This is a collaborative post.
Getting children to eat healthy seems to be one of the most difficult parenting challenges. Some kids seem to only want to eat mac and cheese, fries, cookies, and chicken nuggets; ask them to eat some fruits and vegetables and they ignore it at best, or throw tantrums at worst.
So how do you overcome this hurdle? Here are a few helpful tips.
Use Healthier Ingredients
Pick something your child loves to eat, say a cupcake, and learn how to make it with healthier ingredients. For example, replace regular dairy milk with equally creamy and delicious plant-based milks instead. For toppings, do away with the candy sprinkles and use chopped nuts or toasted oats with honey. Show your child that this food that they love is made with a healthy ingredient to help convince them that healthy food doesn’t have to taste bad.
Include Them in the Process
Most children don’t see how the food is made; they arrive at the dinner table with the food already there. They don’t know what you put in, but they are expected to eat it anyway. By bringing your children into the process — from picking the ingredients in the grocery or farmer’s market, down to the preparation and actual cooking — they can get more excited, interested, and invested in what they are eating. What’s more, shopping and cooking together is also an opportunity to have fun and bond. It may even be more helpful if you can grow your own vegetables and fruits. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction in harvesting and eating something you cultivated on your own.
Give Them a Choice
Don’t serve them one dish and expect them to eat just that. Giving them more freedom makes them more receptive to the idea of eating healthy. If you’re serving tacos (lean meat, of course), prepare an array of toppings like cabbage, cheese, lettuce, onions, parsley, sliced tomatoes, and tomato salsa. If you’re serving pasta, don’t mix in the sauce immediately. Let them pick from two or three healthy sauces. Getting into a power-struggle with your children will make them even more rebellious when it comes to eating healthy. You’ll be surprised at how even a little bit of leeway can help encourage kids to eat better.
Try Some Dips
Even the most unpleasant-tasting foods can become palatable with the right dip. Prepare vegetable sticks and a variety (remember: give them choices!) of healthy dips, like hummus, Greek yogurt ranch dressing, salsa, and honey mustard. Your children might even end up requesting for more!
Don’t Shock Them
Once they reach a certain age, children will become naturally wary of trying new foods, especially if they’ve already chosen their favorites. Don’t shock them into eating a huge variety of vegetables all of a sudden. Introduce them slowly; you can even include them in soups or omelettes to ease them in gently. Tell them that eating vegetables and other healthy foods takes a little bit of adjustment, but they will eventually get used to the taste.
Do as You Say
When your kids see you order something unhealthy at a restaurant, they’re likely to copy you and order the same thing. When they see that you dislike eating broccolis but you are asking them to eat it, they won’t be convinced that it tastes good and that it’s good for them. You may also have improper habits, like eating late at night or eating too much at times, which your children may think is normal. So gird it up for the sake of healthy eating, in both your habits and the kind of food you eat — eat better and your children will get into the habit, too.
One more helpful tip is to not keep junk food in the house, and instead keep healthy snack items like nuts, dried and fresh fruits, or even frozen fruit popsicles. You may not have control over what they eat when they’re away from home, but when they are, make sure that there are wholesome options available to them.
Finally, don’t give up. It may be really challenging, but eating healthy — even for adults — is a constant process. Remind yourself that it’s okay to give in sometimes as long as you try again the next day. Good luck!