First, remember that they’re kids. Mealtimes (and snack times, too) should be good, even fun, experiences.
But that doesn’t mean they have to consist entirely of cookies and candy. One thing to think about, even with fruits and vegetables, is presentation. It can make all the difference.
A study published recently in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine examined elementary school children’s choices between a cookie and an apple (or both) at the end of their cafeteria serving line. The number of kids choosing apples skyrocketed when the apples had a sticker featuring Elmo, a popular character from Sesame Street. Interestingly, putting a sticker of an unknown character also increased apple choice, but not by nearly as much.
Another study, published in Pediatrics in 2010, showed that children were more likely to choose a snack — whether it was gummy bears or baby carrots — if the wrapper had a familiar character on it (in this case, the characters tested included Shrek, Scooby-Doo and Dora the Explorer).
The findings suggest that the makers of healthy foods can use marketing and branding concepts to increase their products’ appeal to children much the same way as big-name processed foods have done for decades. But it can be expensive. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the food industry spends an estimated $1.6 billion annually to market food and beverages directly to children and teens.
Still, there are a few things you can do at home to boost your children’s interest in healthy food:
- Let your kids help in the kitchen. Even children as young as 2 can help wipe tables, tear lettuce or greens, snap green beans, and rinse produce. Getting kids involved with meal preparation will increase their enthusiasm to eat the foods they help prepare.
- Help your kids make fun, healthy snacks. Ideas include “Bugs on a Log,” made by filling celery with a little peanut butter and placing raisins on top, or “Fruit Kebobs,” made by putting melon balls and cubes of fruit on a stick.
- Most of all, be a good role model. Pile those vegetables high on your dinner plate. Drink your milk. Choose whole-grain foods you enjoy, and share them with your children. As with anything, children learn more from watching what you do than from listening to what you say.