix with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and throw in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and voilà! Raw broccoli makes a great snack after school. Have precut vegetables ready in the refrigerator for when kids get home, add low-fat dip or salad dressing, and you'll know they’ve had something nutritious before dinner.
These often top the list because of their texture, taste, and smell, but they're a great way to start the day, as they are packed with protein.
Hard-boiled eggs make a great snack. Make a bunch at time and then put them in the refrigerator. When ready to snack, take out the yolks and replace with guacamole or hummus.
If your kids won't do hard-boiled eggs because of the smell, consider another preparation. Because they are so versatile, there's bound to be a preparation they will like. Try scrambling an egg in the morning with a dash of milk and a little seasoning. Put it in between slices of whole-grain bread or an English muffin to have on the go.
Texture and consistency are often the reasons for refusing this food or not knowing how to use it. Avocados are great sliced up into salads or on turkey sandwiches with cheese. Oftentimes, when sliced thinly enough, they can be put in between the cheese and turkey without being noticed. A big seller for those who don’t like avocados plain is guacamole. With all the seasonings and some of the extras like tomatoes that are included, using guacamole is a great way to boost intake of this heart-healthy fat, plus the kids can enjoy it with some of their other favorite foods.
Trying to get kids to switch from white bread to whole wheat bread can be tough, but there are some great new options out there which can make this transition easier and kids won’t be able to tell the difference. The key is to look at the ingredient list and make sure the first ingredient says “whole wheat”. Whole wheat wraps are a great alternative too as kids love wraps and there are so many things you can do with them (even make tortilla chips) plus are a great way to boost fiber into their diet. Sometimes switching from white bread to a seedless rye is a great first step in beginning to switch them over from a color standpoint, plus it has a low glycemic index so it won’t leave them feeling hungry shortly after.
If only Popeye was enough to sell this superfood, we’d be in good shape. But the wilting, lack of eye appeal, and taste is enough for some kids to feed it to the dog. The great thing about spinach is how versatile it is. Incorporate it into casseroles, add it as a topping on pizza, use half spinach and half romaine in your salads, and your kids won’t even think twice about consuming it.
Asparagus is often the victim of overboiling, under-seasoning, and bitter taste. Bring this vitamin-packed vegetable back to life! Grab a bunch, cut off half to one inch on the bottom, rinse, pat dry, add one to 2 teaspoons olive oil, and sprinkle with a dash of kosher salt and pepper. Then, roast at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Make this a fun vegetable to eat by letting your kids use their fingers to chomp on it whole.
When kids eat cottage cheese, it often produces the same look as if they were eating a lemon. Texture, consistency, and blandness make this a no-go for many kids. This is one of those foods you have to sneak into your recipes in order for kids to consume. Packed with protein, this is a great addition to dips and other family favorites like mac and cheese. Your kids won't ever tell the difference!
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