Any parent knows that it’s hard to get kids to eat healthfully. But Laura Keogh and Ceri Marsh, authors of How to Feed a Family, and parents themselves, have found that by making simple substitutions and involving children in the cooking process, they will be more likely to eat the healthy food you cook for them (picky eaters included!).
Their first step to getting kids to have a healthy diet is to make everything whole-grain. Since kids love and consume so much pasta, bread, and rice, it only makes sense to choose the healthiest version of the things they love. For instance, try making pancakes with whole-grain or spelt flour. Switching it up to incorporate whole grains gives kids the essential nutrients they need, as whole grains are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And a diet high in whole grains has been shown to lower the risk of obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Keogh and Marsh say, "Your kids will never even notice the difference."
When swapping one food out for another, Marsh suggests starting with the foods they love the most — that way, you have the best chance of getting them to eat the healthier version. Other simple substitutions include swapping in couscous, quinoa, or faro in place of mashed potatoes to incorporate more fiber and nutrition into your kids’ plates. When baking, use brown rice syrup instead of corn syrup, which is lower on the glycemic index, and when giving a snack like a smoothie, add some chia powder or flax meal for a fiber and protein fix.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but giving your kids a balanced breakfast and a midday meal that is high in protein and paired with complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats, is vital to their concentration at school, and to feeling full longer. In lieu of sugary cereals, Marsh likes to make oatmeal out of steel-cut oats or whole oats and mix in chopped almonds, fruit, or applesauce as a way to get other healthy ingredients into their meal.
The benefit of eating a meal high in protein and good carbohydrates is that blood sugar levels in your kids won’t spike and dip the way they would if you made them something sugary. For lunch, choose something with protein containing the amino acid tyrosine, which is good for concentration and keeping the body fueled. Foods that contain this nutrient include tuna, seafood, turkey, legumes, and tofu.
And, if you are looking for a way to get your picky eater to try new, healthier things, get them into the kitchen and cooking. When they are personally involved you have the best shot at getting them to try new things.