It can be a constant battle to get your kids to eat something healthier than cookies, pancakes, or chicken fingers. (Can I get an “amen” from a Mama out there?) But the conflict still needs a victor, and Healthy Food can conquer Picky Eaters.
You may feel like you’re suffocating in the trenches of your own kitchen. Perhaps it seems like your kid’s stubbornness is as strong as an iron-clad giant. But take heart, here are five ways you can get your kids to eat healthier!
1 – Involve your kids in the buying and cooking process.
If you’re like most Mamas, then it’s a weekly (sometimes daily) struggle to plan a menu, prepare meals, and feed everyone in your crew, let alone feed everyone food that they actually like. Although it takes extra time, invite your kids into the menu creation process, the shopping trip, and the cooking experience.
Start by planning a fun family dinner one night this week. Build anticipation by talking about it every day with your family. Make it special by eating by candlelight and enjoying a fancy dessert.
- Start with the menu. A meal includes a main dish and 2-3 sides of fruits and vegetables. Ask your children to suggest a meat, 2 vegetables, and 1 fruit per meal. (Obviously not every meal follows this structure, but it’s a great place to begin.) Decide on a dessert that everyone will enjoy. Try to plan the menu days in advance so the excitement will build as the days pass by.
- Go shopping. Take your kids to the grocery store or local farmer’s market to buy food for your special meal. Mama tip: Don’t do all of your grocery shopping with your kids; that’s too much. Make this a pleasant experience by only purchasing items for your family dinner. Allow your kids to help pick out the best-looking potatoes, the perfect piece of meat, and the kind of sprinkles for dessert. They will gain joy with every little decision!
- Cook together. Again, this meal will take more time to cook than normal because there will be many chefs in the kitchen. Give everyone an age-appropriate job. Little ones can wash fruits and vegetables or stir pots. Young kids can peel potatoes or place things in the pans. Older kids can chop and set timers. Make sure everyone plays a role to make this a memorable dinner (Daddy too).
- Eat as a family. Set the table with special plates and new napkins. (Hint: The Dollar Store offers great paper products at a discounted price!) Light some candles, turn on soft background music, and turn off electronic devices. Before anyone tastes the food, have each person proudly share what they prepared. As you eat, ask your children to notice a sensory experience related to their food. Did something change color as it cooked? Does the smell of that make your belly rumble? Do you like the texture of that food on your tongue? Involve all five senses during your dinner experience! (P.S. The high-low game is the best way to gets you kids talking at the dinner table!)
- Repeat. Getting your kids to enjoy healthy foods begins by making food a fun, family experience. Repeat this process weekly!
2 – Educate your kids.
Why should your kids eat healthy if they don’t understand anything about healthy living? Educate your kids about why it’s important to fuel our bodies with nutritious food.
Young children will grasp concepts like eating food grown on earth vs produced in a factory, and once they’ve mastered that skill they can apply the principle that more colorful foods have more nutrients. Help your child notice when they feel bad (like after eating too much sugar) and when they feel energized (like after a day filled with fruits and vegetables).
Older children can master topics like vitamins and minerals, consuming and burning calories, the addiction of sugar, and how to cook. Although their peers may not eat a healthy diet, older kids and teens will begin to notice how food plays a role in their life and will observe the impact of food (positive or negative) on their body.
3 – Make food taste good.
Of course your kids won’t eat a cardboard box (teething babies excluded). Because cardboard tastes nasty. But will they eat a chocolate cake? You bet. Or a vegetable dipped in a sugary spread? Naturally. Or meat loaded with a salty marinade? Yes.
Learn how to make food taste good using natural ingredients. Here’s a list of easy substitutes that taste amazing!
- Substitute mashed banana for butter in your favorite cookie recipe. They turn out fluffier and don’t sit as heavily on your stomach.
- Use pink Himalayan salt, cane sugar, and organic flour. Those three ingredients upgrade the flavor of any basic recipe.
- Make homemade salad dressings and sauces with oil, vinegar, herbs, pesto, or fresh vegetables. Your blender will be handy for these condiments.
- Instead of candy, eat these homemade peanut butter cups or dark chocolate with sea salt and coconut squares.
- These tasty breakfast cookies are deceptively healthy and a fabulous way to start the day.
- Follow recipes from 100 Days of Real Food or Wellness Mama.
4 – Take baby steps.
The taste buds on the tongues of your children are not going to radically mature overnight. You son will still dislike broccoli and your daughter won’t come near ground beef. That’s okay.
- First, prepare the food and ask your child to leave it on his/her plate.
- The next time you cook that food, ask your child to touch it with their fork or spoon.
- Next, touch it to their lips or smell it.
- Then progress toward a touch of the tongue or a tiny lick.
- Lastly, encourage a whole bite.
- Note: this process may take weeks or months depending on how frequently you cook this particular food.
Don’t freak out if your kids thinks it’s gross after the entire process. Little bodies are continually growing, so wait a few months and begin the phases again. Baby steps are the key.
5 – Hide those fruits and veggies.
And if all else fails, hide fruits and veggies wherever possible. Smoothies in a high powered blender are amazing avenues for hidden vegetables. For example, I never make a smoothie that doesn’t include an entire carrot and either spinach or kale. With enough fruit in there, kids won’t even taste the nutritious foods.
Zucchini muffins, grated carrots in hamburgers, vegetables in meatloaf, etc. You catch my drift. A quick Pinterest search will reveal a hidden world of secret vegetables that your kids will never discover.
Don’t forget to look back.
During this process, reflect over where you came from. If your child only ate three foods and now will consume ten, that’s a reason to celebrate! If your daughter went from liking one fruit to three, yay! And if your son progressed from only eating green beans and now will eat anything green, that’s a victory!
The battle of Picky Eaters vs Healthy Food isn’t over. You can sway your team to the winning side with these five steps, a lot of patience, and a bit of time. Happy cooking and eating!