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Encouraging Kids to Eat Healthier

Last updated: July 21, 2023

Having your child help with basic meal preparation can give them a feeling of ownership when the meal is ready to eat. This can lead to a greater willingness to try unfamiliar foods.

Michelle Eaton, Registered Dietitian, ThedaCare

Each July, Appleton marks Children’s Week. Taking place July 23-29 this year, the weeklong series of events celebrates the children and families who call the community home.

Children’s Week includes fun family activities, many offered for free or at a reduced cost. One of the highlights of the week is the annual Building for Kids Children’s Parade, presented by ThedaCare. As part of this free event, taking place July 26, 2023, kids and their grown-ups stroll through the streets of downtown Appleton dressed in themed costumes.

In honor of Children’s Week, we caught up with ThedaCare Registered Dietitian Michelle Eaton to learn some ways to get kids to explore healthier food options and to get them involved in the kitchen. Here’s what she shared.

Encouraging Healthier Habits

Parents often struggle to get kids to eat vegetables. There are some scientific reasons behind this. Younger children tend to have a more sensitive taste pallet, a natural preference for sweet foods, and an aversion to bitter tastes.

Children are also unfamiliar with the many varieties of vegetables, and this can create a hesitancy to try them. When kids help out in the kitchen, it allows them to become familiar with and comfortable around vegetables.

Having your child help with basic meal preparation can also give them a feeling of ownership when the meal is ready to eat. This can lead to a greater willingness to try unfamiliar foods.

Supervision and flexibility are a must when kids are working in the kitchen. Be prepared for a little mess, but kids can also help with cleanup tasks.

Kitchen Tasks by Age

What is your child capable of? Take a look at this list and see if you can get your kids involved and more familiar with vegetables.

0-18 months

The best way to involve the youngest of kids is just to let them observe you cooking. Have them hang out in the kitchen when you cook.

Set them up in a safe place, and give them a few cooking tools to play with, such as wooden spoons, spatulas, or plastic measuring cups. Let them smell, touch, and maybe taste some of the ingredients, depending on the child’s age. This is about making cooking fun and interesting for little ones to watch.

18 months – 3 years

Around this age, kids can start to do some simple tasks. Don’t worry if your child isn’t ready for this until they are closer to 2. Just gradually begin to include them in the cooking process. Let them use their hands so they get familiar with the different food textures.

Tasks suitable for this age range include:

  • Mashing vegetables with their hands
  • Mixing food together in a large mixing bowl
  • Sprinkling salt or dried herbs into a recipe
  • Picking up individual vegetables and placing them on a sheet pan
  • Putting silver wear in the dishwasher
  • Holding the dust pan to help with cleanup

4-5 years old

This is a great age range for kids to start working more on fine motor skills. They’re likely ready for slightly more complex jobs, including:

  • Cutting soft vegetables such as green beans with a plastic knife
  • Using a rolling pin to roll out pizza or bread dough for veggie pizza
  • Using a whisk to mix eggs, oils, and milk
  • Juicing lemons and limes
  • Filling the dishwasher soap compartment and pressing start

6-9 years old

Kids at these ages are likely ready for more complicated tasks. They can also work on reading and writing skills by making out a grocery list and reading instructions on a recipe. Consider some of these additional tasks:

  • Using a vegetable peeler to peel fruit and vegetables
  • Grating cheese with a box grater
  • Greasing a baking pan
  • Using a scoop to fill muffin cups
  • Threading vegetables/fruit onto skewers
  • Scraping down a mixing bowl
  • Emptying the dishwasher

Getting kids involved in the kitchen is an all-around win. It teaches them independence, helps them develop confidence, and increases their willingness to try more foods. Bon Appetit!

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Tags: age-appropriate chores Appleton Children’s Week Healthy foods for kids

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