By Jamell Andrews
Most children will take a processed snack pack or treat over fruits and veggies any day, but with childhood obesity becoming an epidemic, finding ways to make healthy foods more appealing is more important than ever.
Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the last 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with more than 1 in every 3 children being considered overweight or obese. This increases their risk of joint problems, heart disease, and much more.
With our hectic schedules, prepackaged snacks and meals may be timesavers—especially if you have a picky eater on your hands, but they’re doing your child more harm than good. So what’s a parent to do? Make healthy foods fun and more appealing is a good start.
Why Appearance is Key
When you walk through the grocery store with a child, you’ll notice that they gravitate to foods that look fun: bright colors, fun shapes, and interesting packaging. First impressions matter to kids, so the key to getting your child excited about a healthy lunch or snack is to make it as kid-appealing as possible. Think about the food and drink products that are advertised for children on television and you’ll notice things like snack trays and squishy tubes and bottles. Putting healthier options into fun containers is easy and allows you to know exactly what your child is consuming. Put your kid-cap on and think like your child when making their meals and snacks and then prepare foods accordingly.
Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
- Use a bento box or snack tray. Create a well-balanced lunch by adding lean meat, whole grain crackers, fruit slices, and other healthy foods to a bento box or other container that’s divided up into compartments.
- Give them dip. Kids love to dip because it’s a (acceptable) way of playing with their food. Make a sweet, healthy dip out of Greek yogurt and honey that they can dip apple slices into or a savory yogurt dip for their veggie sticks.
- Invest a few dollars in a spiralizer. The appeal of a vegetable to a child increases the second you make it squiggly or curly! A spiralizer lets you quickly turn carrots, zucchini, and all kinds of other fruits and veggies into fun shapes that are sure to appeal to your child.
- Opt for healthy versions of their favorites. If your child loves PB&J sandwiches, mix it up by using natural nut butters, like all-natural almond or cashew butter. Instead of sugar-filled or processed jam or jelly, top with a few banana slices instead. If burgers and fries are a favorite, then make your own patties using lean ground chicken or turkey and bake potato or sweet potato “fries” instead of frying or using frozen French fries. The key is to keep the sugar and calories down while providing as much nutritional value as possible.
- Make foods look like something funny. The tried and true “ants on a log” snack using celery topped with peanut butter and raisins is a good example of how making healthy food look funny or weird increases its appeal to a child. Get creative and see what you come up with or check the internet for inspiration. Arranging foods in fun designs and shapes is easy and effective.
- Make them smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to help your child get their fruits and vegetables; including those they’re fussy about eating. You can make them even more appealing by putting them into a fun sippy cup or squeeze pouch, which can be found in most department stores.
Finally, let your child in on the food prep as a way to help get them excited about their healthy meals. Make it fun and silly and encourage them to use their imaginations when coming up with ideas using the foods that you want them to eat.