Preschool is the perfect time to establish healthy eating habits. Yes, they may argue that snacking on grape drink and animal-shaped cheddar crackers should count as “eating a rainbow.” But kids can be sneaky. When you least expect it, they’ll say or do something that shows they actually listened.
Eat a rainbow: It doesn’t get easier than this. If you as a family commit to eating all five colors of fruits and vegetables every day, you’ll get the quantity and variety that healthy diets need. To mark your progress, create a simple rainbow chart with plenty of colorful stickers on hand. (Bonus: If your child is picky, adding a sticker may be all the incentive they need to try something new.)
Be a good role model: You can explain and teach the best healthy eating lessons in the world, but if you have several bad food habits yourself, that can seriously undermine your efforts. Walk the talk and align your food and eating choices with what you want from your kids. That’s not to say that the occasional treat or indulgence isn’t OK; just keep an eye on it.
Encourage adventures in eating: It’s easy for kids to get locked into their favorites. Give them opportunities to develop and stretch those picky, one-track palates. Designate one night a week — or month — to “new recipe night,” and include something with at least one unfamiliar ingredient. If they show interest in something new in the produce section, don’t think twice: Buy it and try it. Bring home a few “finds” of your own. Things like apple pears, fresh figs or a horned melon can make snack time fun.
Go slowly: When kids are picky, it takes time and patience. Keep the close encounters with alien foods stress-free. Dish up a small portion, allow a mouse nibble and move on. Try again another day. And again. And again. It can take up to 10 introductions before a young child accepts a new food; sometimes it takes longer.
Make food a part of play: Play may seem childish, but there’s some important brain-building going on. As kids imitate what they see and hear, it helps them make sense of the world. That’s why play food and play cookware are toy box essentials. Playing with toy food gives them a chance to take in and process their concepts around food.
Show where food comes from: If you have a garden, plant a rainbow of fruits and veggies. Snap peas, strawberries, carrots and sweet corn are just a few that kids would love to grow and eat. If you don’t have access to a garden plot, round up some other families and plan a visit to a farm or orchard.