Try to stick to the outer aisles at the grocery store. As a general rule, the healthiest options for your growing child are fresh, whole foods that haven’t been processed. Dairy, fresh produce, and natural foods are usually found in the outer aisles of the store. The middle aisles are filled with snacks, potato chips, cakes, candy, etc. If your child is shopping with you, avoiding these aisles all together will keep him from seeing these items – and trying to convince you to add them to the cart.
Let your child help plan meals and shop. Let him pick out a new vegetable, help wash it and serve it to the family. He can also help set and clear the table. Getting him involved in the meal process will help him learn about healthy foods while reinforcing healthy eating habits.
Have your child try new foods. Missouri-based pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert tells her kindergarten patients that being in school means “big kid learning” and trying new things. She asks them to try one new healthy thing to eat each month. She asks them to try at least one bite and then bring back a list of the twelve new foods at their next annual checkup.
Help your kindergartener learn about foods by planting a few herbs, such as basil and cilantro, on a windowsill. Have him water the herbs and watch them grow. When they’re big enough, show him how you’ll use them to cook and let him taste how they change the flavors. You could also try this with tomatoes or other foods, depending on your space. This not only piques your child’s interest in the food, but also teaches him some science.
Ask family members or friends your child admires to model healthy eating behavior for your child. Younger children often idolize older people such as a parent, aunt or uncle, older cousin or friend. One way to motivate your child to eat better is to say if he wants to grow big and strong like his role model, he needs to eat healthy foods.
Teach your kindergartener what a healthy meal and snack is made of. A fruit and vegetable should be eaten at each meal and one at snack time.
Make meals and snacks fun. Your younger child will be interested in creative healthy snacks. For example, make “ants on a log” by placing peanut butter, or other nut butters, on celery sticks and let your child add raisins, dried cranberries, or other dried fruits to represent the ants.
Focus on eating as a family without technology distractions. This means no texting, no TV, no technology. Meals are a great time to connect as a family and keeping distractions at bay allows your child to learn to listen to his body and know when he is full.
Try sending bottles of water, low-fat cheese sticks, apple slices, or raisins instead of high-sugar and high-sodium snacks to school parties. Silly straws, temporary tattoos, and stickers are a good way to add to the festivities without adding calories.
Try not to force your child into eating. Sometimes kindergarteners show less interest in eating dinner. Pediatrician Natasha Burgert reminds the parents in her practice that the biggest meals may be breakfast and lunch, leading to fewer calories needed at night. Dr. Burgert says that as long as your child is growing normally, forcing food is never a good idea. Let them learn to eat when their body is telling them to be hungry.
Give your child dried fruits like raisins or dried apricots as a sweet snack instead of candy. This will satisfy his sweet tooth while also delivering important nutrients. But make sure your child brushes his teeth after eating dried fruits – they can be sticky just like a candy. And keep an eye on the serving size – ¼ cup is one serving of dried fruit, that’s about 1 small box of raisins.
Keep sliced fruits in easily accessible containers in the refrigerator for a healthy snack or meal addition. Younger children are more likely to eat fruit if is cut up and easy to eat.
Smoothies are a good way to pack in a lot of fruits in one serving. Add whole bananas, frozen berries, low-fat milk, and blend. You can even add spinach. The fruits will mask its taste. It’s a treat that tastes like a frozen dessert, but packs a lot of nutrients. Be careful not to serve too much - try to stay under 6 ounces.
Feed your kindergartener fresh, whole foods, and stay away from processed foods as much as possible. This is the best way to keep his sodium intake down. Studies from the Centers for Disease Control show that most of children’s sodium comes from processed foods and foods eaten away from home, like chicken fingers and pizza.
Try to always check the labels of the food you’re buying. Since every brand and cook is different, looking for lower sodium options will really help cut back your child’s intake.
Drain and rinse canned vegetables to reduce the amount of sodium when not buying the low-sodium or no salt added version. Frozen vegetables have less sodium than canned vegetables and are a good option when fresh vegetables aren’t available.
Stay away from trans fat. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list this means there is trans fat in the product, even if it says “0 trans fat” on the front of the label.
Try to buy margarine in a tub rather than a stick. There is less trans fat in margarine sold in a tub than in stick margarine.
