It’s not easy persuading kids to eat the right things, particularly if you’re dealing with very fussy eaters, or children who consider sweets, crisps and ice-cream to be the three basic food groups. But it is so important to ensure that your little ones enjoy a balanced, nutritious diet, because this is what will keep them well, help them grow strong and fit, boost their immune systems and rocket them into a long-lasting, healthy adulthood.
But how? You’ll need to be smart in the kitchen, and find creative, imaginative ways of preparing and presenting food.
There are two things that children really adore: the first is any sort of novelty, and the second is playing. If you can combine these two in the kitchen, you’re off to a winning start!
Here are some top tips for making food fun:
Cook with your children
- You might end up with strange-looking fishcakes and wonky meatballs, but there’s no better way of instilling an appreciation of good food in kids than cooking with them as often as you can. If you involve them in preparing family food, they’re more likely to eat what they’ve made – and at the same time you’ll be passing on valuable cooking skills!
- Choose easy dishes that have spectacular results and involve a lot of interactive kneading, cutting, mixing, grating and whisking. Good examples of such foods are cheese scones, dumplings, bread, meatballs, burgers, flapjacks, biscuits and all sorts of puddings, ice creams and lollies.
- This is also a good opportunity to reinforce rules about food safety and kitchen hygiene: be careful with knives and hot pans, wash your hands often, and clean up as you go!
Introduce food novelties
Children can sometimes take time to warm up to new food ideas but – because they love novelty – it’s worth trying exciting new approaches several times over to see if you can stimulate their taste buds. Here are some ideas:
- Foods that involve lots of hands-on peeling, scooping and rolling are so interesting to kids. For example, it’s great fun peeling litchis and boiled eggs, or hollowing out a whole watermelon, or popping raw peas out of their pods, or scooping the seeds out of gem squash.
- Introduce dinners that kids can ‘build’ themselves. How about Mexican-style wraps and tacos? Most supermarkets sell corn-based taco shells and flour tortillas or rotis, which can be warmed quickly in your oven or microwave. If you can’t find these, use pancakes instead. Provide bowls of savoury mince, grated cheese, mashed avocado, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and NutriDay plain yoghurt for topping – and then invite your child to go wild!
- Alternatively, buy pita breads, warm them in the oven and encourage your kids to experiment with build-a-shwarma ideas. Try our recipe for yummy Beef Shwarmas with Tzatziki!
- Scale down! ‘Mini’ foods are often much more appealing to children than huge, intimidating platefuls. Try tiny meatballs or fishcakes, kebabs on toothpicks (see below for kebab ideas), baby pancakes wrapped around assorted fillings, fried quail’s eggs, cocktail sausages and baby marrow balls.
- Turn family meals into special occasions. For example, you could could spread blankets and pillows on the living-room floor and throw a Middle Eastern picnic, or make a cheese fondue, or create a burger bar in your own kitchen!
- How about making a help-yourself yoghurt bar for your child’s next birthday party? Click here to find out how.
Dips and sauces
Most children love ‘dunking’ food because it’s so messy, interactive and delicious!
- Choose foods that are cut or formed into slim rectangles, such as fish fingers, crumbed chicken strips, crunchy vegetable sticks, cheese slices and oblongs of fruit.
- Lay out small bowls, ramekins or egg cups, and fill them with a choice of dips and sauces. The bottom half of a polystyrene egg box makes a great disposable container for sauces.
- For savoury dishes, provide yoghurt-based dips (click here for recipes), tomato sauce, mayonnaise, olive oil, cheese sauce, soy sauce, and so on.
- For sweet dishes, offer smooth NutriDay yoghurt in several flavours, plus interesting garnishes for sprinkling, such as chopped nuts, toasted seeds, hundreds and thousands, edible cake glitter, and so on.
- A smart idea is to fill a large plastic syringe (available from chemists) with yoghurt, tomato sauce, mayonnaise or gravy, and invite your child to ‘scribble’ it all over her food in an interesting pattern.
Thread your food!
It’s such fun skewering chunks of food onto kebab sticks or threading them on to string! However, if your children are young, this is an activity that requires close adult supervision – kebab sticks are sharp, and toddlers should not be left alone with a food ‘necklace’.
- Make chicken or fish kebabs by threading cubes of deboned chicken breast or firm white linefish onto wooden skewers. Add other fresh ingredients of your choice such as cherry tomatoes, baby marrow slices, squares of green pepper, dried apricots, and so on. Grill or braai the kebabs, then serve with dipping sauces (see above). Try our delicious Chicken Skewers with a Peri Peri Sauce!
- Make jazzy kebabs with colourful chunks of fresh fruit such as banana, mango, melon, pineapple, strawberries and kiwi. Serve with yoghurt or – for a special treat – with a dipping sauce of melted chocolate.
- Make food necklaces! Give your child a shoe lace and a bowl of breakfast cereal rings. Show her how to thread the cereal onto the lace and then tie the ends together to make a long necklace which can be nibbled on. An older child will enjoy threading popcorn onto a length of cotton using a large blunt needle – a darning needle (available from sewing shops) is ideal. Other foods that can be threaded to make ‘necklaces’ are macaroni or penne, dried apple rings, pretzels and strips of biltong.
Make shapes with food
Kids are endlessly amused by food cut up into cool shapes or formed into quirky pictures – and this is something they can do themselves when they’re old enough!
- Invest in a set of good cookie cutters (apart from being useful for shaping food, they’re also such fun for playdough activities). Try to find a set that includes novelty shapes such as a gingerbread man, a star, a heart, a flower, a moon and a tree.
- Here are foods great for cutting into shapes: cheese slices, bread, pancakes, tortillas, pineapple, melons, polony, ham and omelettes.
- Use your imagination to create fun food pictures on your children’s plates. These are good ‘shaping’ foods:
- Hair: chopped lettuce, shredded cabbage, grated cheese, spaghetti, diced boiled egg, baked beans, mashed potatoes, sweetcorn, grated apple, mashed banana, granadilla pulp and yoghurt.
- Eyes and ears: raisins, carrot discs, sausage rings, gherkin slices, cherry tomatoes, dried apricots, slices of boiled egg, half-apple slices and dried pears.
- Smiles: slices of banana, mango, avocado, pawpaw, melon, or any other curved fruit, sausages, strips of cooked meat, cheese… anything that can be shaped into a generous upward curve.
- Construction shapes: boats, houses, kites, cars and trains are easy to make: triangles or rectangles of bread, cheese and ham all make good basic shapes. Use slices of carrot, orange or cucumber for wheels.
- Click here for some wonderfully creative ideas for making food ‘pictures’ for your children.
Now that you’ve read our ideas for making food fun, please share your creations on our NutriDay Facebook page! We’d love to see how you’ve made food amazing fun for your little ones.