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Healthy Meals to Promote Healthy Eating Habits in Kids

Mealtime does not have to be wartime in your house. Improve your family's eating habits slowly but steadily, and soon everyone will not just survive those healthy meals, but actually look forward to them. In addition to shopping for and cooking healthier meals, parents can employ behavioral strategies that entertain and educate their children about healthy eating habits.

Fruit and Vegetable of the Month Club

While you may have visions of a beautiful stir-fry and brown rice, starting simple can be the easiest way to turn mediocre meals into healthy ones. Broaden your children's horizons by introducing one or two new fruits or vegetables to your go-to produce choices.

Megan Tucker, an elementary school teacher, says, "My school district, in partnership with the Alameda County Public Health Nutrition Services Department, provides schools with a program to introduce healthy foods to students. Three days a week, all of the classes are given a fruit or vegetable snack. We also receive a fruit or vegetable of the month, often a less common item, to encourage children to try something they had never eaten before."

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At home, add new fruits and vegetables into your meals by topping a plain green salad with thinly-sliced avocado or kiwi, or add a radish rose garnish to a vegetable and pasta soup.

Taste Tests

Committing to an entire piece of spinach zucchini lasagna might prove challenging for children with picky palates, so start with sample-size portions and work your way toward a meal. Tucker recommends, "Do a taste test to introduce children to different varieties of fruits or vegetables—for example have them taste Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Fuji apples." Add a new burrito filling or taco topping to your usual mix, such as sautéed potatoes and carrots or pinto beans mixed with chopped tomato.

Provide Choices

Nothing creates more tension than preparing a meal and watching your children refuse it. Make the process more relaxing by allowing an element of choice. Tucker suggests, "Create your own salad bar, allowing children to choose from a selection of toppings." The Nourish Interactive website suggests chopping vegetables or fruits and providing a few dipping sauces for children to sample, such as yogurt and cucumber, or peanut butter studded with raisins. Serve these combinations with a whole grain pasta or brown rice and a side of grilled fish or beans, and you'll have a healthy meal that your child will enjoy.

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Get to the Root of Things

"Visit a community garden and plant your own fruits or vegetables," Tucker suggests. "Students get very excited about seeing where foods come from. It could be as simple as planting a bean in a plastic cup!" Children are more likely to try a new leafy green or sprout when they planted or picked it. Saute garden greens with nuts and seeds, and serve them over brown rice, polenta or quinoa for a simple, healthy meal.

Cover the Basics

Adopting healthy eating habits entails more than adding fresh produce, lean sources of protein, whole grain carbohydrates and healthy fats to the diet. Get the whole family on board with some essential healthy choices. "Cut out the sugary drinks, [and] drink water," Tucker says. "When students would talk about how much they liked sugary drinks, I would always respond, 'They taste good, but they are not good for your body!'"

Avoid highly-salted or sweetened convenience and snack foods. Prepare healthy treats ahead of time so you do not resort to processed foods in a pinch. The Nourish Interactive website recommends offering children choices between several types of fruits or vegetables. Dried fruit, nuts, chopped vegetables, cheese cubes, whole grain crackers, fresh fruit and unsweetened yogurt are all tasty and healthy alternatives to junk food.

Make the Connection

Parents may assume that children understand how making healthy choices affects their lives, but spending a few moments studying nutrition labels together makes the relationship more concrete. "Talk to your children about how their food choices affect the way that their brains and bodies function," Tucker says. This connection can help your kids create a good relationship with healthy food.

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