When it comes to getting your kids to eat healthy, it’s not necessary—or even ideal—to completely overhaul their diets. If you make several, large changes all at once, you risk the chance that your kids will rebel and overindulge and it might prevent them from eventually eating healthier. A better approach is to make small tweaks slowly over time.
Here are 7 food swaps your kids won’t miss.
1. Cook instead of eating out
When you’re busy and you’re running around for after school activities and sports, getting take-out or eating out makes getting dinner on the table a no-brainer.
Yet eating out means more calories, sodium, sugar, and fat which can quickly add up, not to mention most kids’ restaurants don’t have healthy options.
Although it’s not always realistic to get a home cooked meal on the table every night, dinner will likely be healthier and more affordable than what you’ll get in a restaurant.
2. Serve whole grains instead of white, refined grains
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 50 percent of the grains we eat be made up of whole grains, which have more nutrients and fiber than white, refined grains.
This food swap can seem like a drastic one for some kids so do it gradually. Try to replace white rice with brown rice and then in a few weeks, replace white bread with whole grain bread, for example. Eventually it will be one of the food swaps your kids won’t miss and may even love.
3. Replace processed, packaged snacks with whole foods
Most processed, packaged foods are loaded with sodium, sugar, saturated fat, and artificial ingredients you can’t identify or pronounce. They also lack fiber and the vitamins and minerals kids need in their diets.
What’s more, experts say the more processed foods you eat and the longer you eat them, the higher your risk for inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, and a host of health conditions in the future.
Although you may not be able to completely eliminate these snacks in one fell swoop, try to replace a few snacks a week with healthy snacks made with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seeds.
4. Offer water instead of sugary drinks and juice
Juice boxes and pouches are convenient especially for school lunch but juice—yes, even the organic kind—doesn’t have a place in a child’s diet unless you don’t have access to fresh fruit or your kid won’t eat any fruit.
Drinking water is always a better alternative and a good habit to get your kids into. Yet if they snub plain water, add slices of cucumber, strawberries, or lemon into their water bottles for a little sweetness and hint of flavor.
5. Swap your old dip for an upgraded, healthier one
Kids love to dip their food and pairing dips with raw vegetables can make them more appealing and more likely that your child will eat them. Yet many store-bought dips are high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and artificial ingredients.
Read labels carefully and compare brands, or consider making your own healthy homemade hummus, vegetable dip, or black bean dip, for example. It’s easy to do with any food processor and serving an upgraded dip is perhaps one of the easiest food swaps your kids won’t miss.
6. Substitute low-sugar cereal for sugary types
Cereal brands that call attention to health claims like “gluten-free,” “made with real fruit,” or “a good source of vitamins and minerals,” might seem healthy but many cereals are high in sugar, whether they’re marketed to kids or not.
When selecting a cereal, read labels and compare brands. Look for cereals with 100% whole wheat, oats or another type of grain, those that are high in fiber and low in sugar. If your kid misses the sweetness of his favorite cereal, add cinnamon or fresh fruit.
7. Pack a lunch box instead of buying school lunch
Packing healthy school lunches takes time to plan, shop and pull together so when you’re rushing out the door in the morning, letting your kids get school lunch is an easier option.
Yet most school lunches aren’t healthy and with options like chicken fingers, pizza, and hot dogs, they’re not teaching your kids anything about how to eat healthy.
Although making all of your kids’ lunches may not always be realistic, if you can make a point to pack lunch from home more than you do now, it’s one of the best decisions you can make for your kid.