Want to get your kids excited about eating healthy meals and snacks? Try these simple and delicious serving suggestions.
Fruit snacks in the shape of cartoon characters. Toaster pastries in ice-cream flavors with sprinkles on top. Cookies with neon-colored filling. Yogurt in a tube. Food manufacturers come up with all sorts of ways to make their products more attractive to children. And research shows that kids eat more of a given food when it’s made to look more visually appealing. So how can parents make healthy, nutritious options look just as enticing as processed foods that come in bright colors and fancy packaging?
The answer is simple: Uncover your inner food stylist and try these fun serving suggestions. No fancy supplies, no unhealthy tricks – just wholesome meals and snacks presented in a tempting new way.
Think inside the box
Take a tip from the Japanese and pack your child’s lunch in an eye-catching bento-style box with separate compartments to hold an assortment of foods. (You may have seen prepackaged lunches for kids in the refrigerated section of the supermarket that use the same idea.) Any flat plastic container with a lid will work. To divide it into sections, buy an inexpensive set of reusable silicone cupcake liners and place them in the container. Fill the cups with healthy foods like cubes of cheese, cut-up fruit, pasta salad, fresh vegetables, dip, and crackers. Add the lid, and lunch is ready to go.
Make it a muffin
Many recipes can be made in a muffin pan instead of a larger baking dish or skillet. All you have to do is reduce the cooking time a bit, and – voila – you have a kid-sized dish. Here are some foods to try: meat loaf, baked macaroni and cheese, frittatas, and potpies. Preparing food this way can also be useful for easy portion control for adults who are trying to watch their serving sizes.
Play with shape and color
Use cookie cutters or a paring knife to cut flat foods – cheese, lunch meat, bread, slices of melon – into basic shapes, flowers, faces, letters, or numbers. Add color to scrambled eggs by mixing in pureed steamed veggies (such as broccoli, carrots, or red pepper) when you beat the eggs. Make bright and delicious smoothies using fresh or frozen berries, plain low-fat yogurt, and a splash of milk.
Give tortillas a turn
Sandwiches can get boring after a while. Try skipping the bread and use a whole-wheat flour tortilla to wrap up the filling. Instead of regular grilled cheese, make a quesadilla and sneak some veggies in. You could even make custom tortilla chips. Here’s how: cut corn or flour tortillas into wedges (or use cookie cutters to make fun shapes), place them in a single layer on a baking sheet, spray with cooking spray, sprinkle them with spices like a little cumin and chili powder if desired, and bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes until golden and crisp.
Offer a dip
Sure, ketchup is a perennial favorite, but you can expand your child’s palate by offering other options for dipping. Here are some savory and sweet ones to try as well as suggestions for dippers:
- Hummus with pita chips or pretzels
- White-bean pesto with melba toasts
- Tzatziki (Greek yogurt dip with garlic and cucumber) with zucchini spears
- Honey or natural peanut butter with apple wedges
- Cinnamon-spiked applesauce with toast
- Black bean dip with baked tortilla chips
- Marinara sauce with warmed whole-wheat pita or naan bread
Switch up the routine
Breakfast for dinner is a novelty that kids will love. Healthy “morning” foods like scrambled eggs, whole-wheat pancakes, oatmeal, and yogurt-and-fruit parfaits are also quick and easy to make. You could even serve “dinner” foods in the morning. Instead of cereal, ask kids if they’d like to polish off last night’s leftovers – they don’t even have to heat them up – for a new take on breakfast.
Give foods fun names
In one study, cafeteria diners rated dishes with fancy, descriptive names as being more appealing and better tasting than foods with more generic labels. Use the same idea with your kids’ menu (for example, broccoli trees, muscle-building mushrooms, or power peas) and you might be surprised at what previously off-limit foods they’ll be willing to try.