by Sarah Muntel, RD

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A constant struggle for many parents is feeding their children a balanced diet. It can be very difficult to find good, nutritious foods that your kids will actually eat amidst the sugary cereal, cookies and chips. It is a constant worry for many parents to ensure their kids are getting healthy foods into their everyday diet. From an early age, kids have preferences of what they like and what they don’t like to eat.

Offering your kids healthy foods at an early age can start a lifetime of healthy habits. Parents are smart to work on making changes early-on in life. As childhood obesity rates rise in the U.S., good nutrition early is even more important. Many parents report their kids are “picky eaters.” It can be a challenge to find things your kids like and it may seem easier to cave-in and give your kids the junk foods they want, but changes now will be well worth it later.

With our supersized nation, it’s easy to think your kids are not getting enough food. Sometimes parents aren’t sure how much their kids should eat each day. A good starting point would be to determine what kids actually need every day.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, toddlers need approximately:

  • Two to three ounces of protein
  • One cup fruit
  • One cup vegetables
  • Two cups of dairy
  • Three ounces of whole grains

AGES 9-13 
As kids age, of course they need to eat a little more. When kids are at age 9 to 13, they need:

  • Five ounces of protein
  • One and a half cup fruit
  • Two cups of vegetables
  • Three servings of dairy
  • Five ounces of grain

Simple changes to your diet, choices, and the way you serve food can really change the nutrition your kids get. Here are some tips to increase consumption of the good foods kids need every day:

1. Presentation can be everything. Kids can be easily fooled into eating something they may not normally eat by presenting it in a different way. For example, invest in fun, colorful plates or bowls, which can only be used to eat their veggies on. Find cookie cutters in various shapes and use them for sandwiches, waffles, cheese, and pancakes.

2. Get them involved. Your kids can get really excited about things if they are able to take part. In the summer, plant a garden full of veggies like green beans, tomato, lettuce and zucchini. Then, search for new recipes and for tasty ways to serve them. Kids love to help in the kitchen. Getting them involved helps so much and they will be much more likely to eat what they cook!

3. Be sneaky. There are ways to add great nutrition to your kid’s diet without them even knowing. Make a smoothie with yogurt, milk, berries, bananas and spinach (yes I just said spinach)! With the sweetness of the fruit, they won’t even taste the spinach. Another option is to blend veggies and add to soups, stews or sauces. The good news is they will have no idea! It’s also pretty easy to chop-up veggies very small and add to pasta sauce, taco meat or even scrambled eggs.

4. Serve them a different way. Plain veggies, fruits and whole grain crackers can be difficult to eat on their own. Yummy fruit dips get kids excited about apples, pears, bananas and berries. Fresh veggies with hummus or a low-fat dip are also fun and tasty. Are your kids bored with plain celery? How about good old fashioned ants on a log (celery + peanut butter + raisins)? For whole grain crackers, add a flavored low-fat cream cheese for some added flavor.

There are also a few tricks of the trade to help with your kids when it comes to eating. Follow some of the food rules below and you may have better success:

1. Keep your kids on a regular meal and snack schedule. When kids graze all day, of course they won’t be hungry. Set a schedule and try to stick with it as best as you can. When you eat at set times, kids will actually be hungry and be more likely to eat.

2. Don’t let them drink juice and milk all day. Milk and juice can both have their place in kids’ diets, but when kids sip on juice and milk between meals, they can get full before meal times and be less likely to eat. Instead, keep them hydrated on water or calorie-free fluids.

3. Avoid distractions at meal times. Eating in front of the TV or computer can make it hard for kids to focus. During meal and snack times, make sure kids sit at the table to eat and turn off all electronic devices.

4. Set a good example. What better way to help your kids than by what you eat every day. Serving good meals and snacks for the whole family is a great way for everyone to get healthy.

5. Give your kids a couple choices for meals. For example, don’t ask, “What do you want for lunch?” Instead, give kids two options: “Would you like a turkey sandwich or a cheese quesadilla?” Many parents end up cooking different meals for each member of their family. Find a way to make a meal your whole family can enjoy together!

6. Respect their appetite. Kids are different than adults. They know when they are hungry and they know when they are full. Sometimes they may only eat a small amount and that’s ok.

In the end, relax and take a breath. Realize you don’t have to change everything overnight and you probably won’t! Just focus on making small changes a little at a time. As your kids get used to the changes, add another one. Take notes, and in six months, you’ll be amazed at your healthy, happy family!


About the Author:
Sarah Muntel, RD, is a registered dietitian with IU Health Bariatric & Medical Weight-loss. She has worked in bariatrics for the past 12 years and enjoys helping people get to a healthy weight so they can improve their health, feel better about themselves and become more active.