As new parents, there are many challenges that come with raising kids that unfortunately there is no user manual for, and it seems like endless ideas via the interwebs – millennial problems. Getting your children to eat healthy foods is one of those challenges.
Now, I’ve only been a parent for 2.5 years, so I’m not claiming to be a practicing expert in this topic, but we have used a few techniques with our daughter that I have learned through my years of formal education and continuing education that seem to have worked pretty well so far.
It Starts With YOU
As a parent, you have a huge responsibility – to lead by example. Your kids cannot even try eating healthy foods if you don’t have them in the house, or if you don’t eat them yourself.
I’m not here to talk down to you about what foods are healthier and which are not, but if you are not eating them yourself, why would your child?
Here’s a cold piece of tough love: eat your vegetables. PERIOD.
You are an ADULT. You know they are good for you. You and I both know they don’t sound as fun and tasty as candy, cookies, or French Fries, but vegetables are a “necessary evil”. So even if you “hate” vegetables, suck it up buttercup, and start eating them.
The foods need to be in your house, and unless you send your toddler on grocery runs, you are responsible for buying and bringing those foods into your house.
Learn to Cook, and Involve Your Kids
If they are old enough, kids like doing things with you. If they are too old, they might care less about you (they still love you, but I think most kids go through that phase).
Again – this comes back to leading by example.
Learn to cook foods with different techniques. Grilling, steaming, roasting, broiling, sauteeing, air frying, are all awesome methods that can be used to try new, healthier foods – mostly lean meats and vegetables.
Play around with different seasonings (nothing too spicy) and see what everyone likes.
If steamed broccoli isn’t a hit, try it roasted, air fried, or sauteed. You can even add a little butter, and it’s not the end of the world (think 1 Tbsp. per 3 cups of veggies – not a ton!)
Different textures and methods can be a great way for kids and adults alike to experience foods in many different forms, instead of the same old boring methods.
Studies have shown that it can take 20 exposures to a food before a child will actually eat it – so don’t give up right away.
You can even try hiding vegetables in sauces, blended up. Or fruits in cereals or oatmeal. The possibilities are endless, but you have to make the effort!
Offer, offer, offer – don’t push.
20 exposures might seem like a lot, but that’s good news for your waistline! That means you get to eat more veggies/lean meats more often because you love your kids and want to show them that healthy eating is important.
If you don’t push your kid, trust that they will eventually be willing to try new foods when they are ready (especially if you lead by example!)
Let them play with the foods, touch it, nibble, smell, and give it time. Messiness is okay, it’s part of their development for taste AND fine motor skills – double win!
Be sure to have some familiar foods around too, and don’t try to get them to try a bunch of new foods at once. If they are hungry but are not willing to try what you made for the rest of the family, just start dinner with them – and they might surprise you and as our daughter has multiple surprising times, ask to try what you are eating.
If you have offered many times, and they still won’t try it, then don’t worry, maybe they will come around eventually, or maybe they truly don’t like the food.
Honor Their Natural Intuitive Eating Skills
From the day they are born, kids eat intuitively – when they are hungry, they let us know. When they are satisfied, they stop.
This is something that we as adults have most likely lost due to either how we were raised, or over years of poor eating habits.
Your children will grow in bursts – sometimes eating like a giant, and other times, eating like a mouse – this is okay and normal. Their preferences will also vary normally, and if they want the same thing for breakfast lunch and dinner, don’t worry. Look at it from a bigger lens. What does their weekly intake look like?
If they eat a decent variety throughout the course of week, it is pretty rare that they will have any issues with deficiencies of any sort (but again, this STARTS WITH YOU – provide a variety of foods!)
Remember, foods do NOT have morals.
They are not good or bad. Calling foods bad can lead to feelings of guilt. Use terms like “play food” – and explain that it isn’t the most nutritious (if they are old enough to understand), but it sure does taste good!
When you constantly refer to foods as bad or junk and restrict 100%, this can lead to your kids going nuts on candy and soda at a friend’s house – because after all, it is the “forbidden fruit”.
It’s okay to have discussions with your kids if they are old enough about how some foods provide nutrients that help them grow, give them energy/power/ or whatever motivating term you want to use here – and how others taste really good, but they are less optimal for becoming “INSERT WHAT YOUR KID IS INTERESTED IN”. It may be a little bit of a lie, but it’s not as detrimental as the previously mentioned labels.
The biggest take away in all of this is this: you still have to be a parent. Lead by example. Show your kids the importance of health. Show them love and care. And show them that taking care of your body and health is important to you, and they will follow.
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Stay healthy my friends!