Five tips to hook your kids on superfoods

This morning, I appeared on Denver’s Channel 2 KWGN’s “Daybreak” show. The segment? Superfoods for Kids. We dished about nutrients kids don’t typically get enough of (like calcium, potassium and fiber) and sneaking kale and beans into your kid’s diet.

What is a “superfood”? Wikipedia defines it as a food with a “high phytonutrient content that may confer health benefits as a result.” According to WebMD, superfoods help us maintain weight, fight disease and live longer. To me, superfoods are foods that provide us extra benefits (such as probiotics or antioxidants) beyond vitamins and minerals, like blueberries, kale (or any leafy greens), Greek yogurt, wild salmon, beans and almonds, to name a few. But no matter how you define “superfoods,” you can’t deny that our children need more of them.

According to an article in Today’s Dietitian (July 2010), nearly 20% of children (under the age of 12) and more than 18% of teenagers are obese… not overweight, but obese. And, it’s estimated that 4 out of 5 overweight teens will grow into obese adults. And, it’s not just size that matters. Unhealthy eating now sets kids up to develop type 2 diabetes and heart disease later, or sometimes sooner. Let’s face it… the numbers are grim and it’s not a pretty picture. Hopefully, First Lady Obama’s Let’s Move initiative will prevent these numbers from creeping up.

In the meantime, can we hook our kids on healthy food? Yes. It takes effort and persistence (this coming from a RD mom of a 7-month-old who will ONLY nosh on fruit and cereal!), but we can convince our kids that eating healthy can be tasty and fun.

Here are five tips for enticing your tots to munch on superfoods.

  1. Make superfoods fun and appealing. Bright colors (think colorful fruits and veggies). Silly names (“brainiac blueberries”). Cool shapes (pancakes of varying sizes to make a face). The timeless celery, peanut butter and raisins “bugs on a log” snack is still eaten and called “bugs on a log” for a reason. Kids love it.
  2. Get kids involved. No matter what their age, take your kids to the supermarket or farmer’s market. Encourage them to pick out wholesome foods. Give them age-appropriate meal preparation and cooking tasks (hey, even banging pots and pans can be good ol’ kitchen entertainment). Even better, let them plant and tend a vegetable or herb in the garden. Kids are more likely to eat a food they selected or prepared than if it’s just set on a plate in front of them.
  3. Eat (and enjoy) the foods yourself. If you serve your kids Swiss chard but turn your nose up at it, you’re going to have a hard time convincing them to eat it. Be a good role model for the kids in your life.
  4. If nothing else works, disguise it. If your kids aren’t picky, serve them fresh fruits and vegetables. If they are picky, dress it up or hide it. Chop or process vegetables and sneak into sauces, casseroles or soups for added antioxidants, potassium and fiber. Puree fruits and add to baked goods, smoothies and honey-sweetened yogurt for added antioxidants, potassium and fiber. Mash beans and add to ground turkey or beef for high-fiber meatloaf, burgers or meatballs. Serve veggies with yogurt-based ranch dressing or a little cheese. Add canned salmon to pastas and salads to up their heart-healthy fat intake. Sure, we’d like them to eat “superfoods” without deceit, but more importantly we want them to eat well.
  5. Try, try again (and again and again). You may have to introduce a new food up to 10 times before your child likes it. Kids’ taste buds change constantly, so a food they loathe today may become their favorite next week.

Most of all, enjoy the process of introducing your children to nourishing foods and helping them develop healthy habits now. Please share your creative tips for getting your kids to eat healthy foods. We’d love to hear from you!