11 Creative ways to get your kids to eat healthy
Published: June 1, 2023
By: Tanni Haas, Ph.D.
We’ve all been there: despite our very best efforts — and cajoling — our kids simply won’t eat healthy, home-cooked food. How about trying a new strategy and making healthy eating a fun activity? Here are some fun ways to inspire the kids:
Dinner for breakfast. Everyone knows about “breakfast for dinner,” but have you ever considered “dinner for breakfast”? “Well, why not,” says Shannon Crocker, a dietician. “If it was a healthy, balanced meal last night, it’s still a healthy, balanced meal this morning.” If your kids’ favorite food is pizza, serve mini-pizzas with healthy fillings like tomato sauce, ham, pineapple and cheese.
Cooking club. Get some of your kids’ friends or classmates together and start a cooking club on afternoons or weekends. You could hire a local culinary student to teach basic cooking skills. “Children are more likely to eat healthy foods if the presentation is appetizing and if they have a hand in preparation,” says Patti Ghezzi of Greater Good Communication, a non-profit that focuses on nutrition and food.
Roll-ups. Have the kids “roll” their food, sushi-style. They can roll whole wheat tortillas with ham and cheese or peanut butter and banana. They can also roll pizzas with shredded mozzarella and tomato sauce. The possibilities are endless.
Funny faces. Take a bunch of vegetables and have the kids make the funniest faces possible on the kitchen counter. Hint: peas are good for the eyes. “This is a great way to increase children’s sensory experiences (and then probably acceptance) with veggies in a fun and entertaining environment,” says Karina Savage, another dietician.
Healthy plates. Have the kids create a meal that includes items from all four food groups: fruits and vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. “Assembling a balanced plate
is one of the most practical skills you can teach a child,” says nutritionist Shannon Doleac. “Creating plates can become fun nutrition activities for kids.”
Guess the fruit or vegetable. Put a bunch of fruits and vegetables in a bag, have the kids close their eyes, and ask them to choose one thing. The goal is to guess what it is based on how it feels and smells. “Exploring food with all of their senses moves them closer to trusting and eating that food,” says Savage.
Dessert as the main course. Put a small portion of dessert on their plates, just enough to keep them hungry, along with other options. “You’ll be surprised when your child suddenly takes a bite of dessert along with a bite of something else, instead of just gobbling up the dessert,” says nutritionist Jennifer House.
Guess the fruit. Have your kids guess which fruit you’re thinking of by describing its color, shape, texture and taste.
“It’s a great way to have fun while promoting healthy eating in kids,” Savage adds.
Follow their passion. Kids have different passions.
Some are interested in certain countries or cultures, and others in specific colors or textures. “What’s your child’s current obsession?” asks Katie Kick, the author of Good Life Eats. “Incorporate that into their food.” Kids are more likely to take an interest in what they eat if it aligns with their passions.
Healthy recipes. How about having the kids collect all their favorite, healthy recipes and make a book out of them? For added fun, each recipe could have a key ingredient starting with a different letter.
Let them dip. For a healthy afternoon snack, give the kids some food they can dip, such as fruits and vegetables, whole wheat crackers or pita. The dip could be fat-free yogurt, salsa or guacamole.
Tanni Haas, a professor in the department of communication arts, sciences, and disorders at The City University of New York – Brooklyn College, encourages families to form healthy eating habits while having fun.