If we want children to like and eat healthy foods, we should aim to give them positive experiences with those foods. These experiences ought include opportunities to observe others consuming those foods. Role models feed into children's developing food choices.
If you have a toddler, you know the innate impulse he or she has to imitate another person. The more you can provide healthy situations for your child, the more you can create familiarity and acceptance as it pertains to a varied and healthy diet.
Example: If you buy whole wheat tortillas at home, then your kiddo will be more likely to eat the whole wheat tortilla that he or she will now be served at school (whole wheat is now mandated in many school lunch programs). I can't tell you how many lunch ladies and teachers who have told me that "kids won't eat the brown tortillas."
While setting a healthy example may seem like a no-brainer, I oftentimes find out that parents and children are not eating the same things. Sometimes it makes sense (e.g., a special anniversary dinner at home after the kids are asleep). For the most part, though, creating meals that satisfy everyone's needs prove the most beneficial. Serving the same items:
Involving children in the kitchen is tricky. It requires preparation and follow through, but the results are insurmountable. At a minimum, studies show that children are more likely to choose healthy foods if they are involved in food preparation.
Suggesting a toddler pack his or her lunch may sound crazy, but the fundamentals of getting your kiddo on board and setting them up for success can make this a reality. Casey Seidenberg of the Washington Post wrote an excellent piece on just how to pass the baton of lunch making to your kids. I've provided the highlights here.
Get your child on board
Set your child up for success
Elizabeth Volzke (grocery retail dietitian) shares potential pros of taking your toddler grocery shopping. With a child of her own, Elizabeth offers practical insight to healthy living.
Have you ever scheduled your grocery shopping so that you didn’t have to take the kids along? You’re not alone. Shopping with a child can be daunting, but when done correctly it can yield rewarding lessons.
First, a grocery store is full of many colorful and differently shaped items, which can be hugely stimulating for children. With all those colorful foods, boxes, signs, and shelves comes exposure to new items. The biggest benefit of that exposure is the potential of your child seeing something healthy they want to try, whether it’s a new type of fruit, vegetable, cheese, or cereal.
Letting children help decide which items to purchase can be a fun task for them. Maybe you let them decide what type of apples to purchase that day, or you get their opinion on what kind of cheese they would like to try. I oftentimes let my own son choose the frozen vegetables when he accompanies me to the store. The bottom line is that a child is more likely to try foods at home if they were included in the decision making process of buying them.
Do keep in mind that as the parent you still have control over what goes into the cart, so you can always say no to those options that are less healthy. Also, just because a child says “no” to broccoli in the store, doesn’t mean you don’t buy it. As a rule of thumb, an individual must try an item 7 times before they can truly say “I do not like that item”.
As a Registered Dietitian for Hy-Vee (a grocery chain in Iowa), I promote in-store sampling. Check your local stores for days and times they regularly sample as this is a great time to take the kids. They’ll be able to try several things before you spend money on something they may not like. Sampling can also be an eye opener for adults. Last week, I promoted yellow watermelon in my store, which was a product I had never seen before.
One of the greatest lessons a child can learn from helping you go grocery shopping is how to act in a socially acceptable manner. The simple act of spending time together outside of the home teaches morale, manners, patience and so much more.
Finally, for a truly great experience, do not bring hungry kiddos to the store. Combat that “hangry” feeling you or your child may experience by having a snack before you go. If that simply isn't an option, some grocery stores offer fresh fruit for children to snack on while shopping.
For more information such as toddler friendly snacks and healthier holiday treats for kids, other tips for shopping with your toddler, or recipes for homemade baby food please contact me at email@example.com. As always healthy shopping and healthy eating. Elizabeth Volzke, RD, LN
About the author: Elizabeth has an Associates of Science as an Early Childhood Specialist and graduated in December 2015 from South Dakota State University with her Bachelors of Science degree in Dietetics and Food Science. Elizabeth completed her Nationally Accredited Dietetic Internship through Iowa State University, and is currently working towards her Master’s Degree in Public Health. Elizabeth is a Registered Dietitian currently working with a large grocery retailer in the Midwest.
Registered Dietitian, Austinite, Mom with a 2-yr old, Dog lover