Why a Little Chocolate Can Help Your Kids Eat Healthier

Why a Little Chocolate Can Help Your Kids Eat Healthier

By: Nicci Micco

What can you do when your kid refuses to eat the very foods he needs most? As a nutrition expert, I know that the correct answer is to keep introducing them. As a mom, I know that technique alone doesn't always work. Sometimes, when it doesn't, the "spoonful of sugar" method—pairing the rejected food with something the kid likes—does.

Recently, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee—a group of independent scientists that advises the government on what America's eating goals should be—identified that both children and adults need to be getting more calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber. You get these nutrients in dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains—some of the very foods kids tend to shun.

Here are four guilt-free solutions to help your picky eaters get the food—and nutrients—they need.

The problem: Your kid doesn't like fruit.

The solution: Mix it up into a "milkshake."

Most fruits provide good amounts of potassium and vitamin C and a fruit-based smoothie is a great way to slip in a serving or two. Plus, for many kids, sipping something with a straw is a big draw. Smoothies from a shop often are loaded with lots of added sugars, so for the healthiest dose make your own at home. Try making homemade smoothies that call for low-fat yogurt—a good way to get in calcium if your child doesn't like milk. (And, of course, chocolate can be an ally for parents of fruit-haters, too: who can resist a strawberry, banana or other chocolate-dipped fruit?)

The problem: Your kid won't eat beans.

The solution: Mash them up into a yummy dip and serve them with chips.

Beans are a great source of fiber, folate (a B vitamin that promotes the development of healthy new cells) and protein; plus they're cheap! Kids who are turned off by the mushy texture or earthy taste of beans may be more inclined to dig in when they're presented in smooth, flavorful dips. Pair them with corn tortilla chips and kids will think they're getting to have a special treat.

The problem: Your kid shuns broccoli (and other good-for-you veggies).

The solution: Drizzle on the cheese sauce.

Adding cheese atop vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or even Brussels sprouts helps tame the flavors that turn some kids off. Yes, cheese generally does contain more calories and more saturated fat than low-fat dairy products—but it also provides a little calcium too. The key is to add just enough cheese to make it taste yummy, not to smother the vegetables in calories and fat, so it's best to try this at home where you have control over it!

The problem: Your kid won't drink milk.

The solution: Stir in some chocolate.

I wasn't too surprised when I recently heard about the news that removing chocolate milk (and other flavored milks) from school cafeterias resulted in kids drinking up to 50 percent less milk and, thus, missing out on the important nutrients it provides. I was the kind of kid who would have hid my milk money from my mom if my only option was plain milk.

Flavored or not, milk provides calcium (1 cup provides a third of one's daily needs), vitamin D, riboflavin, niacin, phosphorus and protein. Yes, chocolate milk has added sugars but it appears that flavored-milk drinks don't actually end up adding excessive sugars to kids' diets, as chocolate-milk banners would suggest. According to research, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association—by EatingWell nutrition advisor and University of Vermont nutrition professor, Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D—kids who drank flavored milk had higher calcium intakes than kids who didn't drink flavored milks, but their overall intakes of added sugars were similar. (It's worth noting that Dr. Johnson was the lead author on the recent paper released by the American Heart Association urging Americans to cut back on added sugars.)

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