By: Ashley Sineath, MPH
What would it look like to make meal times fun and interactive? Sometimes a little creativity and fun can help children enjoy eating healthy. If you think your child may be open to mixing things up, consider trying some of these suggestions to make meals fun:
• Put It on a Kabob
o For some reason, if food is on a stick it’s often more appealing. Consider trying fruit kabobs, veggie kabobs, meat & cheese kabobs, or a mix and match!
• Use Seasonal Cookie Cutters
o Heart shaped sandwiches, snowflake shaped whole wheat pancakes, what’s not to love? Most grocery stores will carry seasonal cookie cutters.
• Wrap It or Roll It
o Have you ever thought about using whole grain wraps to bundle up a meal or snack? For example, veggie quesadillas, bean burritos, chicken salad wraps, or breakfast wraps all work well! You can also roll cheese inside deli meat, or roll any type of meat, cheese, or produce into lettuce wraps. Wraps are great if you’re on the go as well.
• Play With Food To Bring It To Life
o Smiley face mustard, chicken with a bell pepper top hat, the possibilities are endless.
• Assemble Meals in an Assembly Line
o Turn up your family’s favorite tunes and have your loved ones assemble in the kitchen to help prepare the meal. For example, if you’re making sandwiches: one person can pull out the bread, another lay the middle, another spread the condiments, and a fourth seal it in a bag.
• Include Your Kids in Your Meal Planning and/or Shopping
o One way to get your kids invested in the meals offered to them is to give them input. Some kids may appreciate being given several options of a meal choice and then getting to pick the final decision of what will be cooked for dinner. Alternately, if your child is old enough they may benefit from helping you cross off the items on your list at the store. Exposure to the process of making a meal is invaluable!
o Seasonal sandwich bags, spiral silly straws, or neon colored plastic ware may just help some picky eaters to look past a food item they may normally despise. Research has also shown that mixing up the way food is presented may help as well. You could try presenting items in different forms such as sliced, chopped, diced, or in matchsticks.
• Brainstorm a Fun Name
o “Baby trees” may be more appetizing than “broccoli” to some kids. Peas could be “green marbles,” or carrots “bunny fuel.”
The bottom line is to cultivate a positive attitude towards meal times, and healthy foods in particular. This is not an exhaustive list, nor a guaranteed recipe for success but rather a few ideas that may be worth trying! For other ideas, see the articles Introducing Healthy Foods to Children and Introducing Veggies to Kids.