( By JENNIFER CHRISTMAN )
When it comes to getting kids to be healthy, many parents struggle. Competing priorities, such as busy schedules and dealing with temptations, can derail the best-intentioned plans. Below are a few tips to help parents easily sneak in healthy foods and behaviors into every day.
Get Creative. Cut fruits and vegetables into fun, easy-to-grab shapes. Add a low-fat dip and you have a perfect snack for young children, especially toddlers. For picky eaters, you can purée fruits or vegetables and add them to existing recipes. Macaroni and cheese is popular with kids, and it’s a great opportunity to add some puréed butternut squash or cauliflower.
Make Fruit the Dessert. Don’t be afraid to experiment with puréeing fruits. You can turn almost any fruit into a popsicle. Purée some watermelon, banana or cantaloupe, pour it into a popsicle mold with sticks and you have an ice cream-like dessert that’s healthy.
Mix It Up. Some kids are turned off by certain vegetables because of the bitter taste. Solution? Mix bitter vegetables with sweeter ones. Try adding spinach to sweet potatoes. These two vegetables are an unlikely pair, but extremely colorful and loaded with nutrients.
Get Involved. Have your kids help find new recipes, make the grocery list and shop. This gives them a sense of ownership in the decision-making process.
At the grocery store, let them choose which foods they want and are willing to try. Once you get home, involve them in the prep and cooking of the meal. If they’re involved from the beginning, they’ll be more proud of their accomplishment and want to share their healthy meal with the family.
Be a Role Model. It isn’t a surprise that the main role models for children are mom and dad. When parents take the lead on exhibiting healthy behaviors, the kids are already ahead of the game. Take a close look at how you react to healthy foods. Do you turn your nose up at green beans or Brussels sprouts?
Children are sponges and tend to mimic whatever their parents do. Reacting positively to healthy foods shows children that they taste good and are good for you. Even if kids don’t like the food, they may change their attitudes over time, solely based on the parents’ reactions.
Have Fun as a Family. Exercise can sound like work to some people, but consider fun activities that you can do as a family — hiking, playing tag, kicking a ball, dancing and swimming, to name a few. When parents set the agenda for activities, the exercise just naturally sneaks its way in there.
Create Active Chores. This one is a win-win for parents and kids. Create a competition around active chores, such as putting clothes away, cleaning or yard work — whoever wins gets a prize. Creating competition can help motivate kids to kick their efforts into high gear.
Invest the Time. Last, but not least, take the time to research interests and foods that your family enjoys together. Taking the time from the beginning can help ensure that these sneaky tips will work themselves into your everyday life and become habits.