Prior to the age of two, children are more likely to eat whatever foods and drinks their parents give them, said Dr. Diane Hes, a board-certified physician at Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City. However, as they start to get older and their taste buds mature, getting them to stay on a nutritious meal plan can be difficult.
Keeping older kids eating healthy is not impossible though. Here are some suggestions for how parents can keep their kids eating healthy through those picky older childhood years:
1. Find a happy common ground.
“Don’t give in to your children when they become fussy with their eating habits,” Hes said. Chances are they will fight you tooth and nail to try to get something sweet added to their diet. They might even start spitting food out, or throwing it across the kitchen.
Parents shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by kids’ emotional reactions and should instead find meal solutions that are bold and flavorful, without sacrificing nutrition. Involve your kids in meal preparation — from ingredient selection to the prepared plate — so they know that the delicious foods parents prepare are also good for them.
2. Find a balance between healthy and tasty.
“Parents don’t have to always serve bland foods. They can find drinks and meals that offer both taste and nutritional value,” Hes said.
With this in mind, many brands are starting to develop products that are both tasty and nutritious. For example, Mott’s recently released new flavored fruit drinks with 40 percent less sugar than fruit juices, 100 percent daily value of vitamin C per 8 oz. serving, and no artificial sweeteners.
Mott’s developed the juices after seeing a need for a product to appeal to children ages 6 to 12, said Director of Marketing Meena Sen.
“Kids start to develop more sophisticated palates at those ages,” Sen said. “We want to address the needs of these children as they start to grow up, so we created drinks with bolder flavors that we know kids love and moms will approve.”
3. Develop a plan.
When your children start going to school, it can be challenging to keep up with what they’re eating and drinking. Therefore, it’s even more important to find healthy options that they enjoy, so they won’t bring things to school and trade them to a classmate for a junk-food snack. Plan out what you’ll give them each day for lunch; mix up options and flavors so they don’t get bored. Communicate with them and get feedback on what they like and don’t like, while also reinforcing the importance of eating healthy.
4. Be prepared for ‘on the go.’
As kids get older they get involved in more recreational activities. Parents have to shuttle them back and forth between activities. As life speeds up, parents can often take the easy way out and give their children whatever food and drink is most readily available.
However, fast food and junk food aren’t the only options for busy families. Many of the brands providing “better-for-you” offerings are coming up with easy “on-the-go” options.
As a parent herself, Hes knows first-hand the challenges of keeping the young ones eating healthy. But it’s well worth the trouble. Do your research and shop smart. Just taking some of the simple steps given here can help ensure that your children stay healthy and still enjoy their meals.