Want your children to eat healthy? Try these tips!

Take your children grocery shopping. I know this sounds like a disaster, but with a little pre-planning and some basic ground rules. It will not just work out, you can turn it into a huge success.

Start by planning your meals (I use the USDA My Plate as a guide). Get your kids involved at this step. Ask them what they would like to eat for dinner (breakfast, lunch, and snacks too). When kids feel like a part of the meal planning decision making, they are more likely to eat at least part of what is offered. This contributes to a more harmonious and enjoyable meal experience.

Next, make a shopping list for the foods you need to prepare the planned meals. Stick to the list! This keeps the shopping trip efficient and budget friendly. When my shopping companions ask for an item not on the official shopping list, I’ll let them select one item and ask them to put the other items on the shopping list for next week.

Have the kids help find items on the list. Depending on their age, this can take different forms. For the youngest kids, have them help you pick out some items, apples for example. There are different types and colors. Maybe you even want to do a taste test during snack time at home, letting them try pieces of two or more different apples that vary by variety, shape or color. For kids that are more independent, tell them the next item on the shopping list and ask them to find it, show it to you and put it in the shopping cart. For kids that are readers, tear off a piece of the list and have them shop for the items on their own. I keep my list as specific as possible including the brand name and desired package size. I plan my list by sections or aisles in the store and stay near so I’m there as a resource if they need it. Sometimes the item is out of stock and we need to decide on purchasing a comparable item, shopping for it elsewhere, or waiting until the next shopping trip when possible.

Back at home, I enjoy having help both unpacking the grocery bags and putting the food away. This helps kids to remember all the food we bought and where to find it when we need it.

At meal or snack time, get the kids involved in preparing an item, perhaps something they suggested back in the meal planning step. Once again, this will be very different depending on the child’s age. The youngest children can help wash fresh produce, measure ingredients, or toss a salad. While older kids can help get out the ingredients, and then progressively with age, peel, chop, assemble uncooked items, and even follow recipes to cook or bake parts of the meal. I try to involve my kids on a weekly basis when I could use some help, when they are bored, or just interested in hanging out with me in the kitchen. Keeping the experience fun will encourage them back into the kitchen the next time.

As the months and years pass by, you will have exposed your children to many if not all the aspects that go into eating (hopefully a wide variety of healthy foods). One day, they may even treat you to a meal they plan and prepare for you on their own. A homemade meal made by someone other than yourself is usually a great treat! But even better, you will have helped the children develop a life-long skill that can help sustain them and lead healthy lives far into the future!

Authored by Kristen Silverman, RDN

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