The most common question I get is, “How do you get your kids to eat healthy?” It’s hard enough to change our own eating habits, but for many the thought of bringing your kids over to the dark side is a feat better left un-feated. I know what you’re thinking. Is this an opportunity to get my kids to hate me!? Will we be lucky enough to fight at every meal!?!? Am I going to make a lot of tasty food only for everyone to throw up at the sight of it!?!?!? Is my life going to get ten times harder just because I want my kids to eat kale!?!?!?!?
My first word of advice? BREATHE!!!
Okay…. are we good?
It’s not going to be a hike up Mount Everest, but yes- there may be a little finagling involved. Here are a few tips, ideas and examples of how you can get your kids to eat healthy, (without hiding broccoli in the brownies) and keep everyone’s sanity in the process. Onward up the mountain!!!
1. Take baby steps. A healthy eating lifestyle didn’t happen overnight for us grown people (BE REAL)- it certainly isn’t going to happen overnight for the short newbies either. Make small changes, lasting changes, slowly. And make them stick. Make the decision to cut out or substitute one food or meal at a time, and stick with that change. Every so often, maybe weekly, change something else in addition to the changes you already made. Time will fly and pretty soon, your family will be eating healthy foods majority of the time without any crazy rebellious commotion involved. Doesn’t get much easier.
2. Get your kids involved in the meal planning. Many times the struggle is not with the food, it’s with control. Let’s face it, kids don’t have a lot of decisions that are up to them to make. They do, however, get to decide what goes in their mouth. So when mom comes to the table with a big bowl of brussel sprouts that they didn’t see coming- eruption! Control is being taken away! Alert the media! Of course, your kids might be great with new green baby cabbages, or they might quickly tell you that they stink and look scary and they have no intention of eating them.
So let’s try something else: Try sitting down with them, explain your desire for the whole family to start making healthier food choices, and browse the cookbooks or online resources- together. Challenge them to find a veggie that they would be willing to try and let them take the baby step reigns. From there, challenge them with a whole recipe, or dessert, or snack. Baby steps= small lasting changes.
When I make my meal plan for the week I ask everyone what they would like to see in the menu. Everyone offers an idea and they look forward to the day their idea will be used. Not only does it make them feel involved, but they are eager to eat what they thought of. It’s a win-win situation.
*What happens if they pick a recipe that they don’t end up liking? Laugh together, throw it out, and challenge them again. You’re on the same team, work hard to climb that mountain together.
3. Involved your kids in the shopping. When we go to the store, my kids have free reign of the produce section. Celery? Sure! Apples? Of course! Kabocha? Absolutely! If they want fruits and veggies by golly they are going to get their fruits and veggies! Anything to get them involved. When Jeremiah asks me to get almond butter and dried figs because he wants to make fig sandwiches I give him a high five and we find the darn figs. Any time they are excited about healthy food I run with that as far as I can.
Maybe your kid is so beyond NOT excited to walk through the produce section with mommy, go back to the challenge. Before you ever get there, talk to them and ask them to scour the aisles for one healthy snack that they would be willing to try. Lay out some ground rules of what it can’t have in it, or if they’re little explain it as you go, and see what they find. You might be surprised! I did this with Levi, my two year old, and he found cherry tomatoes. He now pops those suckers like candy!
4. Get your kids involved in the cooking. When we first started eating healthy my kids thought I had gone off my rocker. They were not too thrilled about this strange new mommy and all her strange new foodie ways. Until…. I let them enter my strange domain: the kitchen. My kids love having knives, a can opener, a hand mixer and more at their tiny little fingertips. They are becoming more and more creative and are super proud of what they come up with.
Depending on the age they can either help you cook, make non-cook meals, or cook a whole meal on their own. Take it back to the challenge and help them find a recipe (or make up one) that they can make- and will eat. The other day Levi had a great time making salmon cakes with me, Shiloh loves using the hand mixer to fluff egg whites, and Jeremiah makes us his famous tuna salad all by himself. Be creative, be patient, be fun- and get your kids in the kitchen.
5. Pick your battles. And be nice about it. I am all for making my kids try new things and not give in to whiny-hineys but… sometimes it’s okay to back off for the moment. For instance, Jeremiah despises eggs. I know he despises eggs, he knows I know he despises eggs, heck- we all know he despises eggs. Does that mean he never eats eggs? No. I still serve him eggs on a regular basis but… I am verbally understanding of his “despise-ment”, I only give him a spoonful when I serve him knowing it’s not an overwhelming amount, and I don’t make eggs every day just to rub what he doesn’t like in his face.
