Getting kids to try new foods can be extremely challenging. You might be feeling frustrated with your children because they refuse to eat healthy foods, and you should know that you are not alone! A lot of parents will try for a few weeks and then give up when they don’t see any progress. I am here to tell you: it gets easier! As with everything else, consistency is key. When I got pregnant with my son in 2010, I knew that I wanted to teach him healthy habits. I have always struggled with my weight and my love of food. I didn’t really know HOW I was going to help my son develop healthy habits, all I knew was that I wanted to do it. I had to start educating myself and start actually doing what I was learning. My health has been years in the making. I didn’t just decide to be healthy one day and then POOF I was healthy. I took 2 steps forward, then 1 step back, then 4 steps forward, then 12 steps back, etc etc etc. It has been a process, and an incredibly difficult one at that.
My son is now 3.5 years old and I can say with confidence that he has developed some fantastic healthy habits. He knows what good food choices are and he knows that we balance the good with the bad. That’s not to say that he doesn’t throw a fit when I tell him he can’t have a treat before lunch, but he is definitely headed in the right direction. He absolutely loves fruit and asks for it all of the time. Vegetables are another story, but he does eat carrots and cucumbers on a regular basis. I continue to introduce veggies to him and ask him to try one bite, so I know that eventually his taste buds will change and he will enjoy these things. I hated vegetables until I was well into my adult life, so I can’t blame him! In the meantime, he drinks a fantastic super food shake a couple of times a week to get his body those nutrients it is missing.
It IS possible to get your children excited about healthy eating. It can be extremely difficult at times because there are a lot of temptations out there. There are birthday parties, holiday parties, candy at every grocery store check out line, candy at the store entrance, ice cream trucks, etc. These things can derail your hard work that you’ve been doing with your children, but it is REAL LIFE! You have to look at these things as teaching experiences. When my son asks for candy at the grocery store check out line, we talk about WHY we can’t have it right then. I try not to just say “no” without explaining WHY! The WHY is going to stick with them and help them make their own decisions in the future when you aren’t there to help.
We view birthday parties and holiday parties as treats! I do not restrict these things and I allow my son to enjoy the treats (without allowing him to make himself sick, of course). I strongly believe that there has to be a healthy balance. If we restrict our children from enjoying treats when they see all of the other kids doing it, there is a good chance that you are creating a very unhealthy relationship with food for them and they will struggle with that for years to come. Education is best. Be honest and open with them and tell them that these things are treats and are meant to be enjoyed once in awhile. Talk about how those sugary treats make us feel and how they effect our body. This is a fantastic resource that will help you learn how to talk to your kids about real food.
Having said all of that, there are some great ways to help your children get excited about healthy eating. A big part of it is allowing them to be part of the process. It’s all about choice. When children feel like they CHOSE their meals and HELPED prepare it, they will be excited to eat it! Here are 8 tips to get kids excited about healthy eating:
1. Ask them to make part of their lunch.
Kids LOVE to help! They are asserting their independence and want to do everything by themselves. Give them a task to do while you are making their lunch. They can start by making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or putting items in their lunch box. If you are asking them to make their sandwich, make sure they understand how to use a butter knife (and that you trust them with it). Put a little bit of peanut butter and jelly in a separate bowl that is easy to reach. It might take three times as long, but they will love eating that sandwich knowing that they made it.
2. Buy some fun, kid-friendly kitchen tools.
What better way to get kids excited about helping than to have their own special tools? Buy a few colorful tools that they can use to mix, spread, and stir with. You’ll be surprised at how excited they are to help when they have something of their own to use. Find some great ones HERE.
3. Talk about what they would like to see in their lunch.
It’s all about choice! I use this strategy a lot with Cole. If he is resisting something I am asking him to do, I typically phrase it as a question rather than a command. For example, when it’s time to leave the park, “Would you like to run to the car or jump to the car? Phrasing things in this way usually makes him forget that he doesn’t want to leave, and instead he’s happy that he gets to choose how he’s going to get to the car. The same goes with food. If they choose it, they are more likely to eat it! “Would you like grapes or apple slices?” “Would you like me to put your noodles in a bowl or on a plate?” At the beginning of each week, sit down with them for 5-10 minutes and discuss what they would like to see in their lunch this week. Talk about the importance of healthy choices and balance, but allow them to choose a few “treats” as well. Encourage them to choose different items and talk about the importance of variety. Write it down in a special notebook so they know they are being heard. It will make a big difference in their willingness to eat those healthy foods.
4. Take them to the grocery store with you.
I KNOW. I know what you are thinking. This is crazy talk, right? The grocery store is my alone time each week. I leave my son with my husband and off I go into pure, quiet, bliss for at least an hour. Sometimes I stretch it to an hour and a half (but don’t tell my husband). As chaotic as it is, taking your children to the grocery store can really make a big difference in their willingness to try new things. Make it fun! Play “I Spy” as you go through the store and talk to them about different fruits and vegetables. Make it a point to show them one new healthy thing each week, and allow them to choose one new thing they want to try. I can guarantee that doing this will lead to excitement and they will be more likely to have an open mind when it comes to new foods.
5. Allow them to measure and pour when possible.
This speaks for itself! Pull up a stool or a chair and give them little tasks while you are cooking and baking. My son loves to help me pour things and then mix them up in the bowl.
6. Ask them to help prepare ingredients.
Sometimes allowing your children to help you in the kitchen turns a 10 minute job into a 45 minute job, but this one should actually HELP you! Make them a list (with pictures if they can’t read yet) and tell them to find those things and put them on the counter for you. It’s like a mini scavenger hunt for them. You could even time them if you want to inspire them to move quickly.
7. Let them wash fruits and vegetables.
One word: water. Do your kids love water as much as mine does? Set them up at the sink and allow them to wash all of your fruits and vegetables while you prep other things. They will feel so special for being able to help.
8. Allow them to peel, chop, and shred fruits and veggies.
This one is for older children. Take some time to teach them how to peel and chop safely and be sure to monitor them during the process. What kid doesn’t want to use a knife?
Whatever you do, don’t give up! The habits that they create as children will carry over into their adult life and help them to avoid obesity and health problems related to weight gain. It is worth the struggle!
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