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For many of us, our New Year’s resolution will be to eat better. While our kids may protest our goals to have a healthier year, it’s our job to get them back on track.
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If your kids have been indulging in holiday treats, we have some tried and true ideas to help eat healthier this year—and have fun doing it—to set them up for good, healthful eating habits going forward.
1. Schedule meals and snacks
Just like a hungry adult, children will grab the quickest, easiest option available. Don’t wait until their stomach is growling, when all that will satiate them are high fat foods.
Children need to eat every three to four hours. That includes three meals, two snacks, and lots of fluids like milk and water. Just be sure to be consistent when it comes to timing, and don’t force kids to eat if they’re not hungry. This way your children will learn to develop their own hunger cues so they can eventually take command of their own healthy eating habits.
If you plan ahead by having healthy snacks available, your child’s diet will be much more balanced. That means keeping smart snacks on hand (sandwich bags can help) for long car rides, errands and play dates. Apples, carrots, popcorn, pretzels, nuts and yogurt are all great options that travel well and keep kids’ healthy eating on track.
2. Pay attention to breakfast
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Kids’ developing bodies require a healthy breakfast to refuel their bodies and brains and to get their glucose levels back on track after a night of rest. Studies have shown that a healthy breakfast is vital to academic performance and emotional regulation and kids who partake in breakfast are more likely to have better health habits overall.
Look for low-sugar, high fiber fixes to start their day off strong. For kids on the go, nut butter toasts, smoothies and breakfast muffins are great choices that will give them a boost of energy and will help them keep focused for morning activities.
3. Make food fun-sized
Junk food manufacturers know that feeding kids fun, bite-sized shapes gets them hooked. Kids are more apt to eat their veggies and other healthy foods if they are cut into small bites that they can pop into their mouths. These cute cutters basically turn food into bite-sized puzzle pieces that are easy to eat and fun to assemble.
These BPA-free plastic blade cutters that won funding on Shark Tank are perfect for making healthy food more fun. What’s more, because they’re made from plastic, instead of metal, kids can get in on prep to make snacks even more exciting.
4. Get kids cooking
Every expert will tell you: If kids make it they will be more likely to eat it. DIY pizzas, fajitas, sandwiches, loaded potatoes, pasta bowls, yogurt parfaits and more make cooking fun and will expose kids to an array of healthy toppings. Plus, it makes for a fun, food-focused family activity. We also like food kits to push kids’ palates. Eat2Explore is one of our favorites.
Get kids involved in the prep work with child-safe tools. This set has everything they need to become a culinary master, including mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, mixing spoons, silicone spatula, whisk, rolling pin, kitchen timer, pastry brush, cookie turners, oven mitts, apron and—of course—a chef’s hat for the full visual effect.
5. Play with your food
Who says you shouldn’t play with your food? What if you could make a game out of eating healthy? If your child is balking about upping their healthy food intake, this plate will put a fun spin on things—literally! Designed by a mom and dad of a picky eater, this plate has spaces to put small, manageable portions of challenging foods. A game spinner sits in the middle to randomly select which foods to try.
6. Get dipping!
Never underestimate the power of ranch dressing. If your kids won’t eat their vegetables, try sprucing them up with yummy condiments, dressings and dips. A little hummus is filled with protein and makes all veggies taste better, while creamy salad dressings like ranch and green goddess will have your kids asking for another round of carrot sticks.
7. Get your lunch-packing on track
Bento box-style lunch boxes are always a great option to get your grazers to eat a rainbow. The problem is, who has time to make cute and colorful, vitamin-packed lunches every morning? No matter what our best intentions may be, we inevitably revert back to ham and cheese sandwiches and potato chips within a few weeks.
These bento box meal trays are just what you need to do a Sunday night meal prep to take you through the week. Each tray allows you to prepare lunches in advance and then seal them until they are ready to pop into a Bentgo brand kids’ lunch box.
8. Don’t fear frozen foods
Frozen or canned food isn’t a cop out—so long as you read the labels. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are generally processed at peak ripeness, so they can be more flavorful and more nutrient dense than fresh. Just be sure that canned food is low in sodium and packed in water as opposed to oil or syrup.
As for frozen meals, our Parenting editor recommends Little Spoon’s easy, frozen weeknight dinners. With winning meals like chicken potstickers with quinoa veggie stir fry and edamame and cherry black bean pupusas with veggie Spanish rice, you’ll be grateful to have these tasty dishes on hand when all of your other New Year’s resolutions fall apart. Because these kid-friendly dishes are frozen, you always have an option on hand for fast, healthy and nutrient-dense meals that are full of flavor.
9. Get a meal plan going
One of the biggest reasons families fail to keep their healthy eating resolutions is that we simply get disorganized with the hustle and bustle of our day. The Parenting team at Reviewed swears by the Skylight Calendar for keeping our lives organized with numerous activities and to-do lists and—as a bonus—it keeps our meals organized as well.
The calendar also has a grocery list and meal-planning app, to help keep your healthy meals on track. The app has a specific meal plan option that you can fill out from your phone and it will populate to the Skylight Calendar. Simply add each night’s meal to the calendar each week and voilà—it’s meal-planning at its easiest and most family-friendly.
10. Allow treats (in moderation)
Making sweet or salty treats forbidden is only going to make kids want them more. Instead of making less healthy snacks off limits, allow them in moderation. We allow a celebratory donut on Fridays after school after a long week of hard work in the classroom. We also keep a box of our favorite sugary cereal on hand, but instead of allowing it for breakfast it’s our favorite dessert for family movie night.
As for McDonald’s, we try to keep it at a minimum but a Happy Meal once or twice a month is an exciting treat. So long as kids look at these as a special exception, as opposed to a go-to dinner, it’ll set them up for knowing how to enjoy less nutritious foods without going overboard.
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