My kids aren’t perfect eaters. Some days they eat their veggies and quinoa so well I want to cry. Other days they turn their noses up at the meal I prepared and I want to cry. With kids, you just can’t predict the outcome. ‘You liked it last week!’ Doesn’t matter. Today they don’t. I feel your pain and I wanted to share some things that have worked pretty well for us.
I look at my kids’ diet like I look at my own – 90/10. I’m not going to freak out if they have cake or icky snack foods at parties or when they aren’t at home. I can be okay with this because I know that at home and in the lunches I pack for them, they are getting nourished.
Here are a few tips for kids:
- Don’t get into the habit of making them a separate meal. I have fallen into this trap in the past, (they outnumber us!) but there’s no time like the present to change. If you won’t eat what you’re feeding your kids, don’t feed it to them. They might surprise you and love what you’re eating. That’s happened to me plenty of times! I will make them more kid-friendly food if my husband and I are eating later for a date night, but in our daily routine, I try to make one meal for the family. This is the only way to consistently eat healthy, whole foods and keep your sanity!
- Don’t preface any foods with ‘I’m not sure if you’re going to like this. . .’ Say that and I guarantee they’ll go running. I hear parents say this all the time without meaning any harm, but try to catch yourself before it comes out of your mouth. If you want to put any preconceived idea in their heads, try ‘this is so delicious!’.
- Keep healthy food in and icky snacks out. If it’s not there, they can’t eat it, can they? (This is a good tip for us adults too!) My kids used to eat Peanut Butter crackers like they were going out of style. I figured they were organic so they couldn’t be that bad. But when I realized that they were turning into an everyday after-school snack, I stopped buying them. With the amount of sugar and white flour they contained, they were definitely a 10% food that was turning into a 90% food.
- Make healthier alternatives for store-bought processed foods they like. Like my banana nut oat bars. . . perfect alternative to store-bought bars packed with sugar and preservatives.
- Don’t force them to finish anything, but do force the ‘No Thank You’ bite. This was a tip from our pediatrician that has worked wonders (bonus, get your doctor to tell the kids so it doesn’t just come from you!). Kids need to try new foods upwards of 10 times before they’ll like it. ‘Doesn’t matter that you didn’t care for it last week, please try it again.’ Knowing it is only one bite, my kids always oblige. Even if they are dramatic and spit it out in their napkin, we always thank them for trying.
- Get them involved! Take them shopping! My kids go to the grocery store with me. Yes, the trips take much longer and sometimes are less than successful, but it really works to let them decide what kinds of fruits and veggies they want to bring home. Let them be a part of the cooking process as they can. If they had a part in choosing and making it, they are much more likely to eat it.
- Always offer something you know they like in a meal. For me, it’s often adding fruit to their plates. I generally don’t eat fruit with my dinner, but I’ll add it to my kids’ plates so if the ‘No Thank You’ bites are not successful, at least they’ll eat something.
- Try not to let them eat something not offered at the meal, even if they aren’t satisfied. Especially not at the table. If an hour later they are truly hungry, we offer healthy options like vegetables and fruit. I feel like this will help them learn to eat what is offered.
- Make healthy food education fun! Remind them what foods are good for their bodies and why it matters. They want to be physically and mentally strong so they can play and learn. Use their favorite activities as motivation. . . All the other strong hockey players eat their xyz. . .If you want to be a strong gymnast you need your xyz. . . I’m sure this will stop working as they get older, but for now, it does wonders. My kids have a good understanding of what foods are good for their bodies and what foods are treats because it’s a common dialogue.
What challenges do you face? I’d love to get your thoughts and give you tips to try!