Every parent knows that the key to a successful outing with a preschooler is bringing enough entertainment and sufficient snacks. Ritz crackers and Goldfish are classic favorites, but they are probably better options for weekly, rather than daily, treats. Yet, preschoolers can be notoriously picky eaters. So, how can caretakers balance their child’s need for healthy food while still providing appealing options? Here are four thoughts to consider.
Food Is Fun
The answer, of course, is to make food fun. Everyone from doctors to our neighbors warn us about the newest “bad” or “unhealthy” foods. Using these negative terms with young children is confusing and misleading for children who are just learning to enjoy eating. Instead, when talking about eating with your little one, emphasize the joy of preparing and eating food. Use books and stories to introduce them to where their food comes from. Consider a visit to a local farm or farmer’s market to see growing and harvesting in action.
Kids are fascinated by the process it takes to get food to our plates. Even a windowsill herb garden will help them understand that food grows, almost like magic, from a seed in the ground. Eating what they plant will get them excited about everything on their plate. When trying new foods, consider each tasting an exploratory journey for the eyes, nose, hands and taste buds. You get the unique opportunity to introduce your little one to new flavors, textures, and colors. Keeping a warm, fun attitude about food will help establish that food isn’t to be feared. Food is fuel, helps them grow, and it’s fun!
Taste the Rainbow
When in doubt, walk your child through the color spectrum to ensure healthy eating. Sliced cherry tomatoes and apples are bright red, while crunchy carrots and bell peppers provide orange and yellow shades. There are so many leafy greens to try, and blueberries and blackberries show off several shades of indigo. Offer fruits and veggies raw, steamed, or gently cooked with a little salt. With fresh produce, great flavors are easy to coax out, even with very little seasoning. If you want to complement the flavors, include a dip such as hummus, baba ghanoush, ranch dressing, pimento cheese, or a vinaigrette. Kids will hone their fine motor skills by dipping and swirling cut veggies into the sauce. Try less common veggies, such as cabbage, beets, jicama, or fennel. Providing a variety of options helps kids learn what they love. Culinary guru Alice Waters suggests slicing vegetables into unusual shapes to pique interest. Cutting carrots into matchsticks or using a vegetable peeler to create carrot curls makes veggies extra appealing.
Meal Prep for Children and Adults
In most cultures, children eat what their adult family members eat. Try to avoid cooking separate meals for children, if possible. Instead, cooking up a big one-pot meal over the weekend will provide food for all members of the family. Kids love Indian spices, so mix up a non-spicy curry, such as garam marsala, with a green vegetable, tofu, or chicken. Freeze immediately after preparing it. During the week, a quick zap in the microwave will heat it up for lunchtime. The flavors will blend and marry, even after cooking, so the curry you eat three days later may taste even better than it did on Monday.
When you’re in the kitchen, help involve your child (safely) whenever possible. Maybe he can help shake in the spices, or she can stir everything together before it goes in the slow cooker. Including children in meal preparation creates excitement and anticipation, and heightens investment in eating the final product. Just think about your own first forays in the kitchen. They may not have been Michelin-starred dishes, but your involvement in creating them heightened your enjoyment of the end product. Preschoolers feel the same way.
Anyone who has had their morning eggs served with a bacon smile knows the value of excellent presentation. For picky eaters, consider investing in bento boxes. These Japanese-inspired containers get kids excited about eating. They have small compartments that are perfect for tiny hands, and they fit just the right amount of food for an average meal. Having a special container that is “just my own” helps increase interest in planning, packing, and eating food. Plus, they come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, and designs. Kids love traditional mini metal bento boxes, but ones emblazoned with their favorite characters can also be a hit.
An Early Start for Healthy Habits
The Gardner School uses a variety of learning tools to help children understand the importance of healthy eating during the school day. We offer cooking enrichment classes and help our students learn about health and nutrition. In the Kids Café, our little ones develop healthy eating habits in a space that is set apart just for them. With a healthy mix of structured enrichment and free play, we give children the guidance they need to start learning healthy habits as soon as they’re ready. To learn more about the advantages of an academic preschool, visit our website or schedule a tour today. Bon Appetit!