Kids Just Want to Have Fun with Food
Boost the 'fun factor' of healthy foods with these tips and recipes.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
When it comes to food, it seems kids just want to have fun.
We are, after all, talking about the "Happy Meal" generation. Kids are used to going to fast-food restaurants and finding their meal in a cute, colorful box with a toy inside. They've seen snack foods like mini cracker sandwiches made with fluffy cheese and peanut butter, and fruit-filled pastries you can pop in the toaster. They see commercials for breakfast cereals with colorful marshmallows in fun shapes, and cereal that looks and tastes like mini chocolate chip cookies.
It's easy to make junk food fun to eat. But is it possible to use the "fun factor" to inspire kids to eat healthy foods?
The way to get kids to eat more nutritious foods is to make the experience as much fun as eating less healthy snacks, George Carey, president of the Just Kid Inc. marketing group, told WebMD in an email.
And what makes a food or beverage fun? Just Kid Inc. recently put that question to children in three age groups (2-5 years, 6-8 years, and 9-12 years). The study (which included responses from a national sample of 3,230 six- to 12-year-olds and moms of 2- to 5-year-olds) found that most children agreed on a few characteristics that make a food fun to eat.
The "fun" attributes they named include:
Fun-Filled Healthful Foods
With a little imagination, all of these attributes can translate to healthful food and recipes (with the possible exception of fillings and frostings). For example:
Fun Cooking and Serving Tips
One important way to increase the fun factor of healthful foods is to involve kids in the cooking and serving process, experts say.
"Cooking is fun, and kids who like to cook generally like to eat," advises Sam Mead, senior editor of Family Fun magazine.
Some healthful foods can't help but be fun: "Smoothies, for instance, are fun to make and delicious to drink," says Mead.
5 More Tips
Here are 5 more tips for making cooking and eating fun:
1. Baking is a great way to get kids into the kitchen.
"Kids like the magic of seeing things change in the oven," notes Ginny Callan, a former vegetarian chef and author of the Beyond the Moon Cookbook.
Callan says her two children often stand before the glass window of the oven door, watching the muffins rise. Bread dough is tons of fun because kids can handle it by kneading, braiding, rolling or shaping, like when making pizza or cinnamon rolls.
2. Learning to make ethnic dishes is not only fun, but helps teach children about other cultures.