As many parents know, getting toddlers and young children to eat healthy foods like vegetables can be a challenge. Most young children prefer chocolate and ice cream to peas and broccoli. And, it’s not uncommon for toddlers and children to simply be fussy eaters.
What to do?
By teaching children healthy eating habits early, parents and other caregivers can help children learn good eating habits that will last a lifetime and also help them maintain a healthy weight.
“If you start offering healthy food choices at a young age, and delay offering unhealthier junk foods like cookies or chips until a later age, that will help children establish a healthy flavor palette,” says Dr. Alexandra Roche, a pediatrician at CHOC.
Here are four tips to help fussy eaters – mostly toddlers and kids six and younger – develop healthy eating habits.
Offer kids three choices of healthy foods – and that’s it. For example, a toddler can have a choice of watermelon, peaches or a banana.
“That way, the child has an opportunity to make a choice,” says Dr. Roche. “If they reject all three choices, don’t give in. It’s all about the kids wanting independence and they get to choose – to a point. If the child is truly hungry, he will eat what he is being offered.
Ask the kids to help make dinner. They will be more likely to eat things that are healthy if they help make the meal and have some fun with meal preparation. For example, kids can rinse the veggies or make the salad, Dr. Roche says.
“The kids can also make suggestions for salads,” she says. “If they want to put raisins in a salad, go for it. Let them be creative, then healthy food becomes fun.”
Make food fun. Serve broccoli and other veggies with a favorite dip or sauce. Cut foods into shapes with cookie cutters. Offer breakfast foods for dinner.
Try providing healthy foods in different forms, such as raw, cooked or mixed into a soup.
“Just include the food in a dish you are making or a sauce, and don’t make a big issue out of it,” says Dr. Roche. “The expectation should be that this is normal. Create a normal expectation that your family eats healthy every day.”