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10 Parenting Hacks to Get Picky Kids To Eat Healthier

Head and shoulders photograph of Anju Mobin
Young child sitting in high chair playing with vegetables on a plate
When it comes to healthy eating, it's often an ongoing battle between the parents and the kids. Constant worry about the nutritional aspect of foods can make mealtimes fraught with tension—not just for you but for your kids as well. It’s easy enough to get them to eat mac and cheese or chicken nuggets, but how can you get your kids to eat colorful veggies and fruits filled with nutrients?

Statistics reveal that most kids do not eat enough fruits and vegetables to meet their recommended intakes (1). Even though this can be difficult, it’s important to know what the nutritional requirements for 5-7 year olds are.

Rather than forcing them to eat what they should, here are 10 parenting hacks to get your picky kids to eat healthier while having them enjoy it.

» Looking for an easy meal plan for your family? Check out our top 10 picks for the best meal delivery services.

1. Change the Chips

Kids will inevitably want to snack, so make sure to have some low-calorie and crunchy snacks on hand. Unfortunately, you should avoid chips as a snack since it's not exactly healthy for kids.

Wondering what to eat when you're craving chips? As a healthy alternative to chips, try making air-fried kale or sweet potato chips. While potato hardly provides any nutritional value, kale and sweet potato are low-calorie chips brimming with essential nutrients.

Kale is rich in vitamin A, vital for ensuring healthy eyesight in kids, and vitamins C and K, helping to strengthen their immune systems.

2. Replace the Snacking

Picky kids, if allowed, tend to snack frequently on biscuits, cookies, cakes, chips, and sodas. Most of this is just refined flour, trans fats, and sugar which are extremely harmful to health. Snacking also fills them up and prevents them from eating wholesome foods during meal times.

You can cut short on frequent snacking by ensuring they eat well at mealtimes. If the three-big-meals ideology is too much for their little tummies, simply reduce the number or break it into smaller meals served more frequently. If your kid isn't too hungry, you can offer healthy snacks as an alternative to the meal. Serve your child healthy snacks for cravings, such as avocado and chicken in a wholewheat wrap.

Offer healthy alternatives to cookies. Meals rich in protein and healthy fats not only look and taste delicious, but they also offer satiety and keep them feeling full for longer. Adequate protein intake is extremely important for a child's growth, while fat is essential for healthy brain development.

» Kids eating too much in between meals? Here’s how you can prevent unhealthy snacking.

3. Have Fun With Sauces and Dips

"Mess" and "kids" can definitely go hand in hand! A kid with tomato sauce smeared all over their mouth, finger, and even T-shirt may not seem that amusing to the one who has to clean them up, but it's evident the kid is enjoying their food. Using healthier versions of popular dips like yogurt, hummus, or sugar-free applesauce can be a great way to introduce healthier foods to your kids.

So, how to get kids excited about eating healthy? Introduce some fun foods to make with kids such as salad in a jar, no-bake snack bars, and fruit juice ice pops.

If you want them hooked on the kale chips, then try serving it with a cheesy dip or homemade sugar-free tomato sauce.

4. Say “Yes” to Chocolate

Chocolate is good for health and can be given to your child—but you have to pay attention to the kind of chocolate you buy. Avoid high-sugar candy bars with corn syrup, food coloring, and other additives.

The healthiest chocolate choice is dark chocolate. Chocolate containing at least 50% cocoa is a good choice for kids as it’s packed with minerals such as magnesium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, selenium, and copper, all of which are high in antioxidants. The flavonoids and theobromines in chocolates stimulate the hippocampus and improve brain function (2), essential for growing kids.

As a healthy alternative to chocolate, you can even sneak in a pureé of pumpkins or zucchini into your wholewheat sugar-free chocolate muffins to add more nutritive value.

Even diabetic kids can have chocolate that's low in sugar. Meal delivery for diabetic children is a great way to find versatile and delicious food options.

5. Experiment With Food Recipes

With some subtle healthy tweaks here and there, your child won't even notice the difference. Let them even try some edible science experiments with food.

For example, replace your white-flour pasta with zucchini noodles and toss in bacon or sausages and scrambled eggs. Zucchini is high in manganese, potassium, folic acid, and vitamins A, C, and K. Kids require adequate potassium and folic acid for healthy blood functioning and maintaining the correct balance of fluids.

