Getting your kids to not only eat healthy, but to actually love nutritious food is giving them a gift that will last their entire lives. We all know it, but it’s easier said than done, right? Food marketing makes all those sugary cereals and junk foods look like so much fun that your kids can’t help but want to eat it, but it’s no good for their developing bodies and overall health. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 18% of kids between the ages of 6-11 were obese in 2012. The number was only 7% in 1980, so this is definitely a growing health problem that needs to be addressed. You may be up against all of those commercials and fun packaging, but that’s no match for a loving, informed parent! Check out these 8 easy ways to get your kids to love healthy foods.
Introduce veggies and greens and spices as soon as they’re eating solids. Are you making seasoned, roasted squash with dinner? Puree some for the baby. And really focus on the veggies first. Kids that are accustomed to eating vegetables when they are very young don’t crave all the sweets and added sugar like their fruit focused counterparts.
Keep Junk Food Out of the House
Simply put – if it’s not around, they can’t eat it.
Prep Healthy Snacks in Advance
Cut up carrot sticks, melon, kiwi, cucumbers, and other yummy fruits and veggies and make them easily accessible in the fridge. They’ll choose the good stuff on their own if it’s easy to grab and conveniently prepped and ready to eat. Having to dig into the bottom of a drawer to find an apple might be just enough of a deterrent to make your child eat something out of a box.
Don’t Bribe Them With Dessert
Telling your kids that they can have cake if they finish their veggies only reinforces in their minds that veggies are gross, and cake is best. This strategy also makes them think about healthy eating as something that you need to tolerate just to have something you like. Some households have fruits as the dessert, but only if the kids finish their veggies.
Have Them Help in the Kitchen
Being involved in the cooking process will help your kids see what’s in the food they eat and give them more incentive to eat the foods you make. They’ll want to test their creations! You can describe how tomatoes become spaghetti sauce and how all the flavors blend. Little ones can simply tear up romaine and put it in a bowl or arrange veggies on a platter. Older kids can help find and read recipes and really get into the whole process. Cooking is a great way to spend time together and will become a lifelong skill for your child. If you aren’t the most experienced cook, don’t let that stop you. You can learn together!
Let Them Have Some Control
Little kids (and big ones, too) are often much more amenable to things if they have some control in the situation. (Think about it, you wouldn’t like to be told what to do all day long every day either.) Let them have some control by choosing a new recipe or picking out a new kind of produce to try at the market.
Make it Fun Looking
It’s no big secret – we eat with our eyes. That’s why plating is so important at high-end restaurants and why processed foods are colored with artificial dyes. If something looks good, we think it tastes better. Apply this psychology on your kids and you’ll be amazed how fast your toddler will eat a plate of healthy food when they think it looks cute. Check out these 18 easy snacks shaped like animals. And if you’re not feeling especially creative, cut things up into basic shapes and let your child be the artist. Sometimes playing with food is a very good thing!
Change the Conversation
The concepts that healthy food doesn’t taste good and that a healthy diet means depriving yourself are all too common and entirely wrong. And sometimes when we’re constantly lecturing our kids about how bad some foods are, the taboo status makes it all the more desirable. Keep the conversation focused on finding delicious, real foods. (Our friends at the MaxLove Project call them Fierce Foods to fuel SuperKids – very fun and empowering!) It may take a lot of experimentation, but you’ll eventually find tons of healthy foods and recipes that your kids will love. Plus, you’ll be reinforcing a healthier attitude towards food. Keep in mind that every little thing matters – appearance, textures, flavors – and that it’s okay if your child prefers different flavors than you. Try, try, try again. It’s a culinary journey!