How to get your kids to eat healthier foods
Does dinnertime end leaving frayed nerves and uneaten food in its wake? Here are a few helpful strategies from diet and lifestyle coach Katherine Pennington, CHHC, AADP, to make mealtime easier and more enjoyable, while also helping your kids develop good eating habits!
Step 1: Be a super model
Model behavior for them: Children are most open to eating what they see their parents and other family members eating (or not eating).
Step 2: Rule of none
A good rule: No snacks (including drinks) for about 3 hours before mealtime. Give your kids something light -- like a piece of fruit or a cup of yogurt -- and some water to drink when they get home, but then there's nothing more to eat except veggies (see below) until dinnertime. When your kids are ravenous, they will be ready to come to the table and will be more likely to eat what is put in front of them.
Step 3: Minimize options
Resist the urge (and urging!) to buy foods that don't fit into a healthy diet. That means no more sugary "kiddie" cereals, processed convenience foods, plain white bread, sugar-added applesauce, etc.
Step 4: Veg out
Have a plate of raw veggies on the counter or easy-to-reach in the fridge -- carrot sticks, broccoli and other raw vegetables with dip -- and allow everyone to munch on those at any time.
Step 5: Serve only one meal
Stop being a short order cook in your own house and make one meal for your the family to sit down and eat together. Serving each young person in the house with a tailor-made meal does not serve anyone's interests.
Step 6: Don't force it
Encourage (but don't force) your children to try new foods. Don't offer bribes or rewards, but do explain how what they put in their bodies will determine how they perform in school and sports, as well as how they look and feel.
Step 7: Avoid power struggles
If you end up introducing foods in a confrontational way, you will be locked in a power struggle with your child. Don't comment on whether they have or have not eaten something, but use the other rules here to keep his or her eating on track. And remember: When mealtime is pleasant, children will be more open to eating healthy foods.
Step 8: Don't get emotional
If a child refuses to eat or is "not hungry", don't be upset. Just cover the meal up and save it for later. If that child becomes "hungry" later, they will be offered that same meal. (It goes without saying no dessert until the child eats their dinner.)
step 9: Repeat and repeat
Try serving a new food over and over again. The key is to remain calm and emotionally detached from your frustration if they refuse it. Studies have shown that children naturally reject new foods but the more you serve a food, the more likely they will eat it.
Step 10: Establish mealtime routines
Eat at the same time and the same place everyday. Your kids will get into a good eating pattern and more likely to come to the table hungry and ready to eat.
step 11: Get them invested
Encourage your children to help choose and shop for meals so that they will become invested in them. To best avoid a lot of junk food, involve them in shopping at a farmer's market or natural foods store.
step 12: Cook with your children
Cooking with kids is fun, and the children are always happy to gobble up their creations.
step 13: Talk to your children about nutrition
We often think that our kids tune us out when we tell them the vitamin C in orange juice helps fight illness or beta-carotene in carrots strengthens our eyesight. Do not belabor the point, but simply explain why you make certain food choices.
Step 14: Everything in moderation
It's okay to have fries or hamburgers every now and then, or ice cream as a mid-week treat. Just remind them that although such goodies are yummy and fine to have on occasion, they aren't necessarily healthy.
For more tips on getting kids to eat healthier foods, see:
Picky eaters: Eliminate mealtime food battles