Parenting Matters: Make healthy foods fun for kids

<p>Jody Bender, director of community engagement, Loaves & Fishes. | Submitted</p>

Jody Bender, director of community engagement, Loaves & Fishes. | Submitted

Welcome to the Collaborative Youth Team’s column, “Parenting Matters!” The group is a partnership of 24 youth and family service organizations and agencies that are here to serve you. Each month, a different partner offers practical tips for restoring balance within our families and for building resiliency in our youth. This month’s column is shared by Jody Bender, director of community engagement for Loaves & Fishes.

Kids can be picky eaters. Attracted by advertisements and packaging to colorful products loaded with preservatives, artificial colors and flavorings, they often prefer junk food to healthier options. With a little planning and stealthy nutrition education, you can teach your kids to seek colorful, healthy foods the whole family will enjoy.

1. Plan your grocery list to make sure children have three nutritious meals each day. An assortment of versatile, simple-to-prepare foods will make menu planning a snap. Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, eggs, plain yogurt, and fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent staples for any meal.

2. Involve your children in grocery shopping by letting them help you select colorful fruits and vegetables, non-sugary cereals and other healthy foods. Grocery stores are arranged so that sugary foods and salty snacks are at children’s eye level. Point out the colorful healthy items outside of their limited view, and encourage them to see and smell the freshness. Apples, avocados, kiwis, oranges, pineapples and peppers are just a few fresh foods that will appeal to your child’s senses.

3. Turn in-store sampling into a healthy adventure. Especially on weekends, in-store sampling beckons around every corner. While many items are less than healthy, others present wonderful opportunities to help your child try something new. Look for samples of healthy fruit or vegetable juices, yogurt (but watch the sugar count), turkey or chicken-based bacon and sausage, and low-fat almond or soy milk, to name a few. If your child enjoys the product, take some home to share with the family.

4. Give your children age-appropriate kitchen tasks so they can be part of the food preparation process. Even young kids can help to sort and wash fruits and vegetables or measure ingredients, while older children can (with supervision) learn to chop salad fixings and follow recipes. Encourage them to come up with fun ways to present healthy items they chose on your shopping trip.

5. Eat dinner together at least five nights each week — no electronics (phones, pagers, games) allowed at the table. It’s hard to say which is more challenging, frequently eating dinner together or removing electronics from the table, but both are critical to successful mealtimes. Studies show that families who eat dinner together at least five nights a week are more likely to have children who participate in positive behaviors and are successful at school. Putting away the electronics allows everyone to engage and share conversation. Talk about new foods on your plate or ask each family member to share something positive about their day, and watch the chatter flow!

6. Offer choices. Ask, “Which would you like for dinner: carrots or corn?” instead of “Do you want corn for dinner?” Open-ended questions can be useful but not in meal planning. Options acknowledge preferences quickly and easily.

This column is courtesy of KidsMatter, Collaborative Youth Team facilitator. To access the community resource guide and partner contact information, visit and