I'm no stranger to catering to picky eaters. I've spent far too many hours slaving over a hot stove in order to prepare healthy meals my kid will actually eat.
Getting healthy food into a child might be easy for some, but it's a near-impossible feat for others. Over the years, I’ve figured out some sneaky and not so sneaky ways to get more nutrition into my kids’ bellies.
Include kids in prep work without the expectation that they have to try it. Children often have anxiety surrounding trying new foods. When we eliminate the expectation that they have to try one bite, we free them up to approach the situation in their own way. Invite your child into the kitchen to create a meal. Let them cut up veggies, stir the pasta or create a fancy pizza. The more they're around beautiful ingredients, the more familiar they will become.
Blend it up. Blend up veggies into everything: smoothies, pancakes, spaghetti, pizza sauce. For ease, I often buy a couple of pouches of pureed vegetables and squeeze them into whatever I’m making. My kids usually don’t know there are hidden powerhouses of nutrition in their meal, but if that’s what it takes to get veggies into them, that’s what I’ll do. This is a simple and quick way to beef up any meal. Some favorite ingredients to blend into most meals that won’t alter the taste and texture too much are spinach, ground chia seeds, carrots, sweet potatoes and kale.
Make popsicles. Popsicles are a great way to get veggie or fruit averse children to consume more healthy foods. It looks like a treat, plus it can taste sweet like a treat (I like to add some maple syrup, dates, coconut water, mango and other sweet things in with the veggies before I blend them all up and pour into popsicle molds). You can also strain the blended up mixture if your little ones are like mine and don’t like to feel seeds or stems in their frozen “dessert.”
Give the child control over their own consumption. This one is a little different for some. This doesn’t mean letting toddlers grocery shop and fill the cabinets with candy and cakes. Buy what you want your child to consume, prepare it how you think they will eat it and then let it be completely up to them when and how much they eat. You can serve meals like normal, but by eliminating pressure to sit and eat, it gives them autonomy and freedom to listen to their body’s cues. Leave healthy snacks around. If they want to “spoil” dinner by eating a bag of carrots, veggie popsicles or zucchini muffins, well, there are worse things in life to worry about.
Create playscapes with food. There are so many creative ways to serve meals to children. It only takes a few extra minutes to cut a banana and kiwi up and shape them into a palm tree. You can often find plates with backgrounds or blank people on them so that you can decorate the scene with food. Like most things involved with parenting, when we make things playful, it encourages the child to be playful and more adventurous. They feel like we're on their team rather than trying to torture them with a plate full of poisonous vegetables.
Embrace finger foods. Little bite-sized foods are popular with all ages, but especially with little ones because it is the perfect size for their hands and for a single bite. I like to fill a muffin tin or a plate with separated sections with a variety of different bite-sized foods, from sliced up bell peppers to veggie-infused muffin bites to a toothpick with mozzarella and tomato on it. I always try to have one food on their tray that I know they will eat and add new things around it that they might be enticed to try.
Utilize bone broth (or veggie broth) whenever possible. A great way to add nutrition to a meal is to use a quality bone or veggie broth. You can cook most starches and soups using bone broth. It has tons of nutrition that is good for children and adults alike.
Getting healthy food into our kids can feel as painful and anxiety-inducing as pulling teeth. When we get creative, playful and let go of the control that we're trying to maintain, it leads to happier, healthier kids that may eventually develop a more adventurous palate.