When your little one has you dreading dinnertime due to her picky nature, take solace in the fact that kids aged 2 to 4 are hard wired to question what they put in their mouth—it’s a normal part of development. And while that pickiness normally starts to subside after age 5, there’s a lot you can do to in the interim to make mealtimes more pleasant—and make sure you raise a good eater.
Involve your child in your meal. Have her grocery shop with you or visit the local farmer’s market, so she begins to understand where food comes from. Once you are back in the kitchen, have her help prepare the meal. Kids are more likely to be interested in eating dinner if they helped participate in its creation.
Refuse to be a short-order cook. Make one meal for the entire family instead of caving to your child’s demands for “kid” food. Think of it this way: your child is invited to enjoy the parent’s meal. It should never be the other way around. If you begin serving your kids “real food” now, they won’t create the unhealthy habit of always requiring chicken fingers, hot dogs and pasta. You will raise good eaters at a young age.
Make mealtimes routine. By serving dinner at roughly the same time every night and sitting together at the table without distractions you send a signal that mealtime is a priority.
Never force it. Studies show the more times you expose a child to a food—roughly 10 to 15 times—the more likely he is to like it. Don’t give up on carrots until you’ve offered them repeatedly. And don’t force the issue with your child. If he’s not interested in a food you’re serving, don’t pressure him to eat it and don’t make a fuss. Just offer it again in a day or so and possibly in a new way. Dress it up with the presentation, for instance put spinach leaves on a sandwich and plate it so it looks like a house on the plate.
Forget “clean plates.” Requiring your child to clean her plate before leaving the table just sets you up for a battle. Instead, allow your little one to choose what and how much she eats from the healthy options you serve. If a child comes to the table hungry enough, her innate hunger mechanisms will guide her to eat until she is satiated.
Don’t bribe with dessert. By rewarding a child with a cookie for eating his broccoli, you cement the idea that healthy foods are “bad” and sweet foods are “good.” You can avoid this common trap by treating all foods neutrally.
Above all, set a good example. No child will eat and enjoy peas if her parents blatantly dislike them. Therefore, more than anything else, you can encourage your child’s good eating habits by modeling healthy habits yourself. You must be eating the foods you want your children to eat.
Getting little ones to go for a snack that isn’t chock full of sugar can be a real challenge. Here are several healthy snack ideas for kids, as recommended by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (pcrm.org), an organization headed by Dr. Neal Barnard and dedicated to advocating good nutrition. Try packing these in your kids’ lunchbox and see if they pass the taste test!
• Chopped raw vegetables and dip
• Chunks of avocado, cucumber, or cooked sweet potato
• Breadsticks or pita chips with hummus
• Tortilla chips with bean dip or salsa
• Graham crackers or gingersnaps dipped in applesauce
• Mini rice cakes with peanut butter
• Apple slices with hazelnut butter or honey
• Fresh or dried fruits, especially raisins
• Frozen bananas blended with a little coconut or almond milk
• Nuts, especially mixed with dried fruit
• Fresh soybeans (edamame)
• Bite-sized cheese cubes
Maple Walnut Granola
Makes about 6 cups
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup wheat germ
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup raisins
½ cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 300ºF.
2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
3. Transfer to a 9- x 13-inch baking dish. Bake, turning often with a spatula, until mixture is golden brown, about 25 minutes.
Nutritional facts per ½-cup serving: 231 calories; 7 grams protein; 39 grams carbohydrate; 6.5 grams fat; 2.5 grams fiber; 5 milligrams sodium; calories from protein: 11%; calories from carbohydrates: 66%; calories from fats: 23%
6 large, tart apples (gravenstein, pippins, Granny Smith, etc.)
1 cup undiluted apple juice concentrate
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1. For chunky applesauce, peel apples, then core and dice. Place in a large pan. Add apple juice concentrate, then cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, until apples are soft. Mash slightly with a fork if desired, then stir in cinnamon. Serve hot or cold.
2. For smoother applesauce, cut apples into quarters and remove cores. Chop finely in a food processor. Transfer to a pan and add apple juice concentrate and cinnamon. Cover and cook, stirring often, over low heat until tender, about 15 minutes.
Nutritional facts per ½-cup serving: 101 calories; 0.3 grams protein; 26 grams carbohydrate; 0.5 grams fat; 2 grams fiber; 6 milligrams sodium; calories from protein: 1%; calories from
carbohydrates: 95%; calories from fats: 4%
Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Makes 10 to 12 muffins
2 cups whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 15-ounce can solid-pack pumpkin
1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add pumpkin, ½ cup of water, and raisins. Stir until just mixed.
3. Spoon batter into oil-sprayed muffin cups, filling to just below the tops.
4. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until tops of muffins bounce back when pressed lightly. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes.
5. Remove muffins from pan and cool on a rack. Store cooled muffins in an airtight container.
Nutritional facts per muffin: 131 calories; 3 grams protein; 31 grams carbohydrate; 0.5 grams fat; 4 grams fiber; 236 milligrams sodium; calories from protein: 10%; calories from
carbohydrates: 87%; calories from fats: 3%
Veggies in a Blanket
Makes 2 large roll-ups
2 flour tortillas
2 tablespoons vegan cream cheese
1 grated carrot
2 lettuce leaves (or a handful of baby spinach leaves)
1. Warm tortillas in a dry pan. Spread vegan cream cheese on them.
2. Add carrots and lettuce or spinach. Roll up and serve or wrap in plastic wrap for snacking later.
Variations: Add thin sticks of cucumber or sweet red pepper before rolling.
Nutritional facts per roll-up: 159 calories; 4 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrate; 6 grams fat; 2 grams fiber; 230 milligrams sodium; calories from protein: 10%; calories from
carbohydrates: 55%; calories from fats: 35%
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