The Age-Old Challenge Of Getting Kids to Eat Healthy Foods

(The Monterey County Herald/TNS) -

“Keep enjoying those grandkids,” my friend wrote after my recent move. “Let them know who is in charge … they are.”

In terms of food, they certainly are. What happened, for example, to my sweet little darling who used to exclaim, “I wike cucumbaws!”? Now independent (at three years old), she looks for any signs of green in her food and announces, “I don’t wike that.”

Horrors, child, how can this be? Your grandmother is a registered dietitian nutritionist, trained in the intricacies of feeding children healthy food. And your parents are wise in the ways of nourishing kids as well.

My grandson is another story. At 18 months, he has two channels: “I want to eat now” and “Here’s the plate back, I’m done.”

What’s with these kids? They’re normal, say child nutrition experts. Children become competent eaters the old-fashioned way. They practice. And every child develops eating habits at a different pace. Somewhere around two years of age, for instance, a child will be able to use a spoon and drink from a cup. He will also begin to develop likes and dislikes. Between the ages of two and three, many children may suddenly begin to refuse certain foods. How do we take this normal behavior and run with it? Ahhh, that is the wisdom of the ages:

Sneak in nutritionally dense foods. My granddaughter loves beans and cheese “enchiwadas,” for example. Beans like pinto, black and red beans are the hidden vegetables on her plate … and they’re not green. And thankfully, even in a restaurant, she and her brother actually prefer milk — one of nature’s most nutritionally dense foods.

Remember that snacks count, too. When Frances noticed how my horse, Cal, smacked down the fresh apple I pulled from a bag, she announced, “Can I have one too? I wike apples!” Logan happened to be hungry at the time, too. Score! You know what they say: If you’re not hungry for an apple, you’re not really hungry.

Let them imitate cooking. Three-year-olds love to play in the kitchen. One day, with our aprons on and Frances standing beside me on a stool, we carefully followed the recipe for a chicken and vegetable dish. “What’s the next item?” she would ask as we measured and chopped and stirred. She’s going to love this! I thought smugly to myself. She was even enthusiastic when we served up our creation in pretty bowls for a picnic in the backyard. Then, when it came to eating this delicious dish … let’s just say that Logan and I had a nice lunch.

Don’t give up. Wise parents and grandparents are there for the long haul. And for these dear ones, it’s totally worth the challenge.


Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.