Let’s face it, making kids eat healthy foods like vegetables and fruits is not an easy task. They usually prefer to choose unhealthy meals such as chips, sandwiches, and hamburgers to the nutrition they require for good growth. Depending on your child, it can get really difficult to feed them highly nutritious foods as a parent. But there are a few tricks you can use to make the plain and bland-looking salad into something that attracts the attention of the kids and makes them eager to taste them.
Here are some tricks to avoid that dinner-time struggle over eating veggies.
1. Give Them a Choice
Kids or even young adults do not like to be ordered around. They like to make their own choices to show they are independent and in control. Use this mindset of your children to your advantage and encourage them to make the right food choices.
For example, make two different healthy dishes such as fruit salad or celery with peanut butter. Peanut and butter celery may sound odd, but it’s a very nutritious and healthy treat. It’s one of my favourite childhood snacks and now one of the only ways to get some of my kids to eat celery.
If your kid completely disagrees with these choices, then start with a normal peanut butter sandwich—but switch to whole wheat or sourdough bread. You may also learn about how to make bread more nutritious by reviewing a healthy Bread Buying Guide.
I like to make a vegetable tray to go with mealtimes. Instead of serving one vegetable that half the children won’t eat, I offer a selection of veggies they can pick and choose from, such as carrot sticks, celery sticks, sliced peppers, cucumber rings, broccoli, etc. Adding dip sometimes also encourages them to eat more veggies.
Then let the child choose what they want to eat. This will ensure they are getting the proper nutritious food while also keeping their attitude towards nutrition in check as they are the ones choosing their dish.
2. Let Them Think of the Dish
Letting kids make their food may not sound like the best idea. Instead, you can ask them what type of food they want by showing them available ingredients.
Suppose you have broccoli, celery, lettuce, and some fruits. Instead of thinking of a dish idea by yourself, ask your kid about what dish they can think of with these ingredients. I’ve also had my kids contribute ideas to my meal plan or browse cookbooks to find recipes they want to try making, so that I can buy the ingredients to put it together.
Kids will eat any dish they feel like they have had a hand in making. It once again plays to their mind-frame that they are the ones making the independent choice. However, you also need to ensure that you pick the right healthy ingredients that they can use for their dish ideas.
Kids do not have the best knowledge regarding food nutrition, so make sure you pick ingredients that have the right balance of nutrients, protein, carbohydrates, fats, and minerals. The most significant benefit of this tactic is that they will start to form a healthy relationship with food when they feel empowered and engaged in deciding what to eat.
3. Mix Veggies With Things They Like
Some children do not want to try new foods. Instead, they stick to the food they enjoy and eat only that particular food. Making these kids accustomed to a new and different type of food is tricky. You can make dishes that have the item the kid enjoys and incorporate some healthy fruits or vegetables into that dish.
For example, if your kid enjoys chicken, feed them a dish that contains both chicken and some healthy vegetables.
Chicken bakes with tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, and garlic could be a great way to enhance both taste and nutrition. There are thousands of options out there, so you need to be creative about what food your kid prefers and what healthy ingredients you can mix with them.
Smoothies are another way to sneak veggies into kids. For example, all my children love banana strawberry smoothies. It’s easy to sneak a piece of celery into that smoothie. Spinach can be hidden in a blueberry smoothie. The taste of peppers is a bit harder to hide, but experiment a bit to see what your kids will tolerate. Oh She Glows Everyday has some great smoothie recipes that we’ve really liked.
4. Control the Number Of Snacks
Children love snacks. My kids will eat a pack of crackers or chips easily. But what they are not aware of is that these snacks do nothing for their nutrition, and eating too much will lead to obesity, food addictions, and other health problems.
This is why as a parent, it is your responsibility to manage the number of snacks your kid is eating every day. Do not let them eat chips every evening if you do not want them suffering from malnutrition or obesity. You can, however, switch these snacks out for healthier ones.
Some sugar-free biscuits and cookies are not high in fat but have all the other nutrition values. You could also substitute all those sweets with some chocolate covered strawberries that you can make at home with your kids in a fun activity. This way, your child will be happy and healthy.
I find the hardest time to avoid snacks in the hour before supper. It’s 4 pm and I’m starting to cook supper and my kids are whining at me that they are starving and can’t possibly wait an hour to eat. That’s when I may say they can have three crackers each and wait until dinner.
Another way to test how “hungry” they really are is to say that if they really need a snack, they can have an apple (or something else healthy). If they don’t want that, then they are probably just eating out of boredom or because they wandered through the kitchen and saw the cookies on the counter and wanted one.
5. Raise their Interest
Kids are curious creatures, and they will gravitate to anything they are interested in. So, if you can get them interested in a particularly healthy diet, they will try their best to eat it even if they do not find it delicious at first.
You can take them to local farms and show them how the ingredients of the dish, such as broccoli, tomatoes, cabbages grow. Not only vegetables, but you can also take them to fruit farms and gardens and show them how apples or oranges grow.
