Finding ways to get kids to eat right is as easy as a few mouse clicks, thanks to Pinterest and the abundance of mommy bloggers. Do you worry about your milk-hating kid getting enough calcium? Is there bargaining at the table when vegetables are involved? Are you the parent of a picky eater whose list of tolerable and intolerable foods reads like a celebrity contract rider? The assortment of healthy-eating techniques parents can use includes: ingredient substitutions, serving items differently, sneaking foods into other foods and other tactics. Here are some tips.
Parenting tactics — Some of these tactics can be adapted for use with other tasks, like picking out clothes and doing chores.
• Present kids with two or three food options and let them make the final decision.
• Introduce new foods to children on several different occasions.
• Have healthy foods available when kids come home hungry or snack out of boredom.
• Involve kids in cooking and teach them to prepare a variety of foods.
• Never make a big deal out of eating foods children are hesitant to try or don't like.
• Realize that children often make negative associations with foods if they were sick the last time they tried them.
• Teach children portion control by letting them know they can always get second helpings and not forcing them to "clean their plates."
• Never use "fun" foods to bribe kids into eating "just a few more bites" of "gross" foods.
Food substitutions — Boost nutrition and cut calories and fat with these easy 1:1 ratio substitutions.
• Replacing sugar with pulverized dates works great in desserts that don't rely on granulated sugar's chemical makeup, as do pralines. Dates taste just as sweet and impart only a slight raisin flavor.
• Using avocado instead of butter in baked goods and instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches and in salads (chicken, tuna, egg) doesn't change the flavor and texture, but drastically decreases calories, fat and cholesterol.
• Plain Greek yogurt tastes just like sour cream. Use yogurt solo as a garnish or as the base for dips.
• In sweet baked goods, replace butter with mashed bananas to cut calories. The resulting banana flavor will be faint if it is noticeable at all.
• The Betty Crocker standby of replacing oil with unsweetened applesauce in baked goods (excluding cookies) takes nothing away from flavor or texture.
• Use fresh citrus juice instead of salt in dishes like baked fish or tuna salad to cut sodium and add flavor.
• Replacing flour with pureed black beans works well in some dishes.
• Using spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti in pasta dishes cuts carbohydrates and calories without changing flavor.
Fun presentation — Try serving food differently to make it appeal to kids.
• Make ice cubes or popsicles from pureed fruit.
• Try serving foods at different temperatures. The child who hates warm peas at dinner might love eating them frozen, and the kid who doesn't like fresh apples might enjoy them baked or dehydrated.
• Raw vegetables can be fun for kids, and vegetables' bright colors and crispy textures can make them more appealing than cooked ones.
• Kids love to dip and dunk their food. Serve fruit and veggies with dips made of Greek yogurt, or come up with ways to make a dippable dinner.
• Most kids go crazy for pizza and tacos. Some good things, such as bell peppers on pizza or radishes in tacos, are more appealing than vegetables served solo.
Sneak attack — When all else fails, just sneak hated foods into loved dishes and let kids know later that they ate them.
• Shredded carrots can be added to breakfast breads without changing the flavor.
• Pureed vegetables like carrots, spinach and zucchini can't be spotted in red gravy.
• Cauliflower is a culinary chameleon, standing in for the base of alfredo sauce and pizza crust (see recipes), and blending seamlessly with mashed potatoes and rice.
• Seasoned, sauteed mushrooms can be used to stretch meat for especially carnivorous kids.