Somewhere along the line I realized that always taking the nutritional high road wasn’t getting me anywhere with my kids. As a dietitian it can be tough to break certain nutrition rules, but I have found that doing so is often exactly what’s needed to expand my kids’ food preferences.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s best to maximize nutrition early, but later when children drop certain foods, you may want to consider a gradual approach.
Because with kids, the hurdle is often getting them to deem a food acceptable. Once that hurdle is overcome, it’s easier to modify the food to be more nutritious.
So here are some nutrition rules I break in order to help my kids get out of their food comfort zone.
1. Iceberg or Romaine Lettuce: Everyone knows darker greens have the most nutrients and fiber but kids can be skeptical. yet iceberg lettuce and romaine are cruncher and often a better place to start.
For example, Big A has taken a liking to Caesar salads because she loves the croutons and dressing. This has slowly led to her eating some of the greens and ordering Chicken Caesar salad for lunch at school. So even though I don’t love Caesar salad, and prefer to make salads with spinach, kale or spring mix, it’s now included in my meal rotation.
2. Chocolate: Both of my kids love chocolate but Little D is especially smitten. When he was about four, he declared he didn’t like bagels. Once I mentioned they had chocolate chip bagels, he changed his tune. Now, he will he eat other bagels. This same thing happened with fruit and veggie smoothies (see smoothie recipe here).
3. Refined grains: Once I started stir fry night, I was making rice more routinely. Both my husband and I prefer brown rice but the kids have never shown interest. So I’ve been making white rice and Big A really loves it. She also likes making rice in the rice cooker.
This enjoyment of rice has translated into eating more stir fry. When the times right, I will make the switch to brown.
4. Breading: I’ve told this story before but serving salmon breaded is what got Big A hooked. Prior to this she said she liked salmon but never took more than a bite or two. Now she will eat it most ways and it is the dinner she requests most often.
5. Salt: Little D went on a carrot hiatus, so one time I put out carrots before dinner sprinkled with a little salt (that’s how I loved eating it as a kid!). Both kids went wild and now “carrots with salt” is their favorite pre-dinner nibble. And sometimes we even have to break up a fight over who gets the last carrot.
6. Ranch and ketchup: Big A loves ranch and Little D loves ketchup. Including these condiments usually means more tries of foods like veggies and potatoes. (Don’t miss Sally’s post at Real Mom Nutrition “In Defense of Ranch Dressing”).
7. Sugar: Need I say more? Think caramelized nuts, brown sugar in oatmeal, chocolate chips in a homemade trail mix and maple-based topping on fish.
The idea is not to go crazy and forget about nutrition, but to consider a child’s food preferences to help them see new or disliked foods in a more positive light.
It reminds of the time we were on a cruise when Little D was 3 years old. He didn’t want to wear the suit we had for him to the fancy dinner and pictures. So I said, “Just pretend you’re a bad guy.” He said, “Yeah, bad guy!” That gave him a reason to want to dress up.
What nutrition sacrifices do you make to pique your kid’s interest in different foods?