6 Preschool Lunch Tips From The “Dark Side”


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H ow the heck did your child find the cookies aisle in the supermarket? And why that particular package? Is there a subsonic kid-only whistle attached to it or something?

The fact is that professional food marketers, especially children’s food marketers, put the “fiendishly” in fiendishly clever. They have done the research on that particular color scheme and advised the store to put it at that particular eye level. In a lot of ways they know (statistically anyway) your child’s visual cues and what presses her psychological buttons better than you do.

If you are trying to get your preschooler to eat better, whether you are preparing foods yourself or shopping for wholesome readymade choices, the chances are that the healthy choice does not taste as good as the unhealthy one. Your child will obviously be less inclined to eat it. What can you do?

Well, taste is important for everyone, especially kids who do not appreciate the finer points of scientific arguments for healthy diets. But taste is not the only “tool” at your disposal. Let’s take a look at some tricks the pros have up their sleeves that you can borrow for your own much loftier purposes.

1. Shapes

Food moulds in kids’ shapes have been around for a long time (animals and faces are crowd favorites.) You can use them as visual “sweeteners” for most homemade baked items like cookies or muffins. You can also try them on some types of store-bought bread to make interestingly shaped sandwiches. Generally keep an eye out for any uniquely shaped healthy products when shopping. (Your child may spot it on the shelf before you do!)

2. Size

Small is beautiful. Apart from having smaller mouths and hands, kids seem to have reasons for liking small (often individually wrapped) items. Maybe it’s the small victories of eating each portion or just the novelty of having something “different” with each bite. The food marketers probably have a theory why. We just know from watching.

Try to prepare food in smaller portions (e.g. cut the sandwich into small squares) or keep an eye out for healthy store-bought options will smaller unit sizes. Never settle for a larger portion when two smaller ones will do.

3. Color

So let’s say you are a children’s food marketer. You have interesting shapes and small sizes. What do you do to put the icing on the cake for your product, so to speak? Make them in a bunch of colors! Gummi bears, M & M’s…. there are many examples of wildly popular snacks following this formula.

Healthy and colorful food choices are all about fruits and vegetables. Fruit salad, tomatoes in sandwiches, and mixed vegetables are all good choices.

Hmmm… my child hates vegetables, you may say. Fair enough, children’s taste buds are more sensitive than those of adults. Be patient, don’t give up, and be creative. If you need some inspiration you can check out this video that redefines the boundaries of “vegetable marketing.”

4. Packaging

We have a hunch that as much money is spent on designing children’s food packaging as is on the actual food itself. From a business perspective, it probably makes sense: it attracts who really wears the diapers pants when it comes to making purchase decisions in the store. You know the drill; if you don’t want random extra items with “kid magnetized” packaging, don’t take your kid shopping!

In the store, keep an eye out for healthy food manufacturers who “get it” and have their version of attractive packaging. If you are packing your child’s lunch, avoid “boring” containers or wrapping where possible. Think about plastic or paper bags with special designs as well as lunch boxes or drink containers with your child’s favorite things on them such as, for example, cartoon characters.

5. Sweeteners

If you read food labels, a question that comes up often is “why the heck did they need to put sugar in this?” You know the answer: because it makes it taste better, especially for kids. It is not a new subject and manufacturers have come under political pressure at various times and in various places for making foods too sugary.

Let’s face it: the overwhelming majority of kids (and adults) like sweet foods. Sugar is not the only sweetener, though, and you can check out natural alternatives like Stevia, or even just honey. They are a little pricier than sugar but generally considered to be healthier.

6. “Surprise inside”

Have you heard of Kinder Surprise Eggs? They are chocolate “eggs” with special surprises inside and are wildly popular among kids of all ages mainly in Europe. A legal brouhaha has kept them out of the USA until only recently when an American company threaded the regulatory needle and launched an American version.

If you are cooking yourself, you can copy the strategy with “surprise inside” recipes such as muffins with a piece of fruit inside, soup with an egg yolk at the bottom, and so on. But unfortunately we haven’t seen any healthy snacks available in stores that are capitalizing on that idea yet. Have you seen any?

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