My family's journey toward healthy eating is oftentimes a bumpy road. Like the pied piper, my kids are lured by the sounds of the ice cream truck's jingle. They can't bear the thought of not having "just one little dessert" after dinner and my youngest daughter's ideal meal is plain noodles- no sauce, no butter, no salt- just an entire box of plain noodles. (Since I do not often allow plain noodles as a complete meal, she will happily eat the night's dinner first then request plain noodles for her dessert! I generally allow this as she is very persuasive!). Here are some four ways you can work on your kids to get them eating healthy foods:
1. Foods need to look and taste yummy to THEM (not you). In our home that means cutting down on the seasoning and keeping food pretty bland. If your child likes a specific flavor profile, make healthy food fit that bill- for example, my older daughter loves lemon- y things so I'll often place a quartered lemon next to a new vegetable for her to try. My younger daughter loves her sweet sauces so homemade teriyaki and duck sauce often helps her taste new foods! In regards to look, if kids like using cookie cutters to shape fruits, veggies or sandwiches, then go for it!
2. Use Google! Get out your laptop right at the dinner table and google the health benefit of the vegetable or fruit that is part of that night's dinner. While this will not change their minds if they HATE a certain food, it may bring them to put their lips to something new. In my own home, my oldest daughter wears glasses. I told her that orange colored vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash) help your eyesight, which would make her eye doctor super happy! Here I am showing her a clear benefit to AT LEAST TRYING the new foods and even taking a few extra bites of something she doesn't love. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but remember that it can take up to 18 tries for a child to like a new food, so every bite, lick and taste counts!
3. Always remind kids about the distinction between food, snacks and junk. Food is something you eat at meal time - proteins, vegetables and grains. In our home, a bagel is not food so my kids cannot have a bagel for breakfast, lunch or dinner on a normal day. Snacks are different- they can be simply for fun or to tide a child over between meals, but kids need to be taught that when they feel hunger coming on, it's best to ask for a meal, not a bag of chips. Snacks can be fruits, veggies with dip, a quasi healthy cookie or chips. I have included a new updated healthy kid friendly snack list here.
Last kids need to learn about junk foods. Junk is nutritionally deficient, full of artificial flavors and colors that overload kids with sugar, salt and chemicals. There should be NO junk in the house, and kids should know that junk is reserved for real special occasions like birthdays and vacations to Hershey Park.
4. Educate through cooking: The cornerstone of training kids to think healthily is actually getting your hands dirty together! This has worked for me SO WELL that I recommend all parents teach their children to cook at the youngest age possible! My kids peel, chop, spiralize, stir pots over the stove and use the blender. It is a safe space kids to ask questions about ingredients and where food comes from. You can open a dialogue with silly questions like, "does meat grow on a tree" (my own 7 year old thought it came from peas!) as well as more sophisticated ones such as "what ingredients can we add to make this recipe healthy?” and “why do you think too much sugar is a bad idea?” Most importantly, allow kids to watch, touch, smell and especially taste all the ingredients along the way!