Author: Emily Wood R.D.
Getting your kids to eat more of the healthy stuff can be quite the task. Thank your lucky stars if your child is still at that stage where they eat pretty much anything you put in front of them.
My kids were fantastic eaters when they were younger. I made all their own baby food and always made sure they had plenty of variety. But then they started to get “choosy” (I don’t say “picky” here because picky has a different meaning which I’ll explain later) because they learned what tasted better.
But luckily by staying persistent, along with a few other techniques I share below, my kids are overall pretty healthy eaters. They are not perfect, but if that is the goal with your children, you are fighting a losing battle my friend!
The reason we want our kids to eat healthy is because we want them to be healthy. Children fall into the “more vulnerable to illness” category, and especially during times like these where virus is spreading quick, we want to protect our children the best we can.
If you are struggling with getting your child to eat more healthy foods, I have put together some tips that I hope will help. Keep in mind that this is a process, and you likely won’t see your son or daughter eating beans and rice with broccoli overnight.
It takes time, and that’s completely natural. But the sooner you start, the quicker you will be building up a foundation of lifetime healthy eating habits and a more powerful immune system.Here are a few things I’d like to touch on first:
Do not threaten your child to eat healthier foods
I kid you not, I had a mom post in my Facebook group that the way she got her kids to eat more plant-based foods is that she told them animal products and sugar were poison! I strongly encourage you NOT to do this. It causes a damaging relationship with food that is likely to lead to disordered eating later in life. They end up labeling food as “bad” and this constant struggle with food evolves. It’s just not a good thing.
Try not to force your child to “eat those veggies”
Eating more veggies is the key for anyone to optimize health, but forcing is not the best strategy. Instead, try this: keep offering vegetables by placing them on their plate, and then let them choose whether or not to eat them. This is a hard one, but releasing the element of choice is the most effective strategy while allowing them to maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Persistence pays off
This one’s a biggie. Children, especially toddlers, are very resistant to new foods. This is natural. But that doesn’t mean you should give up after the first time, or even the fifth time! It can take anywhere from 15-30 times for a child to try a new food that is in front of them. So, keep putting a little bit of that broccoli on their plate every night and be patient.
Okay, so we got that covered. Now what are some practical tips that will actually get more of the immune boosting, health promoting foods into your kid’s tummies? Check out the tips below.
Try them frozen
I really struggled to get my youngest son to eat veggies when he hit that toddler age. But then I heard about offering them frozen instead of cooked. So I gave it a shot, and it worked like magic! To this day he eats frozen peas and frozen mixed veggies like it’s nobody’s business. He DEVOURS steamed broccoli though, so you just have to play around and find the best combination.
Cut veggies into different shapes
I’m not saying you have to be Picasso here, but cutting veggies into different shapes can really help. For example, try cutting that cucumber into stalks instead of slices. Or spiralize some squash instead of cooking and mashing it. There are of course endless options, but give this a try. It works.
Mix beans and veggies into dips, smoothies, or sauces
The bean struggle is very real. Some ways to present beans are making a hummus dip or pureeing beans in a sauce. I actually make a red lentil spaghetti sauce that my entire family goes wild over! Smoothies are also an easy way to mix in veggies or beans. Spinach is a very mild green that is easily snuck into smoothies. And there are loads of recipes available for sneaking beans into smoothies.
Set a meal and snack schedule
I have 2 very hungry boys, so I get it. But when we let our kids snack all day long (and it’s usually on the processed stuff), they tend to not be hungry for meals, and they get this label of “picky”. However, usually the case is that they are not picky, they’re just not hungry for meals because they have been snacking all day long! Sticking to a snack and meal schedule is very helpful in getting them to eat more of that healthy lunch or dinner you’ve prepared.
Have kids help in the kitchen
I know it can be a little scary having kids help you out in the kitchen with knives, and boiling water, and things of that nature, but even just having them help you get out the ingredients, do some mixing, or look at the food through the glass oven door excites them. Getting them involved with the cooking intrigues them and gets them in the spirit of trying what was prepared.
Make produce readily available
Keeping produce whole piled up in the produce bins in your fridge hardly makes it accessible. Take some time after shopping and slice up veggies like carrots, celery or cucumber, and put them in the fridge somewhere easily accessible at kid-eye level. For example, my kids LOVE berries, so I always make sure to put them somewhere in the fridge where they can be easily grabbed. You might try leaving a big bowl of apples and bananas out on the table. Out of sight, out of mind, so keep the good stuff in sight and in mind.
Give them a controlled choice
Instead of saying, “What would you like to eat?”, try “Would you like carrots or blueberries with your lunch?” This allows your child to make the choice themselves, but you are still in control of what they are eating.
Be the example
Show your children what it looks like to eat healthy, instead of just telling. You might think they are not watching, but they are. They want to be like mom and dad, so keep displaying those healthy habits and encouraging the healthier choices.
Tip: Are you eating a snack plate of celery and carrots? Sit right down next to them and offer them a bite! You may be surprised at the outcome!
In summary, there is no one secret strategy for getting your kids to eat healthier foods. Just keep being persistent and being the example, without being forceful, and it will pay off over time. And don’t forget to focus on the good stuff they are already eating in their diet, rather than just focusing on what they’re not eating. You’re doing great, keep it up!
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Emily Wood is wife, mom, Registered Dietitian and instructor for the T. Colin Campbell Plant-Based Certificate Program, who helps people create a body and life they love through living a more plant-based lifestyle. Connect with her at www.emilywoodrd.com.