Proper nutrition is essential for the health and development of children. As children grow, their tastes, needs, and perception of nutrition evolve.
It is important to involve children in the process of choosing foods to eat. Helping children identify fruits and vegetables is the first step to teaching them why these foods are good for their health.
1. Know what they need
Nutrient needs vary depending on age and gender.
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends children consume fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy during meals to meet nutrition requirements.
Use the USDA’s website MyPlate to learn more about what your child needs to consume on a daily basis: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/browse-by-audience/view-all-audiences/children/kids.
Be sure not to polarize foods by labeling them as “good” or “bad” when explaining nutrition to children.
Instead, focus on the ingredients and how they relate to optimal functioning of the body.
2. Plan for snacking
Children enjoy snacking and while portion-controlled nutrient-rich snacks like fruit and nuts can be great between meals, they should not replace meals.
Check the nutrition labels of pre-packaged snacks for added sugar, sodium, and preservatives.
Prepare small portions of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds for the week so snacking on nutrient dense foods on-the-go is simple.
3. Ask them what they like
Ask your children questions about the foods that they like.
Learning about the meals they enjoy will enable you to pack lunches that are nutritious and fun to eat.
Include your children in the process of picking foods for their lunch.
This will give children a sense of autonomy and responsibility.
4. Have them taste test
Picky eaters are not unusual, many children are repulsed by foods unfamiliar to them.
Instead of chastising them for this quirk or forcing them to eat foods they don’t enjoy, simply ask if they will try a bite of something new.
By ensuring them that they won’t have to commit to eating an entire portion of this food, they may be more likely to give it a shot.
If they decide that they don’t like a particular food, ask them to explain why using their five senses: taste, smell, touch, sound, and sight.
Try preparing these food items in different ways and see if their preferences change based on the temperature, texture, or flavor of the dish.
5. Be consistent with their favorites
Sticking to a routine helps children maintain a sense of stability and safety.
Once you identify your child’s favorites lunches, make a batch that can last them the week.
Rotate their favorite lunches every few days for variety.
Make sure to check out the healthy hot lunch options at your child’s school for days that they want to switch it up.
To learn about the National School Lunch Program visit: https://portal.ct.gov/SDE/Nutrition/National-School-Lunch-Program.