Check the label to avoid the bad fats in pre-packaged foods. Saturated fats and trans fats fall into the unhealthy fat category. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (liquid fats) are better fats, and found in vegetable and olive oils, avocado, and fatty fish like salmon.
Limit your child’s screen time to lessen the effect of food ads. Young children are easily influenced by advertisements for junk foods like sugary cereals, soda, and fast food.
Have occasional dessert at home two or three nights a week regardless of how your child has eaten. Some nights are dessert nights, others are not. The random nature of dessert will keep your child from fighting or overeating just to get dessert. It also helps to avoid rewarding a clean plate with dessert, which can lead to unhealthy calories.
Teach your child moderation. If you completely forbid some foods, it may make him more likely to want them.
Focus on fruits as a dessert most nights and avoid ice creams, candies and pastries except for in special occasions. And remember, children do not need dessert every night.
Try adding a touch of salt, a small amount of ketchup, or low-fat salad dressing to your child’s vegetables. At this young age, your child’s taste buds are extra sensitive to bitter foods, making leafy greens like spinach and kale a hard sell. Adding these flavors can help cut the bitterness. Your child will get used to the bitter taste over time as long as you continue to offer that particular vegetable.
Offer different vegetables repeatedly. Just because your child didn’t like beets two weeks ago, doesn’t mean he won’t like them today. Children’s tastes are changing all the time and the more they are exposed to a certain kind of food, the more they are likely to develop a taste for it.
Remember to eat your vegetables too. At this age your child is likely to model, or copy, your behavior. Really emphasize your love for vegetables by saying things like, “I love these green beans. Don’t you? Can I eat yours?” This will get your child’s attention and make him want to have fun as well – leading him to eat more of his vegetables as well.
Try raw vegetables like carrot sticks, pea pods, green beans, and celery with a dip like hummus or low-fat ranch dressing to make the vegetables more appealing to your child.
Try serving your kindergartener veggie burgers and veggie dogs if he’s a picky eater. Delivering vegetables in a food form he may be used to is another way to promote the development of vegetable eating, while his taste buds are still forming.
Try to make sure your child eats two servings of fish each week. If you serve fish sticks, look for varieties that are breaded with whole grains and low-sodium. An even healthier option is to make them at home with baked salmon, tilapia, or flounder.
Try to limit the amount of tuna you serve your child to no more than 1 can of chunk light tuna every 7 to 9 days, due to the mercury levels in tuna. Chunk light tuna has far less mercury than white albacore tuna. You could also switch to canned salmon, and your child may not know the difference.
Color some hard-boiled eggs with your child. Dying eggs with your child is not only a fun activity for you to share; it can make eating eggs more appealing. Let your child pick which color egg he would like for breakfast.
Try whole grain tortillas with melted low-fat cheese for a snack that packs in both grains and dairy.
Add crunch (and grains) to your child’s yogurt by adding whole grain cereal. This gets both grains and dairy into his breakfast. Add some sliced fruit and a few almonds or walnuts and your child has a complete and healthy breakfast.
Whole grains can make great snacks. Combining whole grain pretzels or crackers with peanut butter or low-fat cheese is a quick and easy healthy snack.
Whole grains help your child feel full longer, making whole grains a great option for breakfast. Try to serve whole grain items with low sugar content for breakfast to keep him full and satisfied.
Always read the back of a package to check for whole grains. Sometimes the front of the box will say whole grain, but there might not be a lot of whole grains in the pasta, bread, or cereal. Whole grains should be the number one ingredient on the list.
Try incorporating whole grains slowly if your child isn’t used to them. Try mixing brown rice with white rice and gradually adding more brown rice over time until he gets used to the texture and taste. This works for pasta too.
If your child has a diagnosed lactose intolerance, milk substitutes such as calcium-fortified soy milk or almond milk are good options. Vegetables like collard greens, kale, and soybeans also provide calcium, though in smaller amounts, but calcium in these sources is not as well absorbed as the calcium in dairy foods.
Use low-fat milk when preparing hot cereal, oatmeal, or soup. This is an easy way to increase your child’s dairy intake without pouring him a glass of milk.
If your child drinks a lot of milk, try to make sure he doesn’t fill up on milk and neglect to eat other healthy foods.