Get kids to eat healthy? My kids? Most parents will laugh and laugh and laugh…or cry.
I’m a fitness trainer and a certified holistic nutrition coach. I know a few things about healthy eating. But get my kid to eat healthy? Game. On.
Ask most any parent about family power struggles, and the dinner table is likely going to make the top five. As parents we just want our kids to grow up healthy and happy. For kids food is often a starting point for exercising autonomy and independence.
Getting kids to eat healthy is often a delicate balance. An overbearing parent can cause a child to become resentful, suspicious, rebellious, and may cause disordered eating patterns. A parent who is unhealthy him/herself, and shows little respect for nutrition, will engender children who follow in the same unhealthy footsteps.
How can we preserve our kids’ freedom of choice on what enters their body while naturally help them choose healthier foods?
Try these eight tips to get your kids to eat healthy
Get your kids to eat healthy by modeling good behavior in a non-pushy way.
There’s no way around this one. If you are not eating well and taking care of your body, it’s not fair to expect that they will. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to walk the talk…with a lot more walk and a lot less talk.
Give them a special drawer or cabinet.
When food became a fight in our house I decided it was a losing battle for both of us. So I put the power back into my daughter’s hands by designating a kitchen cabinet and a drawer in the fridge as hers. I stock them with a wide variety of perishable and non-perishable, mostly healthy foods. Her fridge drawer contains fresh fruits, string cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, salsa, hummus, and guacamole cups. Her kitchen cabinet contains granola bars, salted almonds, peanut butter packets, whole wheat crackers, and tortilla chips made from black beans. Giving her a choice is great for both of us. I can rest assured that she’s eating healthier food, and she can exercise her independence without her overbearing mother looking over her shoulder.
Let them help (part one).
My daughter has been “helping” me in the kitchen since she could sit up. Now that she’s older our kitchen time is special. I know I’m passing on valuable skills and knowledge about healthy eating and cooking that she will one day pass on to her kids. And she will forever remember the moments we spent together, experimenting with new recipes, burning the cupcakes, and laughing about the cat sneaking onto the counter to eat the baked chicken tenders when we weren’t looking.
Let them help (part two).
If you have multiple children, you probably read #3 and busted out laughing at the mom with one kid telling other moms to let the kids “help” in the kitchen. I know how much mess one kid can make, so I totally understand that it’s not realistic to have more than one helper at a time! In this case get a chalkboard and write out the days of the week. Allow everyone to plan one dinner each week. Involve them in all aspects of planning “their” dinner. Have them look up recipes and write a shopping list. Let them help you cook the meal that they planned. When “their” dinner is served, lavish plenty of praise for cooking such a delicious meal! Yes, this takes more time and effort on your part. But planning meals and cooking are some of the most important skills you’ll ever pass onto your kids.
Introduce healthy foods slowly.
If your kid is used to eating white pasta and you switch to spaghetti squash, it’s not going to go over well! Start slowly! Try mixing regular pasta noodles with whole wheat or chickpea noodles. Mix regular corn tortilla chips with a few chips made from garbanzo or black beans. Keep the breading, but bake the chicken tenders instead of frying them. These types of changes move your family in the right direction and will be less likely to incite a riot – both from your kids and your husband.
Make healthy options easily available.
Take a look around your kitchen. What’s within easy reach? Do you have a cookie jar and boxes of cereal on the counter? It’s a well-known fact that foods within reach and at eye-level are what humans gravitate toward. Make it easy for your kids to eat healthy by putting the healthy foods within easy reach. Set out bowls of washed fresh fruit, mixed nuts, and jerky.
Out of sight, out of mind.
If putting healthier options within reach makes them more likely to eat healthy foods, it makes intuitive sense that putting away the junk will help them eat less junk foods. In our house all of the junk foods – cereals, Swiss cake rolls, Oreos, chips, crackers – are in a cabinet that’s above the refrigerator. The cabinet is hard to reach and we can’t physically see the junk food.
Let them eat junk food!
No one can eat healthy all the time! You’ll never protect your child from sugar, artificial colors, and preservatives forever! Why not make “play foods” a part of our eating plan, instead of pretending that they’re not? Being overly restrictive often backfires and can cause eating disorders. Let them choose one or two “junky foods” each week. Teach them that junk food, fast food, soda, and sweets can be a part of a healthy diet…just not all the time!
And sometimes none of that stuff works and you have to get “creative”! Check out this post about sneaky ways to get them to eat healthy.
I hope that you found this post helpful! I’d love to hear from you! What tips and tricks do you use to help your kids eat healthy?