Get them involved
A great way to get kids excited about eating new foods is to get them involved in the family’s food decisions, and this includes going grocery shopping with Mom or Dad. “If the kids choose the food or help make it, then they’re more likely to eat it,” says Ellen Albertson, a registered dietitian in Boston. Make trying new and healthy foods an adventure by selecting one new fruit or vegetable each week when you go shopping. (Keep in mind that it may take multiple exposures to a new food before your child actually eats it.)
Make it fun
Figure out fun ways to make meals together, such as putting vegetables on kabobs or on top of a favorite food like pizza. Try arranging carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers to look like a face on the plate, or serve them up with dip or a sauce such as yogurt, low-fat salad dressing, or even peanut butter.
Take them to the source
Take your kids on an outing to an orchard or berry farm so they experience food in its natural form, which may inspire them to try something new. One girl we know decided she loved apples after her class went on an apple-picking field trip. Months later, she still chooses apples as an after-school snack.
Be picky about juices
Fruit juices count in the “strive for five” daily fruits and vegetables, but be careful of the kind of juice you choose and the amount you offer. Some juice drinks are little more than sugar-water. Check the label to see how much vitamin C or A the juice provides. Or choose one that’s fortified with calcium. Also try to limit your child’s juice intake to two servings per day. “Fruit juice can fill kids up so that they don’t eat healthy meals and snacks,”
Smoothies and muffins
Smoothies are another easy way to get fruit into your child’s diet. You can use frozen berries, bananas, fruit juice, even canned pineapple or peaches (strain the syrup first). Add milk, yogurt, or frozen yogurt for a creamier drink and a dose of calcium. Muffins are another tasty vehicle for fruits and vegetables. Make them or buy them with bananas, blueberries, carrots, or zucchini. Raisin, apple, or pineapple bran muffins can provide a good dose of fiber.
Don’t sneak around
You may be tempted to try “hiding” healthy foods in dishes you know your kid likes, by putting chopped spinach in lasagna, for example. But you run the risk of your child discovering the mysterious green flecks, and then you’ll lose her trust. “That’s why we think incorporating food is better than hiding food,” When your child is aware of the food she’s eating, she won’t feel betrayed and can make a more genuine decision about what she likes or doesn’t like.
Some foods are healthier than you think
Remember that eating right isn’t all about salads and smoothies. A peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk will fulfill about half your child’s daily grain, protein, and dairy requirements, providing important nutrients (like zinc) as well as essential fatty acids from the peanut butter. A bowl of raisin bran with milk and a glass of orange juice satisfies at least two fruit servings, one dairy, and one grain serving; it also provides fiber, iron, and vitamin C. And a slice of cheese pizza provides almost an entire day’s worth of dairy (from the mozzarella) and a serving of vegetables (from the tomato sauce, which is loaded with an anti-cancer nutrient called lycopene).
Another option is to offer healthier versions of fast foods, like a veggie or turkey burger with carrot sticks instead of a hamburger and fries. But if your kids won’t go for that, remember this: All foods can be part of a healthy diet, even fast food. Just do your best to limit these higher fat, less nutritious kinds of meals to no more than once a week.
Be a good role model
As you consider all the ways of getting your kids to eat a more healthful diet, remember that as a parent you need to be a role model for healthy eating. “If you’re eating lots of junk and have a bad diet, you can’t expect your kids to eat properly,” . So make an effort to eat whole grains, fruits, and vegetables when you’re hungry, and chances are that eventually your children will, too.