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Secret Revealed: Kids Will Choose Healthy Meals If They're Fun

(Image credit: Nagy-bagoly Ilona | Dreamstime)

As a parent, I've had my share of "meal battles" with kids. Even if you vow never to take your children to any fast food joints, they will still see the commercials on television, or hear about the food from their friends. Unfortunately, there's no skirting this issue.

But one study set out to see whether it's the food, or the toys in kids' meals that are attracting the kiddos. Time to breathe a sigh of relief: It's the toys, according to the study, published in August in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

The six-week study involved over 300 kids who were asked to pick a Happy Meal from an order form that showed pictures of each meal, along with its included toy. The children were split into two groups with two distinct menus. In one group, the kids chose from a menu where the more nutritious meals included toys, and the less healthy options came with nothing extra. The other group's meal choices included toys with the less nutritious meals, but not with the healthier meals.

The researchers found that in this nutritional battle, neither type of meal came out the winner. It's the toy that prevailed. Kids consistently chose the toy, regardless of the food it was accompanying.

So, does this mean we can bribe our kids to make healthier choices? Well, it kind of does. But it also begs the question of whether we're inadvertently bribing them to make unhealthy choices. Either way, bribery isn't usually a good long-term solution to any problem.

So, let's look at a few ways to make healthy food more appealing for kids, without even the mention of a toy.

  1. Invite the kids to cook with you. If your kids are old enough to make their way around the kitchen, give them a job or two; just make it seem like more of a game than a chore. If you're not comfortable having them in the kitchen while you're cooking, at least involve them in the decision of what's for dinner.
  2. Make healthy snacking fun. Put a bunch of fruit on a skewer and throw in a few gummy worms. Kabobs and gummy worms make everything more fun.
  3. Serve meals that smile back. Use veggies to create a face on pizza or create some apple smiles by sandwiching marshmallows between two apple slices with peanut butter gums. It's not a toy, but you'd be surprised how much of a difference these fun little touches can make.
  4. Don't expect children to have grownup tastes. Asparagus, kale and spinach are all nutritional powerhouses, but they aren't exactly kid-friendly side dishes. Unless you know your kids like these foods, don't force it. Instead, hide the spinach and asparagus in an omelet, and make kale chips – much more kid-friendly choices.

Healthy Bites appears on MyHealthNewsDaily on Wednesdays. Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!

Deborah Enos
Deborah Enos, CN, also known as "The One-Minute Wellness Coach," is The Health Coach for busy, working people. She pares her good-health messages down to simple and fast bullet points that can impact lives in 60 seconds or less. Deborah serves as a board member of the American Heart Association.  In addition to writing the Healthy Bites column for Live Science, Deborah is a regular on FOX Business News, NBC and ABC, and is a frequent contributor to The Costco Connection, Parade Magazine, Self Magazine, Good Housekeeping and USA Today. Deborah is also The One Minute Wellness Coach for The Doctors TV Show.