With so many food choices – many of them unhealthy – it’s almost impossible for kids to distinguish the good from the bad without our guidance.
Companies use marketing to their advantage and draw kids away from healthy, whole foods and toward brightly colored, aesthetically pleasing, highly processed foods. Think about it, more than half the kid-friendly commercials on television feature a stealthy superhero or bright-colored character promoting some sugary snack or cereal. It’s up to us, as parents, to guide them to make better choices.
By balancing what our kids want with what they need, they’ll get used to seeing, and eating, nourishing foods.
They’ll develop self-control and confidence in what they eat, so as they grow, they’ll want to make healthy choices on their own.
Here are some simple ways to encourage healthy eating habits, without food becoming a battle.
Tip 1: Train their taste buds.
Teaching toddlers to eat healthy, nutrient-rich food can be tricky. By sneaking veggies into meals, you’ll alleviate stress (for you both) and coerce them into eating foods they once found “disgusting.” Trust us, even if your kids don’t reach for the veggies immediately, if you continue to introduce them in new and exciting ways, they’ll eventually acquire a taste for them!
Here are two tried-and-true ways to train your children’s taste buds:
Suggestion 1: Puree, puree, puree.
Pureeing food is a simple, incognito way to add just about any veggie into a meal so that your picky eaters (kiddos or spouse) won’t complain. Heck, they won’t even realize they’re acquiring a taste for them.
Pureeing is MUCH more simple than it sounds. Basically, all you need is a steamer or microwave to soften your veggies, a food processor or high-speed blender, a little water and small mason jars to pre-portion and store. If you’re looking for a step-by-step breakdown, check out this post
Suggestion 2: Add (without necessarily hiding) vegetables into the meals your kids already eat.
Rather than sneaking veggies into their meals (like you do with pureeing), you can incorporate them into dishes (as an ingredient), rather than serving them as a side. This is yet another great way for your kiddos to acquire a taste for new foods because they see them as a part of the meal, rather than as an unwanted part of their plate (such as a helping of broccoli).
Try adding a tomato slice into your little one’s grilled cheese. Wait until after they’re finished eating (and enjoying it) to talk to them about it. Then, share how their scrumptious scrambled eggs included a handful of sautéed spinach, which helps fuel their body and make them strong.
Tip 2: Plate their food in courses (it’s like fine dining for little ones… with the first course being veggies).
Think of food in terms of general categories that they should be eating every day – then plate their food in order of importance.
One of my close girlfriends came up with this idea and has had A TON of SUCCESS with it. It’s been so fun watching her girls embrace nutrient-rich foods without an argument. I can’t wait until Isla gets to an age where we can start this too. Because it’s such a great technique, I’ve shared it with other moms who have found it extremely helpful and empowering too.
Rather than serving your kids a plate full of food and allowing them to choose which to fill up on first (they’ll naturally gravitate toward starches and sweets), give them their meal in categories. Start with bite-size pieces of veggies, because your kiddos are hungriest at the start of their meal.
If your meal consists of steamed broccoli, grilled chicken and rice, start by serving just the broccoli.
Once they’re finished, plate their protein (chicken). Lastly, serve whatever healthy whole grain or starchy food you make to complement the meal. If you’re serving fruit, it’s a great “sweet treat” to finish up the meal with.
With this technique, you’re able to balance what your little one wants with what they need with little to no struggle.
Tip 3: Let them know it’s okay to NOT like something.
New foods are often an acquired taste, even for us. Think back to the first time you tried a cup of black coffee… maybe you still don’t enjoy it. Just because we dislike something the first time we try it doesn’t mean we should strike it off the list forever.
Our taste preferences are constantly changing over our lifetime. Generally, young children enjoy sweeter foods, while adults begin to enjoy those we used to consider more bitter.
Let them know it’s okay to not like something, but explain that our taste preferences are always changing.
Ask them what they didn’t like about the food. “Because it’s icky” isn’t an acceptable answer. Was it something about the color, flavor, texture or smell?
Once you know what they didn’t like about it, try putting a different spin on how you prepare it. If they didn’t like sautéed asparagus because it had a mushy texture and tasted bland, try baking or broiling it, then top it with some grated Parmesan cheese.
Studies have shown it takes a dozen times or more to acquire a taste for (and enjoy) certain new foods. It takes patience and persistence, but don’t throw in the towel if your little one doesn’t like something the first go around.
Use this taste-testing game
as a fun way to keep track of how many times they’ve tried a certain food. If they still don’t like it after 10-12 attempts, shelf it for a few months; they may just need some time.
Tip 4: Have daily conversations about real food versus processed food that comes in a box or wrapper.
We begin to form opinions about food at a very young age. Start having “real food” conversations to help your children understand what real foods look and taste like.
Tip 5: Lead by example.
Kids are constantly learning and are very intent listeners (though maybe not when we want them to). They pick up on little things that we often have no idea they even notice, and they’re EXTREMELY impressionable. Children really do pay attention and naturally reenact what they see and hear others doing. Let’s not sugar coat it… good nutrition starts with YOU. When you model healthy choices, your kids are much more likely to do the same.
Establishing healthy eating habits during childhood has a lifetime of benefits.
When real food is a part of your family culture, your children will be able to differentiate healthy from unhealthy foods, and eat to nourish, rather than simply eating for pleasure (emotional eating). These tips will help shape your family (kids and adults) so that good health and a positive relationship with food are far-reaching. They’ll allow your kids to maintain a healthy body and mind (not to mention alleviate stress for you).
If you find you're still struggling to get your kids to embrace real food, check out our proven system, Simple Secrets to Getting Your Family to Eat Healthy Foods
Let’s help our kids eat well for years to come – together!
Cheers to a healthy lifestyle and living FULLforLife!
xo, Pam & Kalie