As parents or guardians, we can all relate that getting our children to embrace broccoli with the same excitement they have for candies and chips can be one tough battle. After all, our children are hardwired to prefer sweets over bitter dishes, which makes introducing healthy eating habits and food troublesome. But of course, it’s nothing that a bit of patience and creativity can’t solve! In this article, we will dive into the art of making nutritious meals enjoyable for our kiddos and picky eaters so you can instill healthy eating habits early on and set the stage for a lifetime of healthy food choices. So, grab a pen and notebook and take note of these practical tips and strategies that can guide you in overcoming this challenge!
Making a Creative Kiddie Meal is the Deal
Children get excited when they see plenty of colors, shapes, and anything visually appealing or delicious to the eye. So, instead of just serving plain vegetables on a plate that may instantly earn disapproving looks from your children, try introducing fruits and vegetables through a delightful mix of flavors and textures to make healthy meal times exciting! Here are some creative strategies you can consider for your next batch of meals and snacks:
- Make colorful creations and play with different shapes – Level up those plain-looking dishes by using a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to make your meals. The more visually appealing it is, the more your kids are likely to try and take a bite of it! Some of the things you can try are making fruit skewers, rainbow fruit salads, or just simply arranging vegetables into a colorful smiley face or a flower!
- Sneak in those veggies like hidden treasures – In instances where it is difficult to convince some children to eat colorful and creatively arranged fruits and vegetables, you can get clever and try hiding or modifying those nutritious ingredients in familiar dishes. Perhaps try making veggie omelets where you can add carrots, peppers, cabbage, or any vegetable of your choice by chopping them into small sizes. The flavor of the eggs can perfectly complement and balance the taste of vegetables so they’re easier to eat. Other food hacks can include blending spinach, leeks, or other veggies into pasta sauce, adding grated veggies into meatballs, and puree vegetables into soups. You can also experiment on your own to find out what best works for your kid!
- Plan a themed food night or event – Now here’s where things get even more exciting! If you have extra time on your hands and would also like to have fun with planning healthy meals, you can try throwing themed food nights or events. Here you can pick a theme whether it’s based on a specific cuisine, holiday or season, character, or any other fun theme that you can think of. You may have a Mexican-themed fiesta featuring burritos full of veggies, or a Picnic-inspired dinner where you have mini sandwiches, colorful salads, and healthy dips! Not only does it offer variety and fun, but it is also a great way to encourage your child to plan healthy meals with them.
Plan, Make and Eat Meals Together
Healthy food is more than just fuel and nourishment for your child’s body. It’s also an opportunity to experiment, make memories, and strengthen your family’s bond. So let’s bid farewell to “eat your veggies or no dessert and TV” and welcome a more wholesome eating culture, that way children can associate positive feelings with healthy food. Lead by example and share your passion or liking for vegetables, fruits, and grains with your children. You can include them in meal preparation and turn it into a positive experience! Why don’t you start by strolling around the supermarket together and allow them to pick a new fruit or vegetable? At the same time helping them understand how to structure balanced meals and why they’re important. You can also make them feel like little chefs and let them pick a recipe, tear the lettuce, mix the sauce, or sprinkle cheese over the dish.
But more importantly, make sure that you eat your meals together as a family and engage in conversations with them while making sure to remove electronic distractions. Not only can they be able to enjoy and eat their meal better, but this can also help them build a positive connection with healthy meals.
Serve in Small Portions
Parents usually make the common mistake of serving vegetables in large portions in hopes of getting their children to start accepting them as a part of their meals faster. But they don’t realize this will make children resist even more and feel intimidated about eating healthy, especially the picky eaters. Try slowing down and serving these foods in small, non-intimidating portions to encourage them to try different foods without feeling overwhelmed. You can start by adding a few peas to their mashed potatoes or a bit of mashed squash to their Mac and Cheese. If they’re not as picky, offering a variety of bite-sized portions of veggies, fruits, or grains on a divided plate can also be another option.
Gradually introduce healthy food into their diet
Another way to introduce healthy meals is to follow a strategy used by food clinics called food chaining, fading, or graduated exposure. Here, you use food that a child likes as a basis to get them to try something similar.  For instance, if your child likes French fries, you can try making sweet potato fries, adding berries on cupcakes or tarts, or making banana oatmeal pancakes if they’re a fan of pancakes. However, take note that these methods will take weeks or even possibly longer, especially for picky eaters, so don’t rush and try to be patient with them. But rest assured, you’ll be rewarded with a healthier kid later on.
Cut off Sweets, Sodas, and Junk Food
If your kid snacks on sweets, chips, and sodas a couple of times within the day, there’s a huge chance that they’re not eating well or hungry enough during meals. We wouldn’t want that if we wanted them to start eating healthy meals, would we? While it doesn’t mean banishing them from enjoying snacks, you may still have to cut back these unhealthy snacks from their diet so they can be more receptive and used to trying new and healthy food. If ever you do have snacks, try replacing them with healthy alternatives such as swapping soda for a colorful smoothie, or chips for baked veggie sticks!
But what composes a balanced meal and what kind of food should we prepare for kids? You can prepare a balanced meal that may include a mixture of the following: 
- Whole grains – may include oats, barley, brown rice, whole grain bed and pasta, and whole wheat.
- Protein – may include fish, chicken, lean cuts of pork or beef, beans, nuts, seeds, lentils and tofu
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Dairy or similar non-dairy foods
Remember, it takes time to develop good eating habits, just like those little taste buds. Be patient when some days your meals earn a skeptical stare from your child and celebrate minor victories even if it’s just having them eat a spoonful of spinach. Last but not least, enjoy the journey and the bond you create with your child and with healthy food!
 Cicero, K. (2023). 13 Proven strategies for picky eaters. Parents. https://www.parents.com/recipes/nutrition/picky-eater-strategies/
 Healthy eating habits for your child. (2002, April 11). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/children/kids-healthy-eating-habits
 Trost, J. (n.d.). Fun Meal Planning With the Kids! Super Kids Nutrition. https://www.superkidsnutrition.com/fun-meal-planning-with-the-kids/
 Gray, D. (2022, December 9). How to encourage your children to have healthy eating habits. Healthier, Happy Lives Blog. https://healthier.stanfordchildrens.org/en/how-to-encourage-your-children-to-have-healthy-eating-habits/
 Simple, S. (2019, January 14). Making meal time fun & appealing – super simple. Super Simple. https://supersimple.com/article/making-meal-time-fun-appealing/