Whether it’s lunchtime and your child prefers French fries and chicken nuggets instead of hummus and veggie sticks, or at snack time wants a doughnut instead of a yogurt, you are not alone. Many parents struggle to figure out how to get kids to eat healthy foods, especially when unhealthy, overly processed foods are often more convenient.
All kids face different challenges and circumstances, but, in general, if you want to get your kids to eat better, then consider these proven tips:
- Starting early on, show them that you eat healthfully. Kids love to mimic adults, so if you demonstrate healthy eating habits as early in your children’s lives as possible, then they’re likely to follow suit. Ultimately, getting your child to eat better starts with your own food choices. Establish a solid foundation by making sure you always have plenty of healthy foods on hand for them to select as they grow older – and eat those same healthy foods, too. Depending on your preferences, this could include such foods as lean meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit, whole grains and yogurt.
- Think family food, not “kid food.” After kids start receiving most of their nutrition from solid foods, they don’t necessarily need a special diet, so you don’t have to make child-specific meals just for them. Instead, create one nutritious meal, served family-style for everyone in your home to enjoy. This helps to acclimate kids to healthy eating. Should a child dislike certain foods, such as vegetables, don’t ban those foods from your menu. Instead, think of new ways to present them. Spinach, for example, can be blended into spaghetti sauce or a fruit smoothie to introduce it slowly as a “normal” ingredient. When your youngster becomes accustomed to the taste, you can become more adventurous in how you present “adult” foods to him or her.
- Avoid fads. The definition of “healthy eating” can seem hard to nail down, given all of the eating fads promoted by pop culture. Instead of focusing on a narrow view of health, aim toward food diversity by offering your kids a wide variety of foods that are age-appropriate and un-processed or minimally processed, including natural proteins, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Include “food fun.” Who says you shouldn’t play with food? Learning to eat healthfully is easier in a stress-free environment. Take the focus off of “forcing” a child to eat certain foods and focus instead on creating fun activities to introduce new foods. For example, make meal preparation a family activity and teach your kids to “cook,” whether by making roll-up sandwiches or fruit salad. Even the youngest toddlers can help with food prep if you let them. Kids react positively to a parent’s enthusiasm, so you may want to make up a silly song or use colorful ingredients, creatively arranged to form shapes, animals or pictures. Older kids can learn the basics of baking and cooking, which will help foster their independence and their awareness of the food choices they make.
Adopting healthy eating habits isn’t necessarily an instinct. It’s a skill that must be learned, just like getting dressed, reading, and riding a bike. Teaching your kids how to eat better and make healthy choices can be accomplished at any age, but the earlier you begin and the more consistent you are, the more natural it will become for them.