If feeding your children healthy foods on a budget seems next to impossible to you, you're not alone. Finding quality food at inexpensive prices (that kids will actually eat) seems to be a universal struggle with many moms. Sometimes making a game out of frugal living is all it takes to get kids interested. Here are some tips and tricks for turning picky eaters into healthy ones… without breaking the bank!
It's only natural to gravitate towards favorite meals and dishes that are easy to prepare. Don't get stuck in a rut! Make it a goal to try a new recipe once a week, shopping according to the fresh fruit and produce that's on sale at the supermarket. Getting kids in the habit of trying a new food once a week helps get their taste buds accustomed to healthier fare, which in turn can save you money. Don't give up if your child isn't receptive to the new food at first. Research finds that children often need to be exposed to a new food anywhere from 5 to 20 times before it is accepted.
Let Them Help
The more involved kids are in the preparation of your meals, the more likely they are to try something. Make it fun for them! This gnocchi recipe was a big hit with my son when he was little because the dough has a play-dough like consistency. I instructed him to roll the dough out like a snake and then cut little tiny pieces off with a plastic knife (make sure it's one that's appropriate for a child to use). Simply drop the dumplings into boiling water, and when they rise to the top they're done. Serve with any meat or pasta sauce.
Hide It.. Then Guess!
While I enjoy the element of surprise, I'm not a huge fan of “hiding” vegetables. I want kids to know that healthy foods they'd normally turn their nose up at aren't always so bad. Here's how I combine the two. I make something I know my kids will like – such as mashed potatoes. Let's say there is cauliflower puree mixed in. Turn it into a guessing game and have the kids use their taste buds to figure out what mystery vegetable is lurking inside.
Eat More Whole Grains
I've found the best way to feed my kids whole grains is to make a batch of either bran muffins or banana muffins using whole wheat flour that they can eat after school. This is when they're the hungriest, and these snacks are satisfying as well as frugal. To make the process even easier, make a batch of your kids' favorites and pop them in the freezer. Heat in the microwave when they're ready to eat them.
Visit Farmer's Markets
Not only are farmer's markets a great way to get a great value on locally grown, fresh produce, they're fun too. Some markets actually cater to kids with balloons, face painting, and other activities. Have your kids pick out any fresh food – either a fruit or a vegetable – that they've never tried before. You try something new too, Mom – and learn a new way to prepare it.
Playing restaurant is a great way to get young cooks as well as their younger siblings involved with meal preparation in a fun, creative way. My daughter is now old enough to prepare certain foods such as pastas and chicken dishes her own, so she plays “chef” while my son, age 7, plays the “waiter.” Have the older child prepare a basic menu, complete with beverages, side dishes, a main course and dessert selections. One parent can help supervise if necessary. Then, younger siblings can get in the game too by playing waiter or waitress. Of course chefs' hats and aprons help the “game” too!
When it comes to school lunches, many parents love the convenience of pre-packaged items. However, they can take a big bite (pun intended) out of your budget. Instead, buy a box of 100-count sandwich bags and divide big bags of pretzels, popcorn, chips or other snacks into individual sized portions yourself. You can even make your own homemade Lunchable snacks. Invest in some Rubbermaid containers and take a few minutes each week to make individually sized servings of applesauce, carrot sticks, or other healthy foods your child will eat.
Want more tips on healthy eating? Check out my book Instant Bargains: 600 Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill and Eat Well for Less