We spoke with Sylvia Melendez-Klinger of the Grain Foods Foundation for tips to help picky eaters eat healthy lunches. Melendez-Klinger is a licensed and registered dietitian, certified personal trainer and founder of Hispanic Food Communications, a food communications and culinary consulting company based in Illinois.
Sylvia uses her in-depth culinary and cultural expertise to help an increasingly health-conscious Hispanic population learn new strategies for healthy living.
Examiner asks: How can parents help picky eaters eat healthy lunches?
Sylvia responds, "Picky eaters are a great concern to moms, but easing their worries doesn’t have to be difficult. Let me share a few tips that will help ease the battles between you and your picky eater. This is coming not only from a dietitian, but from a mom of a recovered picky eater. Get creative and have some fun creating very tasty healthy food."
These tips from Sylvia will keep your kids wanting more and more healthy foods:
For a super easy colorful appetizer, mix 1 cup light cream cheese with 1/2 cup reduced fat mayonnaise and spread mixture on a serving platter. Layer salsa, chopped tomatoes and low fat shredded cheese for a real fiesta dip. Or make Sylvia's kids' favorite: layer your favorite pasta sauce with thin slices of low fat turkey sausage, cheddar Mozzarella cheese over the same cream cheese mixture.
Sylvia shares her family recipe for pleasing meatloaf. "Every winter I pull out my old fashioned (did I say super simple) meatloaf recipe that the aroma alone even makes our dog beg for leftovers. Just five ingredients: 1 pound ground turkey, 1 cup pasta sauce, 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs, 1 egg, 1/4 cup chopped onions and black pepper to taste. Mix well and place on a meatloaf pan or divide on a muffin pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or 20 minutes for a muffin pan. While the meatloaf bakes on the upper rack, slice carrots and potatoes into thin coins, drizzle with olive oil and bake on a cooking sheet right on the bottom shelve of you oven also for 1 hour."
Sylvia suggests that families plan meals together. Sylvia says, "Sit down with your kids and plan a few meals together; they will be more inclined to eat something they help plan for the family. Also, take the family grocery shopping. Everyone can learn to read the nutrition labels and about the nutrients in each food or product."
When you teach kids how to cook, they are more likely to eat healthy foods. Sylvia shares, "I can’t emphasize how important is to teach our kids, boys and girls, how to cook. Cooking is an art, which develops an appreciation for delicious healthy foods. If you are not skilled in the kitchen, take a class together in your community."
Eating dinner together at home will help your child become less picky. Sylvia says, "A shared dinner table can be a positive influence on shaping children’s eating habits. Children who eat more family meals tend to consume less soda, fewer fried foods, and more fruits and vegetables." Citing a 2000 study by the Archives of Family Medicine, Sylvia tells us, "The table offer great benefits for everyone in the family; just keep your conversations positive."
Examiner asks: How should parents handle kids swapping lunches with friends?
Sylvia tells us, "I still remember my son giving away any lunch items he was not going to eat; he had a lot of friends during the lunch hour. Swapping lunches is a common practice among kids. As generous as this may sounds, kids today have many allergies and sensitivity to a number of foods, so is best to send small portions and try to provide foods your kids will most likely eat to avoid this food sharing." Many schools now have a firm no-swapping policy. If your school has this policy, reinforce this with your kids.
Examiner asks: What are the best protein choices for brown bag lunches?
Sylvia responds, "Here are my favorite top five protein sources: low fat yogurt, hard boiled eggs, mozzarella cheese stick, tuna fish with crackers or a handful of raw almonds or other favorite nuts." Sylvia recommends nuts for older kids.
Examiner asks: What foods help kids keep focused all day?
Sylvia tells us, "Studies have demonstrated that eating breakfast help kids stay focused during the day. A combination of at least three food groups will assure a well-balanced meal, which can provide the essential nutrients needed to keep kids focus during the day. For example: A simple and inexpensive meal with a cereal, low fat milk or yogurt and 1/2 cup of chopped fruit provides a nutritious meal."
Examiner asks: What other tips can you offer to help parents pack healthy, nutritious lunches?
Sylvia's response speaks to the worried parent in all of us. "Relax. Unless your picky eater is below the 25th percentile in the growth chart, you should relax a little and try to work in some of the tactics provided here, before you make them sit at the table for hours until they finish a few bites."
One more tip from a parent of formerly picky eaters. Being a picky eater doesn't last forever. Keep offering a variety of foods to your child and even the pickiest kids will eventually learn they like more than just hot dogs and mac and cheese.