March is National Nutrition Month, a month-long campaign that helps promote the value of making healthy food choices and improving good eating habits and incorporating physical activity. Each year a new theme or focus is highlighted with 2015’s being “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle.” For parents with picky eaters, however, this is easier said than done. Fortunately, with the right approach, there are ways to get your children to eat more healthy foods. If you have picky eaters at your dinner table, these tips from Pittsburgh registered dietitian Juliet Mancino, who loves finding new ways to make plants tasty, can help fill their plates with more delicious and nutritious choices.
Juliet Mancino, MS, RDN, CDE
Projects Coordinator & Lead Interventionist
University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing
Juliet Mancino has worked as a registered dietitian for over 25 years and is currently the Lead Interventionist on a weight loss research study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. She has been working in weight loss research since 2001. Mancino, who has raised two children, one of whom was a picky eater, has plenty of personal experience connecting on a healthy level with those she works with. “I find that folks who struggle with their weight often are picky and don’t like vegetables, so that is a challenge I have had to try and help people with.” Mancino, who holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, is also on the ballot for President-elect for the Pittsburgh Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for 2015-2016.
Preparation Is Key
Mancino recognizes that most kids are picky about vegetables, for instance, but says that there are quite a number of tasty tricks you can try when preparing them. One of her simplest flavorful suggestions is to make changes in the preparation process. “Roasting them, instead of baking or boiling, gives a whole different flavor and makes them a little sweeter,” Mancino explains. “Anytime you can get a toasty browning, that tastes really good. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage—all veggies kids notoriously turn their noses up to—can taste really good roasted with a little olive oil and coarse salt.”
When it comes to helping parents sneak in something nutritious on the sly, a food processor can be your best friend. Mancino draws upon Jessica Seinfield’s book “Deceptively Delicious” for another of her go-to tips. “She makes an art of pureeing carrots and sweet potatoes—any veggie—and mixes into everything from pancake batter to chili.”
Dress To Impress In Moderation
Let’s face it: most kids will eat anything if it’s smothered, covered and coated in something sweet or savory, but these additives and toppings often get a bad rap. Mancino believes there’s nothing wrong with adding a hint of flavor to veggies when done in moderation. “There is no harm in serving healthy choices with some butter, salt, ketchup or ranch dressing—any of the things kids like—as long as the portion of the side is in moderation,” she explains. “The amount of sugar or salt in a small amount is worth getting a serving of veggies in.”
Related: Five Healthy Foods For Your Brain
Make Healthy Hands-On
Mancino recommends that parents get their kids involved when it comes to mealtime prep. For this, she encourages pursuing Pinterest for fun food-play ideas. “Get kids to mash the sweet potatoes or make veggie faces on cucumbers with shredded carrot hair, peas for eyes and a red pepper smile,” she says. Above all, Mancino advises parents to keep it fun so that kids will be interested and eventually try.
As Churchill Put It: Never Never Never Give Up!
Perhaps Winston Churchill summed it up best when he said “Never never never give up!” “It’s well-known that it takes multiple exposures to foods for kids to give them a try and make them part of their everyday,” encourages Mancino. “So no threat, no pressure, but keep serving and offering them in the future, even if they refuse.” Just seizing the opportunity to have healthy options available at the beginning of a meal when children are most hungry can be very effective.
Jessica Wasik is a graduate of Robert Morris University with a degree in English Studies. She is also a contributing writer for AXS.com and Examiner.com. Her work can be found at Examiner.com