Ask your child to get involved in meal planning. Continue to increase your child’s participation in the process, as it will keep her engaged and interested. Look through cookbooks and magazines and try new recipes together.
Make mealtime free of distractions to allow your child to focus on eating. This means no TV, smartphones, or other gadgets during meals. This is a great time to connect as a family and keeping distractions at bay helps your child listen to her body and focus on what she’s eating, when she’s full, and when she’d like more.
Have a family pizza night and make your own pies. Your 3rd grader probably loves pizza, which doesn’t always have to be junk food. Let your child put her own toppings on. Use whole wheat dough, low sodium tomato sauce, different kinds of vegetables, and low-fat cheese. It’s a healthy and fun way to eat a range of food groups.
Make sure healthier options are easier to reach at eye-level and treats are out of site. Third graders have more independence around the kitchen at this age, meaning they will grab snacks from the fridge or cupboard on their own. If the only foods available are healthy, making a healthy choice is easier.
Let your child choose what ingredients go into a salad to increase her participation in healthy meal planning and show that her opinion on what she eats matters.
Be creative with how you present food to your 3rd grader. She is likely to be more adventurous at this age than she was before and presenting healthy options in creative ways can lead her to try new foods. Tired of a side salad at dinner? Try making a taco salad as a main dish and let your child decide what goes into hers. Grilled chicken breast strips, black beans, corn, peppers, avocado, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, brown rice, and low-fat cheese are all good ingredients to include. Instead of a high-calorie salad dressing, try using salsa for a flavorful and healthier alternative.
Have your child run the buttons on the blender as you make smoothies, or have her peel potatoes with a vegetable peeler. At this age, she can be more helpful in the kitchen. Getting her involved in the process will get her more invested and interested in the food she’ll be eating.
Take your child grocery shopping with you and get her involved in bagging and weighing produce. Some grocery stores have scanners children can use, which can be a fun way to get her involved as well.
Keep cut-up fruit in single serve bags in the refrigerator at eye-level and encourage your child to eat them as a snack. When fruit is readily available and easy to eat your child is more likely to choose it.
If possible, take a family trip to a local apple orchard. Let your child pick apples and discuss the different kinds of apples available. When you’re home, you can taste-test the apples and see which ones you all like best. You’ll not only get to promote healthy eating, the outing makes fun family time and gets you all moving.
Focus on fruit as dessert. The natural sweetness in fruits provides a great way to end the meal with a dessert feel without dipping into the cookie jar or adding empty calories.
Top your child’s cereal or oatmeal with fresh berries, bananas, or chopped apple to get a serving of fruit in with breakfast. Let your child make the choice of which fruit she would like to add.
Try freezing berries, segments of orange, or grapes for a healthy take on homemade popsicles. Sliced bananas topped with a little orange juice and frozen in a paper cup are another option.
The best way to reduce your child’s salt and sodium intake is to feed her fresh, whole foods, and to stay away from processed foods as much as possible.
Read the labels of foods you’re buying to help reduce your child’s salt and sodium intake. Since every brand and cook is different, looking for lower sodium options will really help cut back your child’s intake. Items with less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving are considered lower sodium.
Don’t leave a salt shaker on the table. If you’d like to have added flavor available, try making your own herb mix to keep on the table. Garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano or thyme are good options to mix together to add flavor without adding sodium.
Let your child know that all fat is not necessarily bad or unhealthy. In fact, fat is essential for life, says Connecticut-based pediatric nutritionist Dr. Deb Kennedy. It’s the type of fat that makes a huge difference.
For added healthy fats and creaminess, try adding some avocado to a smoothie.
Stay away from harmful trans fat. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list this means there is trans fat in the product, even if it says 0 trans fat on the front of the label.
If you use margarine, try to buy products in a tub rather than a stick. There is less trans fat in margarine sold in a tub than in stick margarine.
Try to always check the label and be on the lookout for bad fats in packaged foods. Saturated fats and trans fats fall into the unhealthy fat category. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (liquid fats) are better fats, and are found in vegetable and olive oils, avocado, and fatty fish like salmon.
