BY Katie Morell
My diet consisted entirely of grilled cheese sandwiches for the first eight years of my life. I simply refused to eat anything else. Broccoli? No way. Salad? Eww. Fruit? Forget about it. My adamancy drove my mom crazy. When I finally conceded and realized that I liked salad, she practically cried with happiness.
My mom’s experience is not uncommon; children are notoriously picky eaters. In an effort to learn how mothers can entice their offspring to eat something other than fried cheese, I spoke with Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian and host of Food Network’s Healthy Appetite. As mother to a 10-year-old girl, she has firsthand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to feeding children heart-healthy foods.
Here are her top tips for moms:
Taste the rainbow
Heart-healthy fruits and vegetables come in bright colors, so encourage your children to eat the rainbow every day. Make it fun by encouraging them to keep track of every color they eat.
“Kids love color and they love challenges,” Krieger says. “Explain that different colored foods have different antioxidants and those antioxidants are like superheroes in your body.”
Make food, not war
Don’t punish your children for refusing to eat something on their plate—just don’t give them an alternative, recommends Krieger.
“You can’t force a kid to eat, so put the food out and if they don’t eat it just act like you don’t care,” she says. “Parents should worry less about whether children eat or not. Kids have a good way of regulating that.”
Feed them adult food
Krieger started feeding daughter adult foods the minute she was eating solids. She used a food mill to grind up peas and cooked onions and when she didn’t have a mill on hand, she’d mash up her food with a fork. Today, her daughter is less picky than most children because she wasn’t allowed the traditional grilled cheese and hot dog alternatives to adult meals.
Filling up on junk food before dinner is the quickest way to spoil an appetite. Krieger recommends feeding children a healthy snack when they come home from school and then forcing them to wait until dinnertime to eat again.
“If they are hungry before the meal, give them slices of veggies that you are cutting up,” she suggests.
Be a role model
As tempting as it may be to grab that bag of potato chips before dinner, try to refrain.
“Don’t tell them to eat colorful fruits and vegetables when you are eating junk foods,” says Krieger. “Kids learn by watching you.”
Katie Morell is passionate about issues relating to women’s health and wellness. As a runner and yoga practitioner, she tries to live by the advice given in her Go Red pieces. When not lacing up her sneakers or doing a downward-facing dog, she is writing for a variety of publications including Hemispheres, USA Today, Consumer’s Digest and The Writer.