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9 Tips and Healthy Recipes for Picky Kids
Remove the Unhealthy Options
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Just as you're going to have trouble resisting a chocolate cake if it's sitting on your kitchen counter, kids will ask for cookies, chips and French fries if they know they have easy access to them. Before you try to turn your finicky eater into a broccoli-lover, remove the unhealthy foods from your refrigerator and pantry.
Let Them Choose
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Once you've gotten rid of the junk food, fill your kitchen with a variety of healthy foods. Then, let your children choose what they would like to eat. This works well with toddlers who want to become independent. If it's snack time, for example, give them two options: sliced apple with cheese or sliced banana with peanut butter. Whichever they choose, they're getting a serving of fruit and some protein.
Serve the Same Thing Several Ways
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Australian research suggests that parents may need to offer a child a specific food up to 10 times before they will eat it. Even if your child has protested against a certain food, don't give up. Give them that same food prepared a different way. For example, if your child doesn't want to eat a baked yam right out of the skin, peel it, cut into long strips, toss it in coconut oil and bake it in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Regardless of the preparation, the yam is still full of fiber, potassium, and vitamins C and B6.
Disguise Vegetables in Foods They Like
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If you've cooked carrots a dozen different ways and your child still refuses to eat them, hide them in something he or she likes. Pureed steamed carrots can be concealed under yellow cheddar on a grilled cheese sandwich. Pureed carrots—and many other vegetables—can also be disguised in marinara sauce. Check out The Sneaky Chef blog for more tips on how to camouflage vegetables in kid-friendly dishes.
Reinvent Healthier Versions of Kid Classics
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Kid classics such as hamburgers and milkshakes don't have to be unhealthy. Forego the fast-food versions and make your own with high-quality ingredients. For the burger, use grass-fed ground beef, organic ketchup that doesn't contain high-fructose corn syrup and a whole-grain or gluten-free bun. Instead of using ice cream to make a milkshake, add Greek yogurt, fresh strawberries, vanilla bean, honey (if your child isn't allergic) and ice cubes to organic milk or a non-dairy equivalent.
Teach Them Where Real Food Comes From
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Although fast- and processed-food marketers would love for your children to believe food comes from a drive-thru window, you know better. And it's up to you to teach your children where real food originates, according to Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef and father of four kids. Oliver is an advocate for food education in the home and in schools, and believes it's one of the best ways to get kids interested in healthy eating. Take your children to a local farm or a farmer's market. If you have the space, plant your own garden and teach your kids how to tend to it.
Reinstate Family Dinner
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The tradition of family dinner eaten around a table—not in front of the TV or computer—might seem antiquated, but television personality Katie Couric has been an advocate for the ritual since she had children. In the forward she wrote for Laurie David's book called The Family Cooks. Couric talks about the importance of pairing healthy dishes with quality family time. Everyone eats the same thing together and at the same time. Research shows that this modeling of parental eating habits leads to better nutrition in the short and long term.
Make Trying New Foods Fun
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Mealtime shouldn't be a struggle. It should be something children enjoy. Make it fun. If you're preparing the meal, cut foods into shapes. Cookie cutters can turn watermelon slices into flowers or footballs. For more creative ideas, check out the Food Fun for Kids pinboard on Pinterest. If you're dining out, take your children to a fun restaurant that specializes in the food you want them to try and make it a big event. Even if it's fish, ask the server to put a candle in it or have the chef draw a smiley face with the sauce.
Teach Them to Cook
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One of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is to teach them how to cook. Start while they're young—really young. A 2-year-old can tear lettuce; a 3-year-old can mix or pour ingredients. For more ways young children can help out in the kitchen, check out these tips from the National Institutes of Health. Once your children are old enough, enroll them in a cooking class. Buy them their own cooking tools. Help them create a recipe and showcase it on the fridge. Celebrate their culinary accomplishments and watch as they take more of an interest in different foods, cooking and, eventually, overall health.