Do you have a finicky eater under your roof? You're not alone.
“It’s easier to give children money and tell them to buy lunch at school and then pick up take-out on the way home, but many times these meals are unhealthy," said Chef Rama, owner of WannaBee Chef.
While parents do not necessarily need to prepare lunch and dinner every day, their kids do need to know how to make healthier choices. Here are some tips from Chef Rama to prepare bagged lunch for picky eaters:
The Three Color Rule: Parents should use at least three colors in their child’s lunch every day. Some colorful foods include grapes, blueberries, watermelon, bananas, peppers and carrots. Eating at least three natural colors, aside from brown and white, can help a child get a fully balanced meal. Concealing nutrition in color-rich foods (like adding half an avocado or a handful of fresh kale to a morning fruit smoothie) is another nifty trick for beating the breakfast blues.
Be Creative: Lunch does not have to be deli meat on bread every day. To put some creativity into the meal, parents can make protein, texture and flavor-packed wraps by using drained black beans, fresh corn niblets, salsa, shredded Jack cheese and a few slices of turkey or chicken. Involving children in lunch-making helps them to be more invested in enjoying the end result. For kids who are more inclined to sweeter tastes, consider a whole grain wrap spread with almond butter, sliced banana and strawberries. Add a serving of Greek yogurt to add more protein to the mix.
Get Spicy: Spices are tasty and beneficial to one’s health thanks to their digestive properties. Apple pie spices, which include cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, can flavor a vitamin-rich pumpkin and butternut squash soup served warm or cold. Apple sauce can be revved up with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Many spices contain vitamins and minerals, like calcium and iron.
Get Crispy: Crunchy textures are favored by many kids who often seek them out in unhealthy fried chips. Switch to pita crisps or whole wheat pretzels to accompany ¼ cup of hummus, or carrot and celery sticks. Mix it up with broccoli sticks on occasion or jicama slices. Dried fruit crisps or kale chips, taro chips and plantain chips that are baked with a misting of oil are also worthy of lunch bags.
Play Games: Kids should be involved in the meal planning process, starting from grocery shopping. To make it more exciting, parents can make a scavenger hunt with children while they shop around the store (challenge them to find out how many types of lentils there are in the bulk foods aisle or which has more protein, goat’s or cow’s milk). Or, parents can have children look for a vegetable they would like for snack at school the next day, or find an ingredient needed for dinner that night. Involving kids in menu planning is key to good eating.
Go Fun Size: Allowing kids to eat in a fun way can make any meal more enjoyable. To change things up from the usual routine, parents can make mini-size dishes or use baby vegetables. Parents can also pack chopsticks in the lunchbox for a fork-free way to eat food.
Fun Fondue: For children hesitant to try new fruits and vegetables, a flavorful dipping sauce will make it tastier to them. Cheese sauce can be used for vegetables like broccoli or yogurt dip for fruit. A classic combination is carrots and ranch dressing, which can be packed for a healthy snack. Tahini, pureed white bean and garlic or pesto and tzatziki are fine alternatives.
Gather Together: Eating dinner as a family is very beneficial for children. It allows the family to bond by talking and creates a special time without any interruptions, like cell phones, TVs and computers. It also gives parents an opportunity for positive reinforcement with children when they try a new food.