Teach your child about moderation. Making a food forbidden may make your child want it more. Instead, focus on eating sweet treats only on special occasions and not every day.
Try using peanut butter or warmed fruit instead of using syrup to top pancakes or waffles. Your child may not even miss the syrup and substituting a serving of protein or fruit for the sugar makes the breakfast healthier.
Try adding a small amount of maple syrup or fruit to oatmeal or low-fat yogurt. Adding sweeteners yourself allows you to control the amount your child consumes. American Heart Association spokeswoman Dr. Rachel Johnson suggests mixing sweetened yogurt to plain yogurt to cut the amount of sugar while keeping the flavor your child may be used to.
Present your child with different vegetables and let her decide which to eat. This will support her independence while encouraging her to eat vegetables on her own. Offer a side of carrots, sweet potato, or green beans and let her choose which one she would like to have for dinner.
Try adding more vegetables to spaghetti to increase vegetable consumption. Adding peppers, mushrooms, or chopped broccoli to the sauce is one option. Another is using a vegetable peeler to turn zucchini into “noodles” by thinly slicing the zucchini and either adding to spaghetti noodles or using just the zucchini as the pasta.
Try having a “veggie night” once a week. Serve veggie dogs or veggie burgers, hummus with cut vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers, and baked sweet potato fries. Committing to one night a week will challenge both you and your child to try vegetables in different ways and see them as more than just a side dish.
Put your 3rd grader in charge of making a salad for everyone on her own and try your best not to intervene. Connecticut-based pediatric nutritionist Dr. Deb Kennedy says your child will feel very empowered as she masters making a dish by herself.
If peanut allergies are a concern at school, pack your child a sandwich made with sun butter instead of peanut butter. Sun butter is made from sunflower seeds and is safe for sufferers of tree-nut allergies. You could also try almond butter or pumpkin seed butter as substitutes for butters.
Swap out yogurt for low-fat Greek yogurt, which has more protein than its counterpart. Greek yogurt is a little tarter than regular yogurt and can be sweetened with fruit or a small amount of honey.
Edamame, or immature soybeans, in their shell can be a fun and healthy snack or appetizer. Teach your child to get the beans out of their pods and enjoy.
Try hard-boiling eggs ahead of time if you often run short of time in the morning. Hard-boiled eggs make an easy grab-and-go breakfast item. Add a banana and a piece of whole-grain toast and you can still provide a healthy breakfast even if your child doesn’t have time to sit down and eat.
Try to serve whole grain items with low sugar content, like oatmeal or whole wheat toast, for breakfast. Whole grains help your child to feel full longer, which makes them a great option for breakfast.
Always try to read the back of a package to check for whole grains. Sometimes the front of the box will say “whole grain,” but there might not actually be a lot of whole grains in the pasta, bread, or cereal. Whole grains should be the number one ingredient on the list.
Try incorporating whole grains slowly if your child isn’t used to them. Try mixing whole wheat pasta with white pasta and gradually adding more wheat pasta over time until he gets used to the texture and taste. This works for rice too, and even with sandwiches. Try one slice of wheat and one of white bread.
Oats are a great source of whole grain, and are very versatile. They can be added to breads, muffins, and cookies. Combined with yogurt for parfaits or used to make homemade granola, oats are a great way to add whole grains to your child’s diet.
If your child has a diagnosis of lactose intolerance, milk substitutes such as lactose-free cow’s milk, calcium-fortified soy milk, or almond milk are good options. Vegetables such as collard greens, kale, and soybeans also provide calcium, though in smaller amounts. However, the calcium in these vegetables is not absorbed as well as the calcium in dairy foods. Georgia-based pediatrician Dr. Jatinder Bhatia says even children with lactose intolerance can tolerate small amounts of dairy and may use products such as Lactaid to enable the consumption of dairy.
Try stocking up on low-fat string cheese. Easily packable, low-fat string cheese makes a good snack for kids who are on the go. String cheese is also good for packed lunches.
Use low-fat milk instead of water when preparing hot cereal, oatmeal, or soups. This is an easy way to increase your child’s dairy intake without pouring her a glass of milk.