Hi, I’m Mary Donkersloot – Registered Dietitian and member of the ALDI Advisory Council. The ALDI Advisory Council is a team of registered dietitians supporting ALDI in various areas of the nutrition field including family nutrition, sports performance and promoting a positive body image. I’m here to share some of my favorite tips for raising a healthy eater.
Start the Habit Early
Early childhood feeding practices determine food preferences later in life. Children will eat what they’re familiar with, so it’s our job as parents to expose them to a wide variety of foods in order to develop their palate for healthy food.
It’s a myth that children will automatically dislike vegetables, or that you have to feed them exactly what they like (especially when you know it’s overly processed and full of sugar). When you do this, it teaches children that it’s normal to eat heavily processed foods at every meal – cereal in the morning, hot dogs at lunch and pasta for dinner. These foods create taste preferences that are narrow, very unhealthy and have a more permanent influence on future food preferences than you might think. In fact, studies show that tastes for certain foods remain somewhat consistent between the ages of three and eight. After that, kids’ favorite foods tend to match their moms’ favorite foods.
Here are three steps to follow to help kids learn to enjoy vegetables from the start:
- Introduce toddlers to vegetables before fruit (since veggies are less sweet). You can also introduce them to the flavors of veggies with Little Journey Organic Puree Pouches, which are available in a dozen tasty fruit and veggie flavors, such as Prune-Apple-Butternut Squash-Quinoa, Apple-Carrot and Apple-Pear-Green Pea.
- Eat vegetables with your child once they are eating at the table with you (they are more likely to eat the veggies if they see you eating them)
- Include a wide variety of vegetables in your meals (Don’t limit your child to raw carrots and steamed broccoli)
Make the Flavor Pop
Bold flavors have a remarkable ability to imprint on our memories and can drive our food preferences for years to come. You’d be surprised, but if you introduce these tasty, healthy foods to your child at the age of two or three, they are likely to hold their appeal for a lifetime.
Try these tips to make vegetables tasty:
- Steam sliced carrots, then sauté them in olive oil with fresh thyme
- Sauté spinach with garlic
- Puree cauliflower into a soup and top with fresh parsley
- Make asparagus a finger food by cutting them in small pieces
- Sauté halved cherry tomatoes with onion, corn and fresh basil
- If you’re in a hurry, microwave frozen peas, corn or butternut squash and top with a little olive oil or butter
Keep it Fun
Kids who help out with the prep and cooking are much more likely to react positively to new foods. Spend less time talking about what to eat and more time selecting fresh produce and preparing it together.
One rule that worked in my home: make sure each meal and snack includes a fruit or a vegetable. Now that my son is 17, he is a voracious lover of both. Other parents are amazed when he eats his cauliflower first or asks for seconds of Brussels sprouts.
When he was seven, he learned to slice or “chiffonade” Brussels sprouts, sauté them with onion and toss in some toasted pecans. Now they are one of his favorite foods!
If your child is older and you fear you missed the boat on healthy eating, take heart: there is great potential for learning new, healthy eating habits. Since eating habits are learned, they can be unlearned.