In today’s modern age, we all know how difficult it is to eat healthy, nutrient-dense foods, and we’re adults! It’s only that much harder to get our young, often picky, children to eat healthy foods as well! However, just because children don’t tend to naturally desire vegetables over candy, teaching them at a young age to enjoy eating for their health is crucial. Not only are habits formed in the early years, but this is also a critical time for development and growth of their bodies. Starting young will instill in children a love for wholesome lifestyle habits that will have a far-reaching impact on their lives. Because this isn’t always as easily done as it is said, here are some ideas, tips, and tricks to getting your kids to eat a healthier diet and like it!
First and foremost, it’s important to be an example. Kids are very observant and will mimic the things you do, including what you put in your mouth. If they see mom and dad choosing soda pop, candy bars, and pizza, those are the same foods that the kids are going to think are normal and okay to regularly consume. Remember too that the method “do as I say, not as I do” does not work with children. If you want your kids to eat healthy, you have to make sure you too are eating only the things you want them to be eating; like previously stated, kids mimic what they see. It’s important for parents to not only talk about the importance of healthy eating, but that they also show that they believe in the importance of their words by following it up with healthy actions.
Second, it’s important to give continuous effort. Just as any other habit or skill isn’t developed in a day, neither is the habit of healthy eating. Even though it may seem like the kids aren’t picking it up, keep with it. It may take longer than anticipated, but as the children see persistence and consistency on the parent’s side, it will only be a matter of time before it’s accepted and becomes a habitual way of eating and living. Don’t give up! It can take children longer to develop a taste for a new or different food.
Third, help them understand why healthy food is so important for them. Help your children make connections between healthy food and positive outcomes, such as that healthy foods like broccoli and apples makes them strong so they can run, ride their bikes, swing, or play their favorite sport. When they understand the reason for choosing healthy foods and that it helps them with something that they care about, they are much more likely to be willing to eat nutritious foods.
Fourth, make healthy food fun! As a parent, you can do a lot to make healthy foods just as fun as junk foods. Cut them into shapes, make up funny names, create fun pictures or shapes with the food, spell words with it, or other such methods that kids enjoy. Kids are also drawn to color. Make sure to have a natural array of color in your kitchen—a rainbow of colors from fresh foods. Additionally, part of the fun of food is letting them be involved in the process. Let them help you decide what you’re going to be eating for that day or week and let them help you pick out the foods and actively participate in preparing the food. When children are involved in the process, they take more pride and ownership of the meal and are therefore much more likely to enjoy and eat it.
Lastly, allow and urge children to try a variety of different foods. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a child needs to eat a full serving of a food, but urge them to at least taste it. This is important because it will teach kids not to be afraid of trying new things and to get used to eating a variety of foods rather than the same things over and over again.
In addition, it is always important to remember that perfection is not the goal. In a child’s lifetime there will be times they’re exposed to and eat a pizza or drink a soda, but this doesn’t mean you’ve failed! As long as you’ve taught them healthy lifestyle principles, that’s what’s most important; kids should enjoy healthy eating as their lifestyle habit, something they engage in the majority of the time.
And for those kids who are just plain picky and require sneakiness on your part, here are a few ideas to squeeze in some added nutrition to their food:
- Healthy Dips & Spreads – Kids are more likely to enjoy their apple or carrot slice if they have a yummy dip to stick it in. Dips such as nut butters, hummus, or bean spreads can be a good way of adding some protein and nutrition.
- Trail Mix Snacks – This can be another good way to sneak in some added nutrition. It’s important here to choose or make truly healthy trail mix snacks that include ingredients such as raw nuts, seeds, raw chocolate (cacao nibs), and/or unsweetened dried fruit.
- Smoothies – This is one of the best ways to add an array of different fruits and vegetables to a child’s diet. An important thing with smoothies, however, is to make sure to not add too much fruit (more than 2 servings), as this would be far too much sugar. Spinach, kale, broccoli, cucumbers, and other vegetables are easily hidden in a blended smoothie and cannot be tasted, so the child won’t know they’re actually getting their vegetables!
- Homemade Baked Goods – Homemade baked goods such as muffins can be a good way to sneak in a few extra veggies. Things such as carrot cake muffins, banana bread, or zucchini muffins can be a good way to get added nutrients—just make sure to use whole grains!
To conclude, remember that consistency is key! Habits are not always easy to create, but kids will watch what you do, so make sure to provide only foods that will nourish and strengthen their growing bodies!