Kids are notorious for being picky eaters. One week they like something, the next week they don’t. Some kids dislike fruit, some won’t touch meat, and others reject anything that's green.
It’s important that kids eat healthy, balanced diets to support their growth and development as well as their moods and energy levels. To help you fuel children with real food, here are some meal planning tips we used when building our Kid-Friendly Meal Plan.
1. Avoid Added Sugar as Much as Possible
Kids aren’t just eating, they’re growing, developing a palate and learning which foods they like. It’s important to avoid excess added sugars, since this can train children to expect super sweet foods and make them even pickier. Not only that, but too much sugar can contribute to energy spikes, followed by dips, that then result in cranky kids.
Instead of adding sugar, use fruit to sweeten items like granola or pancakes. We love this Banana Coconut Granola sweetened with all-natural ingredients. Also be sure to introduce many non-sweet snack options like veggies and hummus, celery with nut or seed butter, and guacamole.
2. Make Meal Prep a Family Activity
Kids are more likely to accept a food if they were involved in making it. Even small children can help assemble Hummus Dippers for snacks, or add ingredients to the blender for a green smoothie. This is great family time, and also a perfect time to educate them on the different food groups and basic nutrition concepts. Kids love to ask "Why?" so here's your chance to fill them in!
Kids also love having some control over what they’re eating, so give them foods that can be dipped, peeled, or mixed together.
3. Keep it Finger Friendly When Possible
Kids love picking apart their meals, so instead of fighting with them or cleaning up a huge mess, give them plates that are already deconstructed. When kids can clearly see and touch the individuals foods, they are more likely to accept it as familiar and safe.
Tip: Replace deep fried potatoes with oven-baked root vegetables such as sweet potatoes or carrots sliced into fry-like shapes.
4. Make Small Compromises with Familiar Foods
If a child loves pasta, try using a bean-based pasta like chickpea penne. This will boost their fibre and protein intake without introducing a whole new food. If they want pancakes, make a healthy version that uses minimal ingredients (like our flourless Simple Banana Pancakes). If they prefer sandwiches for lunch, choose a healthy whole-grain bread and make sure to include a good protein source like sliced turkey breast.
It’s much easier to get a child accustomed to a new version of their favourite food than to switch them to an entirely different food. Use That Clean Life to search for things like chicken fingers, cookies, pizza, shepherd’s pie, lasagna, ice cream, mac n' cheese and other family favourites.
5. Encourage, But Don’t Force New Foods
Kids need to be repeatedly exposed to a food before they will even try it. After that, they may need multiple taste exposures before they like it! With this being said, don’t push kids to eat things they don’t like, or won’t try. This just creates additional stress and negative feelings around the food, making it less likely that they will ever accept it. If you’ve ever met an adult who won’t eat broccoli, it likely stems from some suppertime stress in childhood.
Instead, lead by example by eating healthy foods, talking about how delicious they are, and modeling a diverse diet. Children will mimic your behaviours over time, and with any luck and some consistency, soon they’ll be asking for green smoothies, broccoli, and sweet potatoes!
To help you get started with meal planning for kids, That Clean Life’s Kid-Friendly Meal Plan includes:
- 7 days of healthy meals and snacks
- Nut-free, lunch-box friendly recipes
- Healthy treats, and bedtime snacks
- A step-by-step prep guide to keep parents organized
- Energy-and-nutrient-dense recipes to keep active kids fuelled
The meal plan is easily customizable based on child-specific needs or preferences, and recipes will be enjoyed by family members of all ages.
We’d love to hear from you. How do you cope with picky eaters? Are there any foods your children have learned to love? How do you meal plan for kids? Share your stories with us in the comments below!
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