I never would have thought that one of the toughest jobs of being a parent is to get your kids to eat healthy foods. This is a tiring, never-ending battle I deal with every day and some days are fabulous and other days I feel like a failure of a dietitian/mom, ugh. But I am true believer in the balancing act of healthy eating given the 80/20 rule or whatever it may be . . . there is no such thing as perfect eating, especially when it comes to kids, eh? But as a parent it is our job, our duty, our will to do our best at promoting healthy foods to our kids. I have found through this rollercoaster ride of teaching my kids to eat better, I believe there are definitely some standards that parents should strongly support and here I go . . .
BE A ROLE MODEL
If you expose healthy options at home regularly then the child will be familiar with those foods and won’t see it as an option. If you buy mostly processed food, aka not-good-for-you-foods, then the child will more likely eat the junk food, and same goes with if you mostly buy healthy foods, then the kids will more likely eat the healthy options. Remember this rule totally leaves room for all “junk food” in moderation. Being a role model also supports portraying balanced eating and that totally means going out for an ice cream once in awhile or having a brownie for dessert. Just keep the good-for-you-foods as the main act on the stage for most of the day.
GET CREATIVE WITH FOOD
Make a pretty plate or let your kids make a pretty plate and that sometimes means, letting them play with their food. Offer a variety of colorful foods, including a good amount of fruits and vegetables on the plate! And for the little ones, a little creativity can do wonders – try using cookie cutter shapes for fruits, vegetables, quesadillas or even sandwiches.
GET CREATIVE BY ROLE PLAYING
I have found a little role playing with food may be the trick to tackle especially for those hard to handle vegetable dilemmas. This tactic may not be something you want to try on your teenager but I find it work wonders for my kiddos, especially my youngest children: my 4-year-old and 2-year-old. Make the food talk or make your carrots a racing plane that needs to enter the landing gate (kid’s mouth). If I make a fool of myself then my kids pretty much guarantee me some participation, even it is just a couple bites – that is all that I am asking for, hooray!
Here I am at my daughter’s school talking about healthy food through a puppet, again, making a fool of myself to get the kids attention but all in good fun and I think they got the point about having fun learning about some good-for-you-foods. Someday I will make myself a giant broccoli costume – I have always dreamed about a cool vegetable costume, ha!
GET THE KIDS INVOLVED
Sometimes a little attention is all that is necessary for a child to eat well at dinner time. Get them involved in making a dish or maybe it is something as simple as having them help out with food preparation like setting the table.
Another way to get them involved is to let them pick out a new vegetable to try at the grocery store. I know, kids and grocery shopping is probably one of my toughest jobs of the week, I dread it, but sometimes it is totally worth it in order to get your kids excited about trying a new food. This is a great way to change up the grocery list!
Other great tips include starting your own garden! We had our first garden at our new home this summer, the kids were not into it but once they saw me pick a giant zucchini out of the garden they were amazed it came from OUR garden! I told them it is like getting free groceries! I am putting a reminder on my spring to-do list – Let the kids plant seeds to sprout, maybe it might be more exciting for them to see the plant start to finish instead of buying already grown vegetable plants.
OFFER FOODS A VARIETY OF TIMES
Research shows that a food must be exposed to a child at least 7-10 times before the food to be accepted. Try positive reinforcement for a job well done at cooperatively trying a bite. Remember you do not have to force them to finish a food. Encouraging one bite to taste is great and more bites even better but if your child is resistant try not make it a negative experience. Setting a good base of healthy eating habits at a young age will carry on into adulthood.
Doesn’t this look say it all? “Mom, I am not sure about these green popsicles, what did you put in them?”
MEAL TIME LESSONS
I have often asked kids, “What does healthy mean?” And many times a child will define the word healthy by telling me that broccoli, strawberries are healthy. I will then ask what do these foods do for our bodies? They will finally get the idea and tell me that carrots may help them see better or milk gives them strong bones, etc. I love the idea of teaching kids that there are foods that can be grouped into two different groups. “Every Day Foods,” aka good-for-you-foods – foods you have on your plate at breakfast, lunch and dinner! And then we also have “Sometimes Foods,” aka not-so-good-for-you-foods - foods that can be eaten once a week or every other day. I always give the example that my family has donuts on Sundays, just once a week not everyday. Somehow my kids will ask me, “Is it Sunday today?” Teaching kids about these two food groups foods is a great lesson in letting them know the differences between foods and making healthy choices.
Sometimes I believe there are foods that we just don’t have to tell our kids (husbands, too) what we put in them and just let them enjoy the food. Of course, always encourage them to eat their vegetables at every meal but sometimes it our “mom-duty” to make a sweet treat just a little bit better for you! That also includes sneaking in more vegetables at a meal (mushrooms in ground beef). My husband and kids have caught onto my mission but here are some great examples, such as my simple No-Bake Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie recipe, loaded with a variety of good-for-you-foods! And Check out more My Top Food Fools – Tips for making your food a bit better for you!
OFFER FOODS SEPARATE
After a couple of years of making stir-frys or any one-pot dish, I always struggled getting my kids to eat the dish and then ended up throwing most of it away, grrrr . . . I have found better luck by simplifying my meals and offering my kids a protein, vegetable, starch and fruit separate. I find my picky eaters eat better when foods are offered separately. Remember, think MyPlate! Here is a great example of what our plates look like at meal time. Simplify!
Well, if you are like me I just keep trying and realize that not everyday is perfect or every week is perfect heck, let’s face not every month even comes close to being perfect on the healthy eating scale but I try and try and try and try my very best. Hopefully my persistence will pay off . . . I hope! Cheers to our kids eating better!