Your toddler is a huge fan of macaroni and cheese – and practically nothing else. Your preteen sneaks out the door without so much as a bite of breakfast. Your grade schooler has developed an acute case of sandwich phobia... sound familiar? Here are some parent-proven solutions to your top biggest mealtime challenges from Ann Douglas, author of the recently published Mealtime Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler.
You can serve her many of the same foods you're eating, with a few important exceptions. Avoid foods that pose a significant risk of choking and go slow with foods that pose an allergy risk. As for what types of foods babies love as they move on to table foods, try experimenting with some of the following foods:
• pasta and sauce
• soups with lots of vegetables
• soft meats or beans.
Keep your baby's developmental stage in mind when you're deciding how finely to chop or mash her foods, but don't be afraid to challenge her with increasingly complex textures as she is ready. Babies learn by doing – or chewing, in this case! – after all.
You can either try to get him to kick his macaroni and cheese habit cold turkey or you can give him a small serving of macaroni and cheese at dinnertime, alongside whatever else the rest of the family is eating. When the macaroni and cheese serving is gone, it's gone. (No second helpings.) If he's still hungry, he needs to figure out which of the other foods on the planet he's going to fill his tummy with until it's time for his next macaroni and cheese fix.
Try grilling potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other mild-tasting vegetables on the barbecue. This idea is likely to score points with the child who is a hamburger or hot dog nut. (If it comes off the grill, it's got to be good – right?)
Find a dip that appeals to your child and then team it up with the vegetable he hates least. Let him dip to his heart's content. Don't limit yourself to things you think of as veggie dips. Some kids are wild about mustard or plum sauce.
You can make meat more palatable by sticking to tender cuts of meat, serving meat in broths or sauces, and cooking with lean ground meats. And don't forget that there are also all kinds of protein-rich alternatives to meat, such as chicken, fish, beans, peas, lentils, peanut butter, eggs, and cheese. Consult some vegetarian cookbooks for ideas on healthy meat-free meals.
Your kids may be tired, hungry, and restless by the time they arrive at the dinner table. If you can serve them a healthy snack before dinner—perhaps a fruit and veggie platter with dip—they might not be quite as famished (or irritable) by the time everyone sits down to eat. It's worth trying and don't worry about them filling up on all those healthy foods before dinner. Worse things could happen, right?
Go slow with the menu makeover or you could end up triggering a backlash that will have your kids holing up in the linen closet with a loaf of white bread and a container of chocolate spread. Instead, aim to introduce one or two nutritional improvements to your family's eating habits each week. Here are three quick tips to get you started:
Up your kids' intake of fruits and veggies so that they'll fill up on naturally healthy foods. Serve these foods in fun and kid-friendly ways (fun veggie shapes with healthy dips, etc.)
Go for whole grains. Zero in on whole-grain varieties of breads and pasta products that kids naturally love: pita bread, tortillas, and pasta in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
Stock healthier snack options like low-fat popcorn, low-fat frozen yogurt, and frozen fruit-juice bars.
Hungry kids have a harder time focusing in school, which can lead to academic problems. If your child is rushing out the door because they’re in a hurry or they’ve suddenly decided they hate the standard breakfast menu fare, see if you can brainstorm some ideas for some almost-instant breakfasts (like a healthy and yummy fruit-and-yogurt smoothie).
Here's another point to keep in mind: Sometimes preteens skip breakfast in the mistaken belief that doing so will help them to lose weight. That, in turn, tends to lead to poorer food choices later in the day, which can set up a cycle of unhealthy eating.
Researchers have found that it can take ten to twenty exposures to the same food before a child finally decides he likes it. Of course, you don't want to serve that food the same way fifteen nights in a row if your child gives it a thumbs down the first night. Serve it in slightly different way every couple of weeks. For example, serve sweet potatoes grilled on the barbecue, mashed like regular mashed potatoes, or sliced into julienne fries. Sometimes it can take a whole lot of trial and error to crack the code of your child's food likes. Your parent detective skills really pay off at a time like this.
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