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Make mealtime fun for kids

By on April 10, 2008

photo by Guillermo Esteves
cereal and fruit
Young kids can be stubborn, refusing to eat anything but favorites such as hot dogs, pizza, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches or chicken nuggets. So it’s always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Instead of getting frustrated and having food battles, try the following kid-tested secrets. Let me know if you have some tips of your own.

CEREAL: Often children will eat hot or cold cereal if fresh fruit is added. Instead of telling them it tastes great, try saying how colorful it is or how terrific it smells. I laugh and say it’s a party in a bowl. I add honey, raisins or wheat germ to it, or offer yogurt with cereal added. I’ve discovered the more involved my children are in the preparation, the more likely they are to eat it. Honey sometimes comes in a bear-shaped container, and you can add wheat germ to a reusable Parmesan-cheese container so kids can sprinkle it on themselves. This makes food more appealing for them.

MEATLOAF: Let kids help mix it. Put meat into a large, plastic zip-top bag and let them squish it. To add interest, fill half a meatloaf pan, make an indentation, add mashed potatoes and corn and fill the remainder of the pan with the rest of your meatloaf mixture. It won’t be so overwhelming on their plates. Look for fun condiment squeeze bottles and let kids squeeze out their own ketchup. This is a good way to reuse the bear-shaped honey containers, too. Once empty, they can even be used as tub toys.

MILK AND WATER: My kids started drinking more water as soon as we got a watercooler. Our fridge also has a water dispenser. They drink more because they like to get their own drinks. If the kids aren’t fond of milk, encourage them by using cool cups and straws that are used only for milk. You can use fun ice-cube shapes for drinks, too.

FRUITS: Adding stickers to fruit can make it more enticing. You can save the fortunes from fortune cookies, fold them in half and stick them on with sticker stars. Try cutting apples crosswise, slicing oranges thin and drawing a face on a banana peel. Offer dried fruits, too. Apples can be baked or sliced and served with peanut butter, and bananas can be dipped in honey and nuts.

VEGETABLES: Surprise your kids with different types of green beans. My kids love when we have French-cut or Italian-style beans. I tell them the beans ate too much or that they went on a diet. If they’re not crazy about cooked vegetables, offer them raw. We often serve a raw-vegetable platter with cut broccoli, carrots, cucumbers and celery and give each of our children a little dressing to dip their vegetables into. Try grating vegetables, too.

SPAGHETTI: I had trouble getting my kids to eat spaghetti sauce until I surprised them with a giant meatball. Changing the type of pasta keeps mealtime interesting, too. Tricolor pastas are bright and colorful for kids. Rotini can be called “piggy tails”; fusilli bucati are “squiggles”; and you can tell kids to eat their “elbows” or “nests” (angel hair) and get smiles every time. Renaming foods can make a huge difference.

POKE IT WITH A STICK: Food is more fun on skewers or toothpicks. Break out the fondue pot, too.

RATING STSTEM: Have your kids rate their meals. On weekends, my husband and I take turns cooking a new recipe, and then we let the kids rate it. It’s a friendly competition that lets us introduce new foods, and we add the higher-rated dishes to our regular meal plan.


  1. Sangeeta Sinha

    4/10/2008 at 4:30 am

    Making children eat hearty healthy food is like fighting a battle nowadays. They never like homecooked food, no matter how well and tasty we prepare them. Whatever you have written is to the point correct. Here in India, parents literally force their children to eat healthy as you have mentioned; but no,no,no…… children love to stick to their french fries, burgers, pizzas, roadside cooked noodles (terrible) and if you nag not to eat these junks, they feel that parents are their enemies and are trying to stop them from eating.

  2. Janis

    7/9/2010 at 9:21 pm

    I think it’s great to make meal time fun and interesting. However, I’m always amazed that parents must go to such great lengths to get kids to eat. I think it’s because they have too many options and it trains them to be picky eaters. My mom made our meals, that’s all that was served, and we ate it or went hungry til the next meal. We learned quickly to eat up! They didn’t yell at us or say mean things to us or tell us about the kids in China, etc. The meals were delicious and simple. We were not conditioned to have our parents parade one food after another until we decided to eat. Children will eat when they are hungry if the parents are willing to hold out once or twice. It’s wasn’t cruel, it just taught us we couldn’t manipulate our parents. A good lesson for later in life.

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