Children who refuse to eat healthy meals and only want pizza and chips are a challenge when it comes to dinner time. As a parent, you want them to get all the nutrients they need to grow up strong and healthy with good eating habits instilled. Changing children’s tastes gradually will make this process less painful. Slowly and discretely adding in foods that aren’t their favourites will introduce the tastes slowly and in a way that wont lead to an exhausting fight.
Practical tips to help:
- Clear your cupboards of junk/snacky food- if its not there, they cant eat it
- Lead by example – you enjoying healthy meals will lay the ground work
- Manage choices by giving them two healthy options. For example, would you like carrots or peas with your dinner. Children feel more empowered when they are involved in the decision making process
- Don’t let meal times become a battle field- be encouraging and enthusiastic. You know what your child will respond well to. Examples may be star charts or reward type systems (don’t make the rewards a food based item).
- Make your own version of popular processed foods – burgers, chicken nuggets, fish fingers etc
- Include children in food preparation, they are much more likely to eat something they have made themselves
- Don’t feel obligated to order off the children’s menu at restaurants. Order a starter or share a main with your child, Children’s menus are often limited to processed foods.
Some children will still refuse to eat healthier options, in these cases, a little bit of hide and seek to gradually introduce the taster to them can be helpful. The suggestions included are ideas on how to incorporate foods children may not eat into meals they already like
Pasta shapes in tomato sauce
This is an opportunity to get lots of vegetables into the tomato sauce you make. Add in onions, olive oil, mushrooms, carrots, courgette and tinned tomato. Cooking all of these ingredients together and whizzing them in a blender will disguise the taste and texture. Add in some fun pasta shapes (gluten free) and let your child enjoy.
Spaghetti bolognaise is a firm favourite amongst children- nice and messy. Add pureed beans to the mince, the bolognaise flavour should disguise the bean taste. This is another opportunity for adding in vegetables. Mushrooms and onions are easy to incorporate
Egg and Soldiers
Eggs are a great source of nutrients for children, they enjoy dipping foods. Have the usual slices of toast to dip, but also add in other things to dip into the egg. Vegetables cut into slices will make them easy to dip. Cucumber, celery and carrots work well. If your child enjoys dipping vegetables, you can also try hummus and bean dip instead of the egg. Children who don’t tolerate wheat could try oat cakes instead.
Chicken Fingers and Homemade Chips
Making your own chicken nuggets and chips is really easy. You will know exactly what’s in them and children will love having take away food at home. Sliced chicken breast, rolled in flour, dipped in egg and then rolled in breadcrumbs and lightly fried in a little butter will be much tastier than processed chicken strips (Fish fingers can be made in the same way). Let your child help with this, its lovely and messy and they will enjoy it thoroughly and be excited to eat it. Home made chips baked in the oven will be a great addition to the meal. Using sweet potato and adding in some butternut will add to the nutrient content.
Children are generally happier to eat white fish. Oily fish contains important nutrients, using a fish pie, you can disguise oily fish amongst the white fish without them noticing. This will provide a great source of essential fats. Include haddock or cod as the white fish with mackerel or salmon as the oily fish. The sauce should cover the taste.
Children who are used to the taste of processed foods will take some time to adjust to new tastes and textures. Stick with it- you are doing a great job.
If you would like any of the recipes for the above suggestions, please email me and I will send through a break down for you.
Dominique is a Nutritional Therapist (DipION), and studied with the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in Richmond. She joins the BodyUK team as a key influencer in her field. Watch out for more from Dominique here at BodyUK, you can also connect with her over on Facebook