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“TAP” into Healthy Meal Appeal

posted Aug 11, 2018, 11:05 AM by Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, E-RYT   [ updated Aug 18, 2018, 7:21 PM ]

By Evangelina DiSpirito, RDN, LDN, E-RYT

Let’s face it when seeing meal options through a typical kid’s eye, choosing between pizza, french fries or choosing steamed squash, you can guess what they would pick!  August is Kids Eat Right Month, and as a Registered Dietitian and mother, I have to be creative to get my own children to eat foods that usually make them cringe. 

In a 2017 comprehensive review of scientific literature by the Mayo Clinic on Childhood Obesity,  it was found that “1 in 3 children in the United States are overweight or obese.” Children who have obesity are more likely to develop chronic health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and cholesterol issues.  However, being healthy doesn’t always have to be about a child’s weight status.   Exposure to toxins found in the environment and in foods, as well as less consumption of antioxidant-rich foods, can lead to certain types of cancers and autoimmune diseases over the years, regardless of weight.  Therefore, it is vital that we teach our children early on that protecting their body from these conditions starts with prevention through healthy eating and lifestyle habits.

Since discussing weight can be a sensitive issue at any age, it is essential when talking to your children to have a caring dialogue about eating and lifestyle habits.  The focus should be on eating to be healthy, not to lose weight.    Having a conversation about healthy eating and lifestyle habits should always be about feeling healthy and prevention, not being thin. This is because being thin does not always mean one is healthy, and when talking to children, it can set them up for a poor body image.

As consumers, we are more health-savvy than ever, and we know that fruits and vegetables are healthy, but what about making an appealing meal out of those healthy foods?   For those of us who have children, it can be a struggle to get our children to eat for good health.  Even if you don’t have children, maybe your “inner-child” is what’s preventing you from eating healthy.  Tap into creative ways to motivate you and your children to eat more healthy.

So how do we get our children or our inner child to eat healthier?  Think “TAP”: Texture, Appetizing, and Presentation, when preparing meals.  These 3 elements will allow you and your children to be more creative in preparing appealing meals.

Texture: Children and adults may not like the mushy texture of food, but if the food is prepared to produce a different texture, it may be more appealing.  For example, I recall teaching a Human Nutrition course to a group of nursing students, and one student indicated she disliked the taste of broccoli.  When I further asked what she specifically disliked about the broccoli, she said it was mushy and just didn’t taste good.  It was the texture that she disliked.  I asked her to try to steam fresh broccoli for no more than two minutes.  She did so and found she liked the taste after all.   This student's aversion to broccoli is an example of how certain cooking methods can change the texture and flavor of foods.

Appetizing:  A food can be very good for you but if it doesn’t taste good, it won’t entice us or our little ones to eat the foods they so need to grow strong bodies.   Plain Greek yogurt is one of those food items that I still struggle with getting my kids to eat.  However, by creating Greek Yogurt parfaits or smoothies, or by using Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in many of your recipes, children will eat because it’s more appetizing.  Try layering Greek yogurt with blueberries and walnuts to provide a better appetizing taste.  Even better for the children is making a smoothie out of the Greek yogurt.  Add peanut butter, banana and ½ cup of Greek yogurt, then grate some dark chocolate (1 tablespoon), and you have yourself a healthy power smoothie.  Look for these offerings at your IL Creations cafes. 

Presentation:  My son never liked zucchini, so  I would steam, sauté or grill it, yet he would still cringe and not eat a bite.  One day, I tried spiralizing it to make it look like 

Spaghetti and let him add the seasonings he enjoys, and . . . “winner,” he now enjoys Zucchini!   The presentation of this vegetable to look like spaghetti changed the appeal of the meal.  The texture of the zucchini is “al dente,” which means not mushy, just slightly dense. The presentation looked like spaghetti noodles, and encouraging my son to assist in enhancing the taste allowed him to season the noodles to his liking.  Thus, the presentation can be a powerful motivator to get kids to eat foods they would typically not eat.  And during the month of August in select IL Creations cafeterias, we will be sampling the “spaghetti style zucchini”.

So, think of foods you can “TAP” to create better “meal appeal” for your children, or for your own inner child.   

For other ideas, feel free to "Ask the Dietitian" during our Wellness Visits at select IL Creations cafeterias. Or email us directly at