Healthy food can be enjoyable.

Looking for ways to make mealtime fun for your little ones? Eating healthy food can be enjoyable, even for the pickiest palates! The key is to look for creative ways to introduce these beneficial nutrients in a way that looks appealing and tastes great.

As your trusted pediatric dentist, we love sharing quick and easy ways to help your entire family enjoy tooth-friendly foods that can help them feel their best from the inside out. Today, we’re sharing 10 of our top tips to help your kids eat well and establish lifelong eating habits that stick!

1. Model healthy eating habits.

We don’t have to remind you that children love to mimic the behaviors that they see their parents perform. Why not use this emulation to your advantage? If your littles see you reach for healthy food at snack time and fill your plate with fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains, they’re more likely to do the same. Start this journey by modeling the actions that you want them to follow.

2. Model a positive attitude toward healthy food.

Keep in mind that your kids are always watching and listening. If they see you turn up your nose at the produce aisle and head right to the cookies and candies, then they’ll pick up on that behavior. Any time that you can, talk about the benefits of choosing foods that nourish your body. Let them hear how great you feel after you make that morning smoothie! Or, allow them to help you in the kitchen when you find a fun swap for a beloved family sweet (avocado brownies, anyone?)

3. Hide the veggies

No, we don’t mean leave the good stuff in the back of the pantry! Rather, look for clever ways to sneak healthy food, like veggies, into family meals whenever you get the chance. Stir a little pureed cauliflower in their mac and cheese or sauté some zucchini and squash into your next bash of spaghetti sauce. These little substitutions won’t alter the taste and your kiddos may even ask for seconds! Worried they’ll wise up to your games? There are plenty of easy ways to fully conceal the green stuff in tasty dishes they’ll love! Here is a list of 12 innovative ideas to help inspire you.

4. Cut healthy food into fun shapes.

For some reason, almost any food becomes instantly more enticing when it’s cut or prepared into fun shapes that your kids can enjoy. A classic example is the tried-and-true “ants on a log” snack of celery, peanut butter, and raisins, but there are many more you can try. Experts from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggest a few food styling tips that can help little eaters belly up to more nutritious fare. One suggestion is to swap sandwiches for whole-grain wraps, sliced into mini rounds. You can also prepare fruits and veggies into kabobs, which are 1000% more fun to eat!

5. Let them help with the cooking.

Do you have a little hand grabbing at your apron? Instead of encouraging your kids to play elsewhere, let them help you as you work in the kitchen! Depending on their age, this might mean measuring out ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon, cracking an egg, or more. Look for simple tasks that they can easily do, which will build their confidence and encourage them to keep at it. As you work together, remember that all messes are temporary. A little flour on the countertop is worth it if you can encourage your brood to take a hands-on approach to their own healthy eating habits!

6. Make healthy food/snacks accessible.

Want to avoid a tooth filling and motivate your kids to reach for healthy food at snack time rather than sugar-laden sweets? Make them as accessible as possible! Instead of storing them on the top shelf of the fridge, consider making a mini “snack station” on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator door.

Stock it with all of the good stuff that they’re free to enjoy, such as:

  • String cheese
  • Boiled eggs
  • Pre-cut raw carrots and celery
  • Fresh fruit
  • Yogurt packs

This is especially helpful after school, when they need a nibble before starting on homework. When these types of foods are easily within reach, they’ll be more likely to choose those over the sugary alternatives. As a kids dentist, we love that these snacks also offer a great way to grow strong, healthy teeth!

7. Find new meals together.

As you browse Pinterest and flip through cookbooks, let your kids help you find new healthy recipes to try. It’s no secret that there are many different options out there, and it can be hard to pare down the list. To expedite the process, use a recipe tool that helps you create meals based on what you already have at home. Sites like MyFridgeFood can help you save time and money as you expand your collection of go-to dishes.

8. Cook at home.

Have you been tempted to eat out more than usual? When you do, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut of kid’s meal items that consist of little more than chicken nuggets, hamburgers, and french fries. The same goes for after-dinner desserts, which are often so sugary you need a cavity filling just reading the menu! While these foods are fine in moderation, they can also be high in unhealthy fats and preservatives. When you cook most of your meals at home, you retain full control over the ingredients list and can choose simple, easy-to-pronounce ones that you can feel good about.

9. Let them help you shop for healthy food.

As you walk around the grocery store, ask your kids to help you find yummy, colorful foods that are good for their growing bodies. A general rule is that the healthiest foods tend to be around the store’s perimeter, so start your trek there. Let your little ones browse the fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables at the produce aisle and choose the leanest cut of meat at the produce section. They’ll love taking a more hands-on approach and you’ll appreciate the extra help!

10. Offer choices.

No, mealtime doesn’t need to turn into a smorgasbord of menu items. However, it can be helpful to offer a few healthy alternatives to your main course or side items. This way, dinner doesn’t turn into a major stressor and everyone can find something they enjoy. Create general guidelines for your children to follow and allow them a little autonomy to customize their choices. For instance, each plate has to have two servings of veggies, one serving of protein, and one serving of carbs.

Healthy Food Tips From Your Pediatric Dentist

Mealtime can be one of the most rewarding and comforting times of the day for your little ones. The key to helping them eat healthy food is to make the meals as fun and appealing as possible. It also helps to invite your kids to help you in the shopping and preparation processes!

As your pediatric dentist, we love to see our tiniest patients eating plenty of tooth-friendly foods that help nourish their minds and bodies. With these tricks up your sleeve, you can help them grow and thrive, from kindergarten to high school and beyond!