Young children may be picky eaters, but you don't want to resort to an all-macaroni-and-cheese-and-chicken-nuggets diet. Serving your child nutritious foods now preps her body and mind for a lifetime of healthy eating. According to HealthyChildren.org, the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should eat a wide range of foods, incorporating the four main food groups -- proteins, grains, fruits and vegetables and dairy products -- every day.
Start the day off with a healthy breakfast. Serve waffles made with whole grain flour, along with a Greek yogurt dip rather than maple syrup. This gives your child a protein and dairy boost. Fruit smoothies can get some of the foods your child wouldn't normally eat in. Spinach hides particularly well, but you can also add tofu or peanut butter for protein and yogurt or milk for calcium. Cereal is a quick and easy solution, but if you're going to go that route, look for versions that are made with whole grains and are low in sugar, serving them with milk and a side of fruit.
Sandwiches are a kid favorite and you can change them up for variety. Try peanut butter and jelly, egg or tuna salad, deli meats or grilled cheese. Use a whole grain bread rather than white -- white whole wheat if your child resists the brown stuff. Resist the urge to serve the sandwich with chips, though. Instead, choose fresh fruits or vegetables or a small cup of yogurt. Soup can contain a lot of nutritious ingredients, such as chicken or beans for protein, and vegetables that your child might turn his nose up at if they were presented steamed. Make your own to have more control over the ingredients. Pasta salad can make for a welcome change and can get even more vegetables into your child. Try mixing it up with corn, edamame, broccoli and cucumbers.
If your child is clamoring for chicken nuggets, make them yourself from real pieces of chicken and whole grain bread crumbs, baking them instead of frying them for a healthier option. Serve with brown rice, or a brown and white rice mixture if she won't eat all brown, and steamed spinach rolled into "power balls." If spaghetti is more her taste, you can blend grated carrots and red lentils into the sauce and she won't even realize you've given a nutritional boost to her old standby. Wrapping things in a whole grain tortilla can also be a fun way to eat nutritious foods. You can stick with traditional beans and rice, but you can also try other things, such as eggs, potatoes or salad.
Snacks are an important part of your child's diet and he should eat both a mid-morning snack and a mid-afternoon snack. Avoid snacks like chips and candy. Instead, serve cut-up veggies with a dip, whole grain pretzels with hummus or whole grain crackers with chunks of cheese. For a special treat, you can blend frozen bananas and other fruit into a treat that closely resembles ice cream. If you're feeling particularly daring, try bananas, spinach and a few drops of mint extract for a "mint ice cream."
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