Did you expect to be a food service director for your child(ren) this school year? I didn’t! As a registered dietitian, I feel equipped to feed my kids nutritious meals and snacks, but my kids do not always like to follow my guidance. Every day, “can I have a snack?” or “I want candy” is on repeat at my house.
If you are experiencing a similar situation while your kids spend more time at home, here are some tips to help you create a plan for healthy eating while also incorporating some fun, “kid-approved” foods.
Carve out time to plan. When eating healthy is given priority, it is more likely to happen.
- Make a menu for one or two weeks. Focus your menu on dinner meals first and include other meals like breakfast and lunch if time permits.
- Put the menu on a rotation either weekly, bi-monthly or monthly.
- Get the kids involved in planning, preparation and cooking. When kids are involved, they are more likely to try new foods and eat nutritiously throughout their lifetime. Let them flip through cookbooks, write the shopping menu, peel/slice vegetables and get involved with making recipes.
- Hang the menu up in a place where everyone in the family can read it.
- Cut extra vegetables and/or fruit while prepping items for meals and store them away for quick snacks.
Make a shopping list either using your menu or a list of items that you know you will need. If your menu is on repeat, the shopping list can be re-used to make it easier to prepare for the grocery store.
Here are some tips for healthy shopping:
- Shop the perimeter of the store first and fill up on whole foods like vegetables, fruit, eggs, dairy, whole grain breads and lean meats. Move into the aisles for other foods on your list like frozen vegetables and fruit, canned or individual portioned fruit, packaged nuts and seeds and spreads.
- Use grocery chain websites to order pick-up or delivery and control the types of items going into the cart. When browsing the aisles, you or the child(ren) are more likely to grab a bag of chips or cookies while walking by, but with ordering online you only get what you’ve budgeted for or ordered.
- Fresh, frozen, canned and dried vegetables and fruit are all great choices. Frozen, canned and dried produce have a longer shelf life and are great pantry fillers.
- Beans, lentils, whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain rice varieties make for great meal-bases or healthy sides.
Fun, “kid-approved” meals and snacks are possible, and they do not have to be boring.
- Kids will get excited for vegetables if exposed to them often. Sit out cut vegetables with a fun dip like hummus or salsa right before you expect to hear, “can I have a snack?” I often sit out a plate of cut, raw vegetables right before lunch or dinner. When we have time, we make our fruit and vegetables into animals or fun images. Make it a creative art project.
- Keep fresh, cold water or flavored water at their desk to make hydration a priority.
- Use a cookie cutter on sandwiches, toast or layered whole-grain tortilla wrap sandwiches or simply cut these items into triangles, rectangles or other fun shapes.
- Make a snack drawer in the fridge that is easily accessible for kids. Add baggies of cut vegetables, fresh fruit, individually portioned yogurt, low-fat cheese and low-fat cottage cheese.
- Place baskets of healthy, individually packaged snacks like no-sugar added applesauce, nuts or seeds, dried fruit, whole-grain crackers in the pantry or cabinets that are accessible to kids. Keep the sweet and salty snacks out of sight.
- Desirable treats like candy or desserts should be taught to be a normal part of eating. If special treats are on the menu, provide a kid size portion with meals allowing them to consume it during the meal when they desire. Remind them there is some for the next day when they ask for more.
AICR Recipes for Families
Don’t know where to start when it comes to finding healthy recipes? Try AICR’s cancer-protective recipes that are kid and family-friendly.
Almond Crusted Baked Chicken Tenders
Resources for Families
For more tips and activities to help encourage your kids to practice healthy eating habits, check out these resources.