» More: Check out the best YouTube cooking channels for more food ideas.

6. Make Healthy Foods Tasty

Who said healthy foods can’t be tasty?

Take a look at spinach, for example—high in iron, folic acid, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and K. But instead of forcing your kids to eat spinach as a side dish with grilled chicken, try making a chicken roulade stuffed with spinach, mushroom, and cheese. It will be colorful and delicious and have your kids begging for seconds.

If the idea of making such a dish sounds tiresome or difficult, then you need not worry. There are many different meal delivery services that offer similarly healthy meals, such as Home Chef.

7. Let Them Eat Junk

If your munchkin is hellbent on having a burger and French fries for a Friday dinner, let them have it once in a while. However, gently make them understand that they need to have a healthy breakfast the next day to compensate.

Oats cooked in milk with fruits or berries and some nuts of their choice are a great option. The soluble fiber present in oats will not only help clean up the digestive system but also give your child enough nutrients to make up for the day before. Oats are also a great source of protein and healthy carbs, and they offer antioxidants and fibers that relieve inflammation (3).

Food art for kids is a fun way to catch the interest of picky eaters. Not sure how to get kids to eat healthy through art? There are many food kids will eat if you make them look appealing enough. For example, try arranging sandwiches, and cutting fruits and vegetables to create pictures of animals.

» More: Here are the best gluten-free recipes for kids.

8. Get Creative With the Presentation

Does your dining area seem like a battleground to both you and the kids? Then it's time to turn it into a playground! How you present the food to the kids is very important in getting them to eat it happily.

Arrange the food on the plate to form fun and interesting shapes like broccoli trees or even clowns—you can even give them funny names! Try coming up with new ideas and smart hacks that make both you and your kid happy, making them look forward to mealtimes and forging fond memories of happy meals.

9. Quench Their Thirst With Immunity Boosters

You do not always have to fight over food. Give your kids choices about what they eat.

For example, if they ask for carbonated drinks or fruit juices that are full of sugar, offer them some flavored drinks with no sugar. For example, a small glass of homemade lemonade with pulp is much better than a soda. While the former provides your child with a good amount of vitamin C, essential for healthy blood vessels and immune systems, the latter is just sugar, preservatives, food coloring, and dangerous acids.

Additionally, a glass of milk blended with a dash of unsweetened cocoa powder can give your kids plenty of the calcium they need to build strong teeth and bones.

» Want the kids to learn how to make their own food? Here are the best ways to get your kids involved in cooking.

10. Let Them Make Their Own Meals

When they make their own meals, chances are that they will eat every morsel of it. Set the counter with some healthy ingredients and easy recipes from Blue Apron or HelloFresh and let the kids have fun making their own meals. Not only are they more likely to eat what they've prepared, but this can also be a fun bonding exercise that teaches your kids about the importance of home cooking over takeout.

Remember that it’s important to make the cooking experience fun for your kids. So, let them get messy! Let your kid get covered in food. Choose easy meals for kids to make. Get creative and find new ways for them to enjoy the process.

A Final Note

Getting your kids to eat healthier doesn't need to be difficult. No matter what we say, kids are great imitators and tend to do exactly what we do. Kids will never learn to eat healthy if you don't lead by example. So, be a good role model for them and eat together as much as possible.

If you feel frazzled, reduce the stress through a healthy family dinner kit. You can even look for non-vegetarian or vegetarian meal delivery services, according to your preference.

» Want to try a new delivery service? Here are the best HelloFresh alternatives.

Resources

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/facts.htm
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6262453/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6567219/
Head and shoulders photograph of Anju Mobin
Anju Mobin is a certified nutritionist with work experience as a Diet and Fitness Consultant from numerous medical clinics. Founder and editor of fitnesshacks.org, Anju strives to simplify complex information about nutrition, health, and fitness for the general public. As a mother of four children, she also writes about pregnancy and post-pregnancy nutrition, drawing from her own experience.

*The information on this site is based on research, but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new diet plan, we recommend consulting with a physician or other professional healthcare provider. Results may vary based on various health factors, individual weight loss plans and adherence to the meal plan.