Healthy Kids: “Do I Have to Eat That?”

My 5-year-old grandson, Finley loves fish. He also loves sushi, Greek salad and Brussels sprouts. And, he smears horseradish on his roast beef. What a delight. When he stays with me and I ask him what he wants for dinner, it’s almost always the same answer: “pickerel fish.” I love cooking for Fin.

His older brothers do not have the same eclectic tastes. They like chicken if it comes in fingers. They like burgers, as long as they come from the Golden Arches. Vegetables are always a sketchy subject. Broccoli and asparagus are about as far as they go in being adventurous. And ice cream and chocolate sauce are definitely in one of their recommended food groups

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It’s tough getting grandkids to be adventurous, not to mention making sure they cruise Canada’s Food Guide. But often, picky eating habits are genetic, coming from their parents. So why should we be surprised?

However, as Zoomers with a keen understanding of healthy foods and that relationship to longevity, we have a renewed commitment to making sure this generation doesn’t make the same eating mistakes we made with ourselves and the children we raised and fed.

Amy and Sam of Moncton try to encourage their grand-daughter Amanda to try new foods that are healthy. But as Amy says “Her mother is a picky eater and will often stiffen when I put Amanda’s plate in front of her. Amanda picks up on the body language immediately, and of course, what follows is a discussion about a new food that her mother is convinced Amanda won’t like.”

What are the solutions?

Assume your grandkids will love everything. Why not! Most of us, from a very young age, make food choices from watching the eating habits of others and their reactions to food. So, don’t assume your grandkids will automatically ‘hate’ beets. Serve them and talk about how they are grown and why they’re a neat veggie. There may be some bribing involved, but trying a new food is worth the risk.

Most grandparents agree it’s a compromise. There is no point in making meals the kids won’t eat. Prepare meals they will enjoy, such as tacos, chicken fingers and burgers, but balance the meal with fresh raw vegetables as snacks before dinner and add oven-baked home fries to their plates instead of frozen, high- fat fries. I buy fingerling potatoes and cut them into wedges, bake them in the oven with a sprinkling of olive oil. It’s become one of my grandchildren’s favorites.

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Add new vegetables to old familiar favorites. Ask them to try just one asparagus spear or a tiny spoonful of sautéed red peppers or zucchini or kale.

Salads are often the last food item on a child’s priority list, but if cut-up red peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and shaved carrots are presented in tiny, individual bowls, the bite-size combination may be more palatable and kid-friendly.

Sometimes you simply have to make deals. The deal may be “if you eat one broccoli tree or three red pepper chunks, or all your rice, you can have ice cream for dessert.”

Whatever works.

If a new food is added to their plate of favorites and presented in a colorful and appealing way, they will probably try it. Besides, they know you have made an effort and it’s obvious you adore them!