There’s a lot of talk nowadays about how to eat clean and make healthy food choices for adults, but what about our kids? How do we get them to eat the same way? What do we do to encourage them to grab an apple over a donut?
I feel blessed that my four kids, will eat just about anything I put in front of them. I know that it partially depends on your child from the start, but I like to think that some of it comes from the food patterns we’ve created for them. Being a health coach, I thought I would share some of the tips and tricks that have worked for our family, in hopes, to help you get everyone on board in your house with healthy eating.
1. Let them eat off your plate. I know, I know. This goes against all kinds of parenting rules of proper manners. I’m not saying that you should always let your children take over your food, but if you’re eating a fantastic salad and they’re eyeballing it, offer them a bite (or 10). There have been and continue to be, countless times that whatever I have, someone wants it or to try it. You are setting that example.
2. Talk about your food. Instead of telling your kids that broccoli is good for them, tell them why it’s good for them, in kid terms. Simple things like, “Broccoli is a super healthy veggie that will make you stronger and help you kick that ball harder at soccer practice this weekend,” or, “Eating those carrots will make your hair so shiny and your eyes working well so you can read all those books you love,” give them an idea of what good foods can do for them. Even if you have no idea what they do exactly, give them an example that relates to their life in some way, and maybe they’ll be more apt to try it out.
3. Lead by example. I know this is something you hear all the time, but creating good food patterns starts with you. A lot of kids want to be like their parents. If they see you doing something consistently, they are more willing to try it. This starts with not making separate meals for you and your children. If you know that there might be some hesitation with a meal you plan to make, make it anyway and be sure to include a side that you know they will eat. This way, they don’t boycott the entire meal, but are continuously exposed to the food you prefer them to eat. If you want them to eat grilled chicken at lunch, don’t make them grilled cheese while you eat the chicken. Eat with your kids and eat the same types of foods. Eating the same types of foods as a family really reinforces healthy eating habits (as long as you’re making healthy choices). Of course, I’m not saying that you can’t ever eat different foods than your kids, but it’s helpful to keep it consistent if you’re trying to develop good eating habits in order for them to make solid choices on their own.
4. Make it visually pleasing. This doesn’t mean you have to construct Pinterest-worthy sculptures out of every bite, but make it look like something kids want to eat. Make it colorful. Throw some simple shapes or structures in. Some examples are to “kabob” things. Take cherry tomatoes and mini mozzarella balls and skewer them on a toothpick. Or do the same with grapes and balls of melon (or anything you can fit on a toothpick). If you have a cookie cutter, shape out watermelon or a piece of toast that has honey and cinnamon on it. Make a rainbow of fruits and veggies on a plate. They say we eat with our eyes first, so find a simple way to present food that might be a challenge otherwise.
5. Make it FUN. You can create a living room picnic. Set up a blanket on the floor and you can fill a large platter with all sorts of things from fruit to veggies to chicken to beans to olives and more and do picnic on the floor together.
6. Use words they like and create food in shapes they want. You can make carrot “fries” or sweet potato “chips.” Changing the shape of your veggies into something that might be more relatable to them.
7. Let them help prep. Not going to lie, being some what of a control-freak inside of me, there are time where I have to get over myself and let them help me with some of the prep or making dinner. If you have younger kids, you can make up little games while you chop, like, “One for the bowl, one for me, one for you,” where you take a bite out of whatever you are cutting up and give them one to eat, too. Aside from the healthy snacking they’ll do as they help you prepare your food, they are more likely to want to try to eat something they helped to make.
8. Bring them shopping with you. I know this is like saying, “stab yourself in the eye,” especially when you have a toddler, like myself, but bringing your kids along to the market doesn’t always have to be a daunting task. Ask them to help pick out and put your items in the cart. Give them a choice between two items that you want to buy and let them make the decision. Give them your list (or have them write it out on their own) and let them mark off the items as you get them. The more involved your kids are in the entire process of buying, making and eating healthy foods, the more they’ll absorb the information and make healthy choices on their own.
9. Give them smoothies. If you have a tough time with a super picky eater, try making a fruit/veggie/yogurt/nut (if no allergies) smoothie for them. It’s a great way to load nutrients into a “meal,” and once they start having them more often, you could try to give them individual food items that are in the smoothies and tell them that’s what’s inside the smoothies they love so much.
10. Roast your veggies. While raw or steamed veggies are the very best at keeping every single nutrient alive inside of them, roasting vegetables brings out a sweetness that you can’t get any other way. Roasting any veggie with a little bit of olive oil or coconut oil and some sea salt makes them taste like candy. When it doubt, throw it in the oven!
I think it’s also important to let your children have treats and snacks. For them to learn about balance and nutrition in a positive way and not get caught up in any kind of “rules.” For them not to grow up being afraid to eat certain foods. So while we try to enforce healthy eating habits, we don’t obsess over food with them. We don’t tell them that they can’t eat anything. Because that will just backfire on us in the long run. Just be consistent in the process. Being a mom with kids in all stages of life, I can truly say, my older kids will pick healthier options any day. It really does pay off.
If you have any great tips on getting your kids to eat healthy, please comment below and share!