Are you a parent struggling to get your kid to eat healthier?
Over the years I worked with hundreds of families who were struggling at mealtimes trying to get their kids to eat healthier. I want to help you make male time easier and hopefully more enjoyable.
If you have come up against resistance from your precious little ones, so much so that you never want to cook again, this blog is for you.
#1 Stop Talking!
Parents often times get way to over-enthusiastic with goals when it comes to their kids. And, that might be great, if all goes well, but for most of us, it can be a bumpy road.
Kids will put up a fight when they see that their parents want them to do something they don’t feel motivated to do. So, when discussions around the table start to focus on what's healthy and why we should eat certain foods, you might get met with a ton of resistance. Not fun!
So while we want to help educate our kids on why we eat certain foods, we might make it worse.
I suggest that you keep the discussion around food light. It might be easier to talk about food in terms of them having more energy, or jumping out of bed faster or able to jump higher to get the ball in the net or do well at practice.
Talking about foods in terms of how it will affect them physically might be a little bit more useful. Let’s be honest, kids don't really care what has more calories and what has less carbs. They don't care are about certain vitamins or what has a high fat content. They just care about how things taste and when they can go back to playing!
The more we talk about “nutrition” the more kids can and probably will resist us. Very quickly you can see them dig in their heels and say “no.” Stopping you in your tracks before you've even begun.
You never want the argument to be over food because you will always lose.
#2 Do NOT Lie!
Don’t hide vegetables in the other foods. No purees, no different colored vegetables, no asparagus hiding under a pile of candy. This is how we embarrass ourselves.
There's a big craze right now where parents hide vegetables in things to make foods that are healthy, and disguise them as a cupcake or a brownie or magic hat. My suggestion is to stop that and to please steer clear of that practice.
Hiding nutritious foods in sweets is basically saying,"I know you won't like this medicinal evil tasting food, so I am going to dress it all up in heels and lipstick so you won't notice."
It is lying.
Now, I know that you all mean well, but it isn’t the truth. And, in the end, the kids figure it out. It makes kids suspicious when we withhold the truth, right? It has them thinking that you are being sneaky and you're not telling them what they are eating.
To me, this sets up not only a problem in the moment, but an even bigger problem further down the road.
It is so much easier to be honest and try and make the foods in a way that the kids will actually like! Not always easy, I know, but it is doable!
#3 Don’t Be Pushy!
This one might seem a little bit counterintuitive, but hear me out. Don't force your kids to eat a certain food to get a reward. Try to resist having the kids eat everything off their plates or eat a certain pile of vegetables to be “released” from the table, or getting dessert.
This technique always back fires because it implies that we know this precious little one in front of us is really not going to like the green vegetable on their plate. The only way this child of yours is going to leave the table is by being forced to eat the really icky, undesirable food.
Where is the “win” in that?
What I try to teach is that we want to invite the kids to want to eat this kind of food or at least want to try it. If the approach is sneaky and manipulative, it might be something we fight over later. It's not worth it in the long run.
#4 Please Play With Your Food!
Consider making foods that the kids can play with! Dips are great for that. Finger foods that the kids can grab and then dip into something else are just wonderful. It's automatically interactive and fun.
And there is a way to make them healthy!
Let's talk about the dips for a second--
Dips are really fun to make and actually something that you can ask the kids to come help you with in the kitchen. That’s because they are so easy! You can make them from scratch, like humus or buy them and spice them up with whatever ingredients you have at home.
Marina sauce, guacamole, or something similar to these, would make vegetables sing! Make a yummy, quick, and easy dip and watch your kids have so much fun dipping vegetables into them. This just might help kids feel like they have choice and that is empowerment. This is what we want.
When kids are responsible for their own food, they might make different choices. (Especially if you refrain from declaring that the food you are serving is “healthy.”)
It's all about infusing a little creativity and play into snack time. Cut cucumbers on the diagonal, make thick wedges of carrots, break off cauliflower “trees” and serve them with a bowl of humus. It is easy and delicious. Another option is to serve lightly steamed vegetables to dip into a tomato sauce or marinara sauce.
The real trick here is to steam the vegetables just lightly so that they are more brilliant in color rather than over-cooked making them soggy. This way, the vegetables will then be really nice and crisp. Making it that much more enjoyable with the tomato or marinara sauce.
Another great combination is a nice sweet dip with peanut butter and honey mixed together and then served with some sliced apples and/or bananas.
There's a full range of sauces and dips that you can make for dipping vegetables and fruit into. Have fun with it, make up some of your own, but make it fun. What's really cool is that the kids get to decide how much they eat of the vegetables or fruit and how much sauce that they eat. They can use their hands and aren't being reprimanded about table manners.
#5 Don’t Empty The Cupboards!
When trying to help your family eat healthier, rather than take out all the junk food and all the things that you don't want them to eat, consider going slowly. Little by little add in substitutes to not agitate those that are living with you!
Slowly transitioning to the better foods minimizes the resistance. In the case of something like sodas, they can eventually be replaced by fizzy water. There are fizzy waters that have a sweet taste. Someone drinking sodas daily, might be able to have a glass of fizzy water in between the soda. Plus, kids love to squeeze fruit in fizzy water.
You can even have kids make up some mocktails. Have them mix things into the fizzy water. Or make smoothies and have the kids decide on the fruits to use. Here is a video on that.
Juices with high fructose corn syrup can also be mixed with water, little by little, over time. As your old juice bottle starts getting used up, replace it with fresh good organic juices and then I suggest over time to even dilute those more with water. Because, in actuality, it would be great if the kids were just using water to hydrate instead of needing something sweet to drink.
Commercial foods that kids are advertised and usually really like, are laden with chemicals, flavorings and colorings. Products such as cereals, commercial peanut butters, and even cookies and breakfast bars, can bring on temper tantrums and prevent kids from being able to concentrate because of all the junk in that "food".
With these items, it is super easy to find a healthier version. So, you can use either substitute with those things, or go half-and-half for a bit. Later on, you can slowly transition to them completely. Remember that there doesn't have to be this big announcement each time, you can just do it slowly over time. In fact, it is better if you do not comment at all.
When you start raising the bar and start substituting more and more healthier versions of what you are serving, announcing what you are doing might create resistance. Don’t tell them about the great service you are doing for them.
The trick to all of this is that we are trying to avoid any resistance.
We want kids to love the new foods and to feel better eating those foods, not because you say so, but because they are actually having that experience.
#6 Make It Fancy!
Why not? Make the serving dishes, the plates the kids eat off of and maybe even the table, fun! In other words, little containers where kids can kind of pour their own things, or dip things into are really fun for then. Making healthy food fun and interesting is something you will get a hang of.
Consider using real glassware with the kids instead of plastic. Foods taste so much better and look better on real plates. An extra bonus, kids feel more grown up and respected. You will be surprised at how careful they can be and how good it makes them feel knowing you trust them.
All in all, please know that you are an amazing parent and doing the best you can!
Of course we all want what is best for our kids. There are times when we can work on serving better food and there are times when just getting anything on the table is a win. Just start slowly and implement these steps according to what might be the easiest for you and your family. Before you know it, you will have made tons of amazing changes in your kids healthy eating habits. One step at a time.
Just like an adult would resist, kids will be quite defiant over all of this if they don’t feel they are being invited rather they are having things thrust upon them. Go slow and be gentle. If you have any questions, reach out! We are always happy to help!
Much love, Caio!
Ana and Chelsea
To watch a video on this topic