By Julie Revelant, mama of two, who shares her experience to help you get your kids to eat healthy.
You already know it’s important for your kids to eat healthy, but getting them to eat leafy green vegetables—or any vegetable for that matter—or even try new foods, is a constant challenge. And it’s not for lack of trying!
Chances are, you’ve tried every sneaky tactic in the book such as pureeing vegetables and hiding them in sauces and baked goods, or using cookie cutters to turn food into fun animal shapes.
These can be effective strategies to give kids the nutrition they need, or an extra boost of nutrition—nothing wrong with that! Yet the key to raising kids who are healthy eaters now and throughout their lives is to give them plenty of opportunities to see, smell, touch and taste real, whole foods. We don’t want to raise kids who begrudgingly accept healthy food, but love—even crave—it. Besides, these tactics are time-consuming and unsustainable for busy moms like us.
Fortunately, there are a ton of non-sneaky ways to get your kids to eat healthy and they’ve helped me to raise kids who love lentils, sardines and salads—seriously!
Model Healthy Eating Habits
Perhaps the most important way to encourage your kids to eat healthy is to eat healthy yourself and model those healthy habits. When you eat fruits and vegetables every day, kids accept it as the norm, not the exception, and start to learn, that’s how our family eats.
Give Kids Choices
I wholeheartedly subscribe to Ellyn Satter’s philosophy that it’s the parent’s responsibility to decide the what, when and where of feeding, and the child’s responsibility to decide how much and whether to eat.
Yet that doesn’t mean we can’t give kids choices of the what, albeit within limits we deem acceptable. When kids feel like they have some control and are empowered to make choices at meal and snack times, power struggles can improve.
For example, serve a cooked green leafy vegetable and a salad. Or serve your kid’s favorite vegetable alongside a new vegetable. Another way to offer choices is to put out a buffet of leftover vegetables and let your kids decide what they want to eat.
Often times, parents will offer a new food and when their kid refuses to eat it, they conclude: he’s a picky eater! Yet studies show kids need tons of exposure to new foods before they’ll willingly accept them. In fact, according to the According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it can take up to 8 to 15 tries until kids will do so.
Do your best to offer new foods at meals and snacks and offer them alongside familiar foods. Also, stick with a pea-sized amount of a new food, not an entire plate which can feel overwhelming.
Eat Meals Together
Sharing meals as a family is one of the best ways to get your kids to eat healthy. In fact, according to a June 2011 meta-analysis in the journal Pediatrics, kids who eat with their families at least 3 times a week are more likely to eat healthy foods.
The good news is that the meal you share doesn’t have to be dinner—breakfast, lunch or brunch on the weekends count too.
Transform Yuck! Into Yummy
There are tons of ways to encourage your kids to eat healthy by serving up dishes that are tasty and delicious but don’t require you to spend too much time in the kitchen.
Add a pat of grass-fed butter to cooked vegetables, which boosts absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and makes them tasty. Roast vegetables, which makes them sweet and savory, or serve vegetables with a dip: hummus, guacamole, bean dip, etc.
Put Healthy Foods Front and Center
Kids will eat what they see and can reach, so keep healthy food visible. Roast broccoli florets or cubes of butternut squash on a sheet pan, let it cool on the countertop, and your kids may ask to try it. Or keep washed and prepped fruits and vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, and nuts and seeds in clear glass containers for kids to grab at snack time.
Get Kids Involved
Studies show when kids take part in preparing healthy meals, they’re more likely to be healthy eaters. Find a new recipe, cook a meal together, or let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable at the grocery store or farmers’ market they want to try.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter and founder of JulieRevelant.com, where she teaches parents how to raise healthy kids who crave healthy foods. Julie has written hundreds of stories for print and digital outlets including FIRST for Women magazine, Woman’s World magazine, Esperanza magazine, EverydayHealth.com, Reader’s Digest (digital), WhatToExpect.com, theBump.com, and Babble.com. For nearly 6 years, Julie wrote Healthy Mama, a column for FoxNews.com where she covered pregnancy, postpartum, maternal and children’s health and nutrition. Julie lives in Bethel, CT with her husband and two daughters.