As hard as it is to fight your junk food urges, if you have kiddo, you probably know that getting Junior to make smart food choices is triple the challenge. It’d be excellent if you could just yell, “Hey, you! Eat your spinach!” But you can’t. As is the case when dealing with most aspects of a child’s life, it takes commitment, patience, and some serious cunning to steer them down the right path. Here are 5 tips to help you in your family’s healthy eating journey!
5 Tips to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy
1. Portion control.
Digging into the entire box of goldfish crackers, or any other kid’s snack, is a bad idea. So it’s a good idea to empty out that box into smaller ziplock bags, for better portion control. Do this the moment the treats are pulled from the grocery store bags! This helps children understand what a healthy portion looks like. Meals and portion sizes have increased nearly 40 percent over the last decade. As parents, you have the opportunity to teach children that smaller portions are not deprivation—it’s proper nutrition.
2. Sneak in the whole grains.
Use whole-grain pasta and brown rice, but don’t tell your kids. They’ll never know the difference. No one, especially children, likes change when it comes to food. I like to use the “stealth” approach for any change, i.e., fly low under the radar! When first switching kids from regular pasta to whole-grain, whole wheat pasta, try it in stages. First, add just a 1/4 cup of the healthier noodles. Each time add more, until eventually they are eating the whole-grain stuff and have no idea! The key is making the changes gradually and not making a big deal about them.
3. Lead by example.
If you’re giving your kids apples but you’re eating Snickers, it’s never going to work. Following a healthy diet needs to be part of the commitment of good parenting. Never use the “D” [“Diet”] word in front of children. When you do, and they see you eating healthily, they assume that healthy food is something you’re forced to eat as a punishment. Lead by example. Say, “Mommy is eating this for more energy and to be stronger.” Use positive comments about healthy food without reference to weight. Try, “I feel so much stronger when I eat fruit for a snack!”
4. Make food fun.
Taste is something that changes over time. Our taste buds actually change as we age; this explains why some children will eat broccoli and green beans and others find the smell and taste worse than starvation! Continually introduce healthy food and find unique ways to introduce the food in stages. For example, your children might try a small amount of broccoli mixed in with their mac and cheese. Once you’ve gotten them to accept that as a regular staple, transition to broccoli with a creamy cheese soup. Eventually, your children may acquire a taste for steamed broccoli! Can you imagine the day? But starting right out of the gates with a big plate of steamed broccoli in front of a child who doesn’t eat green things is asking for a battle! Baby steps!
5. Don’t pressure kids to eat.
Present the food, but don’t force kids to eat it. Making demands will just polarize your kids, while letting them eat healthy foods on their own terms leads to healthy habits. If your first attempt doesn’t work, don’t take it personally or assume that this is a life-or-death situation. Take a deep breath, let it go, and try it again another day—try serving those healthy foods prepared in new ways. It often takes several times before your child will decide to try something new. Oh, and I’ve heard my parent friends mention that their children will often try new food with their grandparents or at their friends’ houses, foods that they won’t try with them! Ask what new foods they tried and then offer to prepare them, and get excited about their willingness to try new foods.