As host of TLC's Freaky Eaters, a personal trainer, author and certified nutrition specialist (not to mention mom to two teenage boys!), JJ Virgin has become a star at fitting in a healthy lifestyle to a hectic schedule. With her sons—and the rest of the nation's kids—heading back to school, Virgin stopped by to share her top tips to help your youngsters build a better plate:
- Aim for a B. "If your family diet is too perfect, there will be a revolution in your home. Don't strive for an 'A' diet when a 'B' is more reasonable and more fun. On most days, we have grilled chicken, salad and fruit for dinner, but it's OK to have pizza or mac and cheese once a week."
- Try, try again. "Vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower have really strong tastes raw and many kids don't like them. But if you expose them again and again, and try preparing them in different ways—like roasted with sea salt—kids will eventually find veggies they enjoy."
- Mix it up. "Breakfast doesn't have to just be conventional 'breakfast' foods like cereal, toast or yogurt. My sons and I love chicken sausages, protein shakes or even leftovers from last night's dinner."
- Stock smart. "One good thing about younger teens and kids? They don't have cars or money, so the parents can control all of the food that comes into the home. I put easy foods I know they will like near their eyeline since I know they're almost always hungry! They'll grab what they see."
- Team up. "Your kids might not like to clean dishes or grocery shop, but since it's fun, they'll probably be willing to at least try their hands as chefs! It really helps to involve them in meals so they feel invested."
- Know when to tell (and keep quiet). "One of my sons is really into eating well—he recently even started a green smoothie habit!—so I tell him about all the nutritious qualities of our meals. But the other prefers a more traditional American menu. He doesn't have to know (and won't be able to tell if) a food is healthy or organic, or that we made the meatballs with ground turkey breast instead of beef."
- Keep treats special. "Go out for indulgent foods, like ice cream, instead of keeping it in your house—then get a small. That way no one will constantly be tempted."
Now tell us: How do you help your kids try new, nutritious foods?