Raising kids who make healthy food choices is equal parts what you demonstrate in your own eating habits, what you teach them about nutrition and the importance of a healthy lifestyle—and what you prepare for meals at home. But as many parents know, the struggle to raise healthy eaters is real—especially when your mornings and meal times are busy, and one (or all) of your kids is especially picky about food. We asked nutrition experts to share the tricks they use to get their own kids to eat healthier snacks. At least one of these clever ideas is sure to be a hit in your home (even if you don't let your kids in on the secret that they've been tricked into eating healthy).
A breakfast smoothie they'll beg for. Your kid probably wouldn't turn a chocolate down for breakfast if you offered it as option; why not blend a compromise you can both feel good about? Nutritionist Keri Glassman reportedly starts her son's morning off with a smoothie of organic chocolate milk, chocolate protein powder, banana, 1⁄3 avocado, spinach and natural organic peanut butter.
Homemade gummy bears. “Kids who are involved in the kitchen are more likely to try (and enjoy!) nutritional options. While it may be messier or more time intensive, give kids age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen to help them get excited about the process," says mom of two and registered dietician Rima Kleiner.
In addition to allowing kids to measure, pour and stir ingredients at every meal time, let them concoct creations they love, like homemade gummy bears: Combine 2/3 cup pureed frozen berries, 1/3 cup filtered water, one tablespoon lemon juice and two tablespoons raw honey in a saucepan.
Whisk over medium-low heat and gradually add three tablespoons gelatin until all the ingredients are combined and gelatin is completely dissolved. Pour mixture into silicon gummy bear molds and freeze for about 20 minutes. They'll stay fresh in airtight container for at least two weeks.
Accessorize fruits and veggies. “My kids will eat veggies, fruits and homemade chicken nuggets if they have a dipping sauce to go along with it—whether it's hummus, yogurt, ranch, BBQ sauce or ketchup ," says Brittany Paulson, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. In addition to classic "dippers" like carrot and cucumber slices, think outside the box with foods like jicama sticks and tahini, or a fruit skewer “sword" piled with an assortment of berries, banana and melon slices. Kids can help assemble them, and dip into plain Greek yogurt mixed with raw honey, kefir or a nut butter.
Farmers' market-to-table chips. Clinical nutritionist and food coach Donna Brown says to make farmer's markets into field trips for your kids: They'll see where food comes from and eventually start to identify the difference between whole and processed foods.
Make their trip fun by letting them choose which veggies they'd like to buy to turn into crispy chips made of kale, beet greens, bok choy, chard, collard or mustard greens. They can help you make the chips when you get home using olive oil, sea salt, parchment paper, garlic powder and a baking sheet.
Incorporate healthy ingredients into treats. Don't have the patience to convince kids to eat their veggies? What they don't know not only can't hurt them, but can actually boost the health factor of all their favorite treats—and save you a lot of struggle in the process.
“I try to bake cookies and brownies with cashew and almond butters in the recipes and even use black beans and chickpeas in brownies. They can't taste them and they are getting a great boost of nutrition from the addition of clean foods that add healthy fats and fiber," says nutrition expert Laura Burak. You can sub refined sugar in recipes with natural alternatives like fork-mashed bananas, applesauce and pureed carrots or dates.
Skip the sugary drinks. There's no shortage of sugar in a kid's life between birthday parties, classroom celebrations, parades, festivals and holidays. While it's important not to make kids anxious about foods that they can't indulge in or the treats they see friends enjoy on special occasions, you can control the amount of sugar they drink daily (and will likely never miss once it's gone).
In addition to keeping soda off your shopping list entirely, make healthier chocolate milk at home using hemp, pureed dates and cocoa powder. "Creamy hemp milk is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and has 46% of the recommended daily allowance for calcium, plus ten essential amino acids; it's perfect for healthy brain development and building strong bones and muscles," says Lisa Suriano, founder of Veggiecation. She explains that dates will help regulate bowel movements, and that cacao powder has all the antioxidants, fiber and healthy fats of the cacao bean.
She also suggests swapping sugary “juices" (many of which contain very little fruit juice) with a watermelon-basil blend: “Watermelon is extremely easy to blend into juice and is rich in the electrolytes needed to replenish little ones after a long outing on the playground. Basil contains antibacterial and antimicrobial properties—and every parent can use these allies in the constant fight against germs!"