The more they know, the more likely they are to try them out. Teaching them about nutrition values such as protein, fat, carbohydrates will also make sure that kids try their best to eat a balanced diet themselves.
6. Seek Their Help While Cooking
Kids love to participate in activities adults do—they love mimicking their parents. This makes them feel like they are adults themselves and teaches them a sense of responsibility. So if you take their help while cooking a healthy dish, they will eat that food out of their sense of responsibility.
You can do the heavy activities yourself, such as boiling the water, cutting the ingredients, etc. Let the kids do the smaller and lighter activities, such as bringing you the jar of salt or storing the leftover ingredients. My younger children enjoy stirring together sauces for me. They can also measure (with careful supervision) and chop some vegetables.
7. Let Them Eat Their Amount
Some parents believe that the kids always need to finish their plate before they can get up from the table. This is also known as the “clean plate club.” If you want your kids to try out new dishes and enjoy them slowly, you need to let them eat as much as they feel like it.
If they feel full after eating two or three pieces of celery, then let them be. This also reduces the risk of overeating because no matter how healthy a food is, if you overeat, it will surely bring some negative effects on the body.
I do ask that the kids at least try what is prepared. They can’t decide they don’t like it by looking at it. Jennifer Shelton from 5 Minutes for Mom echoes this, saying, “One bite–that’s all I ask. They have to try one bite before they decide they don’t like something. Sometimes they still aren’t a fan, but other times they find out they actually love that new green thing on their plate.”
8. Start Early
Habits that are formed at an early age tend to stick throughout a person’s life. If you want your kids to eat healthily, you need to make a habit out of it as early as possible. If your kid still has not made a habit of eating at least one healthy meal a day, then it is high time that they start.
The longer you delay this habit, the more likely it is that they will take their face away from highly nutritious food. Provide them with nutritious foods as early as today and increase their interest in them. Soon enough, they will be enjoying nutritious healthy foods without you even reminding them.
9. Influence Their Thinking
Children are greatly influenced by what they see around them. Culture, environment, media, family all influence their way of thinking, and the more they see, the more they learn. I noticed this when our neighbors in Victoria were vegan; one day, the mom brought out steamed asparagus for a snack, and my then 4-year-old daughter helped herself. I would have never made that myself and I’m not sure she would have eaten it if I had, but because her friend’s mom made it and her friend was eating it, she joined in.
If children grow up in a family where the adults continuously drink sugary beverages and eat unhealthy fast foods, they are also likely to build up a habit of eating unhealthy fast foods. The behavior of the parents influences the way the kids think. So if you have a habit of eating unhealthy food, you cannot make your children eat healthy foods.
Create an environment where everyone practices eating healthy food and promotes healthy eating. This will influence their way of thinking and pique their interest in healthy foods.
10. Get Creative With the Food
Dishes that contain vegetables or fruits may not be as mouth-watering as fried chicken or hamburgers, but that does not mean they should look appealing.
The best way to pique your child’s interest in a healthy dish is to make the food attractive to look at. If they find that the food looks good, they would not care what it is made of.
They will happily enjoy the meal as their mind already tells them that the food will taste good since it looks good. Giving the dishes some funny and creative names will also catch their attention and make them want to try it out.
Things You Shouldn’t Do
So far, we talked about all the things that you should do to make your kid eat a healthy diet. Just like some do’s, there are also some don’ts that you need to follow if you want your kids to develop a healthy habit of eating nutritious foods.
1. Don’t Force Them To Eat Anything
Kids do not like to be forced. The more you force them to do something, the more they will rebel and resist your attempts to promote healthy eating. So do not force them to eat something that they do not find pleasurable. Instead, try to raise their interest so that they try to eat some new and healthy foods.
My rule is that if my children don’t like what I’ve made for dinner, then they need to find their own food. Sometimes this means that my 6-year-old has a piece of bread and butter for supper. (I’m usually fairly certain she’s eaten something healthier earlier in the day.) If they don’t want to find their own food, then they often give whatever is on the table a second try.
2. Don’t Completely Rule Out Fast Food
In reality, you cannot keep your kids away from unhealthy foods all of the time. So there is no need to try to keep your kids away from fast food. Once in a while, let them eat that tasty hamburger they have been craving since last week. If you forcefully keep them away from their favorite fast food, the more they stay away from the healthy food you serve them.
We usually eat fast food when on road trips. I try to pack some healthy road trip snacks to eat along the way, but we usually end up having hamburgers along the way somewhere. It’s something we look forward to because we don’t do it very often.
Healthy foods are a necessity in leading a healthy life. We adults may be able to understand the benefits of eating healthy food, but kids would prefer to think with their emotions.
This is why they tend to get attached to foods that taste better because it pleases them, even if that food negatively affects their body. So it is up to you as a parent to control their way of thinking and make them interested in a healthier diet without forcing them.
How do you encourage your children to eat healthy?