I compromise enough to make us both happy, but I don’t completely give up. Just the other day he ate his serving quickly, without issue and then said, “Mommy, did you see how I ate my eggs fast without complaining at all?” He was proud of his accomplishment, as was I, and it’s not a battle. We know we’re on the same team, he knows the nutritional value of eggs, and he knows what I expect from him. We are working together and not turning it into a war around the kitchen table.
6. Have healthy snacks in-house and get not healthy snacks out of the house. It always makes me chuckle when someone asks me how to get their kids to stop eating bad snacks at home. Well, get those bad snacks out of the home!!! Kids, and all of us, eat what is available and if healthy snacks are the only thing available- at some point we will get hungry enough to eat them. We keep a basket of bananas, apples and oranges on the counter.
Oh. My. Goodness I can’t even begin to explain to you how fast we go through these fruits! Why? Because they are in sight, they are one of the only snacks readily available, and the kids have developed a love for them. We also have trail mix readily available, raw cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots, ants on a log ingredients, and dried fruit.
7. Make fun, healthy goodies! When I asked my kids for ideas on this post this was the first one they suggested. Make some fun foods! We love all kinds of smoothies (like chocolate ones), cookies, cupcakes and more- especially when they’re made with whole food ingredients! Get creative, ask the kids what they are craving, and get cooking. Healthy eating is not about depriving ourselves of all-things-yummy it’s about getting back to the basics and making what we love- with good ingredients. We don’t have to get cookies at Wal-Mart, we can make homemade wheat-free, sugar-free absolutely delicious cookies at home.
8.Talk with your kids. If my kids pick up a box of something at a store, we go through the ingredients together and I explain what they are, and how they’re not good for our bodies. If they get in a complain-y mood we talk about why they’re upset, I let them know that sometimes it’s hard for me too, I remind them that how we are eating glorifies God, I remind them how their bellies feel when they eat good and when they eat not-so-good, I ask them what food would be a good substitute for what they are asking for, and I remind them that their parents are eating healthy and need their support (this one actually works). Being open and honest with our kids is a really great place to be.
9. Stick to it! If you make a change, please don’t un-change it. Kids need consistency, they like consistently, they thrive on consistency. If you tell them that you’re cutting out juice and going straight water, stick to the water. Even I am not thrilled about water and for the first few days of going strict paleo I am at a shortage for hydration because water just isn’t fun sometimes. But…. after only having water as an option for a few days guess what? I can’t get enough of it! It takes time for any of us to adjust- let the time happen and watch your kids come around. Just don’t go back!
10. This is a hard one and I contemplated not including it but I have to. All kids love healthy food… when they’re hungry enough. Do you like how I worded that? It’s true! I promise. Ever since my kids began eating real food at 1 year old they have always been made to eat what we are eating. Just because you didn’t start then, doesn’t mean you can’t now. Serving your kids different meals because they don’t like what you made, or not making healthy food because they won’t like it, isn’t helping them, it’s just not. Yes, many of our kids are picky eaters and “would just as soon starve” but in reality they won’t. They really won’t. my 2 year old used to be low on the weight percentile scale. Did that change my way of thinking? No. Jeremiah has diabetes and needs food. Does that change my way of thinking? No. Levi has still gone to bed hungry: he’s a chub now. Jeremiah has still missed a meal and had to drink apple juice instead when a correction was needed: he’s thriving. Don’t give in. It’s challenging, but molding your kids into thankful short people will pay off with thankful tall people.
Does this mean every meal time will be a battle? NO. Not at all. When we sit down for a meal (when I know there could be an issue) I very calmly and nicely, with a smile on my face, remind everyone that this is what I made, that’s it’s good for our bodies, and that I worked hard to make it. I also state that if they don’t care to eat it that’s fine, but they still need to say thank you and then then silently and politely sit at their seat until dinner is over. They can then eat at the next meal, without any dessert or snacks in the meantime. I also let them know that we are not going to wait around all mealtime for them to play with their food, so their meal needs to be finished by the time Mommy and Daddy’s meal is done. I end with a chipper, “OK?!” and wait for okays all around. Then we go about our meal, ignoring any plates that are not eaten and not having any more discussion about it. At that point they are making a decision that they are entitled to and I’m okay with that. I am also okay with not making them anything else. No battles, no fights, no stress. All of this done pleasantly and positively and with a sincere care for their physical and emotional care. It’s not mean! It’s love. It makes the world of difference and eventually, they will thank you for it.
Whew! Do you feel like you can climb that mountain now? I sure hope so! Look over these points, find a few at a time that work for your family, take baby steps, keep the peace, make a plan, stick to it and start making healthy decisions as a whole family.
Your whole family will thank you….