The best way to introduce children to a variety of nutritious foods is at the grocery store. I often see parents struggling with children at the store as they shop but if you get them involved in the process, you can work together as a team. Finding items on your list and selecting them is your opportunity to show and tell them about different kinds of food. Shop the food groups and give them choices within limits of what to select in each area. An example of this is to start in the produce section. Explain that we need to choose two kinds of fruit today and one kind needs to go in your lunch box and one to eat at home.
Now we need to choose vegetables to make a salad. What kind of lettuce would you like to choose from all of these? Help them to select good quality of fruits and vegetables by telling them what to look for: shape, color, size, texture, etc. This will help your child to learn a lot of new words as well. You can further model good nutrition for your child by reading labels to them. This is especially important in that dreaded cereal aisle! When you explain to them what their body needs to grow healthy and strong, they can help you choose nutritious cereal that they will eat. The three basic criteria is low sugar, low sodium and low fat. You can help them compare the cereals they choose, apply the criteria and make a healthy choice.
Parents often stress about cooking for their children and have even more stress about getting them to eat what has been prepared. Studies show that the more children are involved in the selection and cooking process, the more likely they are to eat it. They are also going to develop habits and knowledge about foods and nutrition that will last a lifetime.
Children usually like to eat the same things but if you have a rule of choosing one new thing from each food group, you can expand their palate in no time. One of the staple foods for young children is macaroni and cheese. Instead of buying a box mix, try showing your child all the different kinds of pasta and encourage them to choose a new one: bow tie, spirals, wheels, etc are fun shapes that will appeal to children. Instead of using processed cheese mix, try a new kind of cheese. The dairy section is filled with all kinds of nutritious cheeses from cheddar to monterey jack! Give them a choice between two that you know they are likely to enjoy. When you get home from shopping, talk to your child about the choices they made as they help you put groceries away. Make a simple chart for a menu plan of the week that shows their name and their choice of food that will be served that day. When they are involved in the selection, they see their name on the menu plan, they have ownership in the food that is being prepared and served and will be more likely to enjoy them at meal time.
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