It can be a real challenge to get kids to eat healthy. Parents often say that it can take up to 15 tries before their kid will take a chance on a new food, and even then they may not go for it every time.
That being said, there are several ways to get your kids to eat foods that are better for them, even if they’re particularly picky, and/or junk food-inclined. It’s all about the power of suggestion, and incorporating healthier alternatives wherever possible. While it’s certainly easier to impose healthy eating habits if you’ve been encouraging it from day one, it’s not impossible to change a less-than-stellar established diet.
Here are seven tips for getting your kids on the healthy-eating track. It’s less about specific recipes, and more about imposing an overall change to the food that’s available to them, without making it seem like you’ve imposed a Spartan regime.
1. Make healthy foods the most accessible
This may sound like a simple thing, but it will make a world of difference. It’s actually totally the method I use on myself when I’m trying to eat better. Kids (and many adults) will grab the first thing they see that looks good when they want a snack. If there’s a bag of chips in arm’s reach and watermelon that has yet to be cut into pieces, they’re going for the chips, no question. However, if there are no chips, and the watermelon’s been cut up, the problem solves itself.
Clean out your pantry of all the really bad snack food. Definitely leave some tasty carb-based snacks, like pita chips, but put them somewhere that won’t be the first place your kids will look.
2. Be a food role model
Despite what they might think, you are a role model for your kids, which means they will take after you (to some degree) in what they choose to eat. There’s no way you can expect them to eat all the asparagus on their plate, if you avoid it too. Getting your kids to eat better has to be a family effort.
3. Sneak the veggies in with fruit
Kids have underdeveloped palates, which is why they prefer sweet and salty things to more complex flavors like sour and savory. That, in essence, is why it’s hard to get them to eat their veggies. However, a little trick that may help them get their daily vitamins is to hide them in fun-colored smoothies.
Green smoothies have lots of leafy green veggies as a base, but you can’t taste them under the overpowering sweetness of fruits like pineapple and banana. One of my favorite green smoothie recipes is just one large handful of your favorite leafy greens, one banana, half a cup of pineapple, half a cup of apple juice and a handful of ice. Your kids will love its awesome green color, and will never realize they’re getting a huge shot of protein.
4. Go dipping
One of the easiest ways to get kids to eat veggies and protein is by pairing it with a tasty dipping sauce. It makes drier food like grilled chicken easier for younger kids to eat, and it makes the whole process of eating way more fun. The best part is there are so many dipping options that will allow your kids to get creative. You can even do a whole dinner of dipping sauces, starting with hummus, marinara sauce and yogurt for veggie appetizers, to applesauce and syrup for fruit-based desserts.
5. Make your kids sous chefs
If your kids are involved in the planning and cooking of meals, they’ll be more likely to eat them. It will give them a sense of control over something that is often dictated by their parents. Obviously this will work differently with a 4-year-old versus a 9-year-old, but everyone can be involved in one way or another. You’ll have fun, and your kids will be excited to eat what they had a hand in.
6. Treats are OK
Healthy eating means balance, not a total departure from all junk food. You should allow the occasional treat into your meal plan, but emphasize that it’s not meant to be part of the usual food routine.
7. Be neutral at meal times
Try not to let it get to you if your kids are eating less of the things you want them to at meal times. You made the meal, and if they’re hungry enough, they’ll start to eat all of it. Remember, scolding your kids for not eating their veggies will only make them dig their heels in more.
This post was brought to you by Annie’s Homegrown.