Before I was a parent, I thought getting children to eat healthy would be simple. If you only offer healthy choices, they only eat healthy things, right?
While that’s a lovely theory, I quickly learned that it doesn’t always work that way. The first few years were great. I fed my oldest son whatever we were eating for meals, and he happily accepted fruits and vegetables, hummus and yogurt as snacks. And then something shifted. He began to reject foods he’d previously gobbled down.
I can’t claim that our meals were always super healthy either – we had our fair share of burgers, pizza and chicken nuggets, particularly when we were too busy or too tired to cook. I thought the healthy snacks and healthy meals we ate the rest of the time would balance things out. And it did, until his vegetable consumption narrowed to carrots only, and the only meats he’d eat were bacon, pork, and ground beef. He even rejected chicken, unless it was breaded and fried. He wouldn’t eat cheese, unless melted on a burger or a slice of pizza. Eggs are a no.
He’s now 14, and it’s even more difficult to get him to eat healthy options. And soon, I won’t have any control over what he eats at all, since he’s headed off to Maine School of Science and Mathematics more than five hours away. I can only hope that he won’t try and exist on cereal alone, like he did when he went to summer camp.
If you find yourself facing the same challenges, especially as school lurks right around the corner and you need to provide healthy lunch options that travel well, I feel your pain. Even if you aren’t dealing with a picky eater, time constraints can make eating healthy a challenge. And if you are, you have to get even more creative – sometimes, presentation makes all the difference!
Here are some healthy ideas to try. Even my “discerning” child enjoys most of these!
In my house, smoothies aren’t just for breakfast. Any time my son rejects what I’ve made, I point him to the blender. With some frozen fruit (I buy a blend with some greens mixed in for an extra boost), a scoop of protein powder, water or juice, and a little ice he has a hearty option that fills him up and provides plenty of great nutrients to keep him going.
Anything on a stick.
Fruit and cheese kabobs, meat and vegetable kabobs, the possibilities are endless. And eating off a stick is just novel enough to get them to try things they might not otherwise eat.
Plain, unsweetened yogurt layered with fruit looks a lot like a treat – especially if you squirt a dab of whipped cream on top.
Instead of spending a lot of money on the premade packs, try making your own. Put a little cheese, some chunks of leftover meat, cut fruit and veggies, and whole grain crackers in a divided container. The bonus here is that you can include exactly what you know your child enjoys – without all the additives and extra sugar.
This is another great snack idea that can be prepared to match your child’s preferences. My younger son loves a traditional mix – raisins, peanuts, sunflower seeds and a little chocolate. But you can add dried fruit or other nuts and seeds to switch it up and avoid boredom with the same old snack.
Hearty dips – like hummus or guacamole.
Kids, in my experience, love to dip things. But ranch dressing isn’t going to give them a nutrient boost. Instead, try new combinations like carrots and hummus, or guacamole and plantain chips (my new favorite).