Fair Trade: How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy Foods

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on July 13, 2010 · 0 comments

Kids never seem to like what’s good for them.

Wouldn’t you know it–the foods that parents feel pack the greatest nutritional punch are often the foods kids refuse to eat. And it’s not just because they’re being bratty.

Many things can trigger a child’s like or dislike of a food—taste, color, texture, mouth-feel, appearance and smell. While tastes vary, most infants and children love sweets and have an aversion to bitterness. That’s because children’s taste buds are more acute than adults. Flavors are magnified, which makes vegetables with a touch of bitterness—including spinach, broccoli, bok choy, kale and turnip—a hard sell. That’s also why some children dislike combination dishes and foods with sauces, and prefer simple foods like “naked” spaghetti or food that don’t touch each other on the plate.

There are reasons to breathe a sigh of relief. As children grow and are exposed to different foods, their tastes will change and evolve. And, there are many nutritious alternatives that will satisfy the most finicky eaters.

If your child won’t eat meat, try these good protein substitutes for one ounce of meat:

1 medium egg

the meat from one chicken leg

1 ounce of any fish, even tuna

1 ounce of any cheese

1⁄4 cup cottage cheese or ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons of peanut or any other nut butter,

1⁄2 cup baked beans or cooked beans

3 ounces of tofu,

3 tablespoons of nuts (not recommended for children under 3)

If your child is a dedicated veggie hater, try them cooked or raw with low calorie dip, hummus or even warm cheese sauce for dunking. If vegetables are still a no-go consider these nutritional swaps:

To get the vitamin A and C found in spinach, broccoli, tomatoes and peppers swap in watermelon, papaya, cantaloupe or persimmon.

Sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash and pumpkin are excellent sources of vitamin A, but so are apricots, mangos, peaches and nectarines.

No to green peppers, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower? You can get in the same amount of vitamin C by swapping for oranges, tangerines, strawberries, grapefruit or guava.

Bananas, apples, pears and grapes round out the fruit swaps, offering fiber and a good source of a wide number of vitamins and minerals.

As children get older and more independent, they have more say over what they eat. Not all meals will be as balanced and nutritious as you might hope. But one poorly chosen food or meal won’t compromise your child’s health—the cornerstone of good nutrition is making good choices most of the time. The goal is to offer your child a variety of food that over time will add up to healthy choices.

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