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Five Tips for Healthy Food without the Fight

Sep 27, 2017, 10:52 AM

March is National Nutrition Month®, launched by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and a perfect time to refresh (and brighten up!) your family’s go-to meals.

MyPlate, which is the newest version of the “food pyramid,” helps us visualize what a balanced meal should be: full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low fat dairy. But many adults and children don’t eat this way – we eat too many refined grains, and not enough colorful fruits and veggies.

Photo credit: Chartwells – Kids cooking and measuring ingredients, Clintondale, MI

It can be tough introducing new foods to our families, especially kids, from taking the time to find and prepare new recipes to making sure everyone eats them. Meals can sometimes feel like a fight between serving the meals we know our kids need, and just preparing the food our kids want. Here are some tips you might find useful for navigating mealtime:

  1. Photo credit: Chartwells – Garden Wilton, CT

    Photo credit: Chartwells – Garden Wilton, CT

    Make It a Team Effort – Involve everyone in the shopping and preparation effort – they’ll be more open to trying new foods this way. Have your kids pick out new vegetables at the supermarket to try at home, recruit them to wash fresh produce, tear apart lettuce leaves, and measure ingredients.

  2. Naming Fun – In our café’s, we’ve found that giving foods fun and enticing names can increase the number of students who choose and eat that food. If you plan out your family’s meals for the week, post a menu on the fridge and use names like “X-Ray Vision Carrots,” or “Crazy Crunchy Kale.”
  3. Photo credit: Chartwells – Chef Table Student Feedback, Ann Arbor, MI

    Photo credit: Chartwells – Chef Table Student Feedback, Ann Arbor MI

    Try It Tuesday – It may take a few times of “trying” before you or your kids begin to really like a particular food. In our districts, we host chef tables in the café to expose students to new recipes before they’re served. Consider sampling a new vegetable dish each week (make only a few servings) and suggest everyone take a bite. Don’t push too hard – it’s OK if the answer is no. Try vegetables in different forms, and keep trying them – this one requires some real patience!

  4. Grow a Healthy Appetite – There’s nothing better than eating food you’ve grown yourself. Start a small windowsill herb garden, convert a corner of your yard, or buy a plot in a community garden – as an added bonus, gardening is great physical activity!
  5. The Power of Choice – We’ve worked with researchers at Cornell University and found that introducing a greater variety of fruits and vegetables to kids more frequently, while still giving them the ability to choose what they take and when, can increase their chances of eating these healthier offerings.
Photo credit: Chartwells - Salad bar day, Grand Blank, MI

Photo credit: Chartwells – Salad bar day, Grand Blank, MI

We’ve used the above in our own cafés to encourage healthy eating habits, and I hope you’ll try them at home with your family too!


Whitney Bateson, RD, is the Director of Nutrition and Wellness for Chartwells School Dining Services. Chartwells provides meals to almost 4,000 schools nationwide. Learn more at ChartwellsSchools.com.

Chartwells School Dining Services has a financial interest in National PTA, and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Slide image photo credit: Chartwells – Girl Scouts making meatballs, Forest Hills, MI