When I share healthy recipes on my personal Facebook or Instagram accounts, people often ask me questions like, “How do you get your kids to eat that stuff?” or “This was your dinner, right? What did your children have?”
I’ll admit that it’s typically pretty easy to get my kids to eat healthy food, but not every meal goes smoothly. I have a son with sensory issues, so he’s repulsed by certain foods. His brother wants to be just like him, so if Toddler #1 announces he hates something, Toddler #2 wants nothing to do with it. I also have a teenager who eats pretty much whatever is on the dinner table.
So how do you convince your kids that chicken nuggets, fries, and soda aren’t a balanced meal? What do you do if you’re pregnant now and want to ensure your little one never chooses fast food over healthy food?
Well, there’s no guarantee that your child will love healthy food if you try the steps below, but my friends and I have had good results with them. Try a few of these methods, or give them all a shot. Please sound off in the comments below and let me know what worked (or didn’t).
I got pregnant with my daughter at the end of my teenage years. I had a GED and a fast food job, and I didn’t know much about healthy living during my pregnancy. I ate McDonald’s 3 times a day because it was free and ended up with colitis at the age of 19.
Thankfully, I learned about the importance of healthy living when she was a toddler – but she wasn’t as excited about nutrition as I was. It was much harder to convert my daughter from a diet of fast food and boxed dinners than it was to get my sons to eat healthy food. I made my own baby food for the boys, and they grew up eating well from the day they were born.
That’s why I recommend introducing healthy foods at an early age if you want your kids to like them. Don’t panic if it’s too late for that, though. I’ve got 8 other suggestions for you.
Involve Your Kiddos
Involve your kids during every step of the healthy eating process if you want them to get excited about the food on their plates. And yes, I realize that taking children to the grocery store is incredibly stressful at times. Well, unless you’re the kind of parent who leaves comments in mom groups like “So weird – my little angel would never do that.” Just between you and me, I know your little angel would do that, and I won’t tell anybody you’re reading a parenting article on my site.
But I digress.
Take your kids to the grocery store, and let them each pick one treat, one meat, one fruit, and one veggie. You can add grains and dairy products to the list if you’re a trooper, but I totally understand if staying at the store too long puts your sanity in jeopardy.
When you get home, let them help you in the kitchen. You may discover some not-so-good personality traits during this time, such as the fact that you’re a control freak with very little patience. If you don’t understand what I’m saying now, you will after prepping your first meal together. I promise it gets easier after that.
Educate Little Ones
My son just turned 4 a few days ago, and he can already tell you that red peppers have vitamin C, tuna has protein, and spinach has iron. Many kids are curious about the world around them, and they love discussing nutrition.
When you serve a new food, say something like, “This is a delicious red pepper. It has vitamin C. Do you know what vitamin C does?” If your child says no, explain the benefits and ask if there are any questions about the topic.
Make Meals Fun
I get it: Prepping recipes can be stressful. Meal time can be a nightmare, especially if you’ve got young children.
Just do your best to make it fun. If you’re stressed, your kids will be stressed – and stressed kids typically aren’t open to trying new foods. In all fairness, you probably aren’t either. When you’re stressed, do you devour a pint of ice cream, or do you say, “Hmmmm, tonight is a great night to try that new broccoli recipe I saw on Pinterest?”.
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
So how do you make meal time or recipe time fun? Start by turning on some upbeat music. It’s amazing what some catchy tunes can do for the mood of your family.
Rock out as you season veggies, marinate meat, or slice fruit. Keep the music on as you eat together, and save unpleasant topics for later. Now is not the time to discuss messy bedrooms, bad report cards, or anything else that might cause drama at the table. Ask “What was your favorite part of today?” or “Tell me something silly Peppa Pig did today.”
Living with toddlers has taught me that kids like to feel like they’re in control of their own lives. This was especially true when my 4-year-old son was a threenager.
Give your kids choices, but make sure they’re all healthy choices. Ask if they’d rather have zucchini, sweet potatoes, or green peppers for dinner. Let them choose their own beverages if you don’t feel comfortable being flexible with the rest of the meal.
I try not to resort to bribery when it comes to healthy living, but sometimes life is rough. If your kids are completely repulsed by the thought of eating healthy food, create a reward system. Offer a bite of dessert for every 5 bites of a new dish, or create a rewards chart. When I first started introducing healthy foods to my daughter, I created a chart with the alphabet and made a check mark each time she ate a food that started with a new letter. Once she hit all 26 letters, she had her choice of a movie date, a small toy, or a frozen lemonade at Bread Co.
It’s hard to find foods for some letters, so you might have to get creative and offer marks for “X-tra tasty broccoli casserole” or “X-traordinary baked fish.”
Don’t hold back your excitement when your child tries a new food. We went through a really rough patch where my son only wanted to eat grapes, apples, and string cheese. Yeah, it could be worse, but still.
Each time my son tried a new food at the dinner table, we erupted in applause. We cheered like it was the Super Bowl. We did this for every single bite until life was back to normal. It took a couple weeks, but it worked – and it was fun.
Eat the Rainbow
Kids like colors, so try serving vibrant vegetables and fruits. My children hate green cabbage, but purple cabbage is magically delicious. They hate orange carrot sticks, but they shovel down purple and yellow carrots like nobody’s business.
Here are some ideas for each color of the rainbow:
Purple – Grapes, purple cabbage, purple potatoes, purple kale, purple carrots
Blue – Blueberries
Green – Spinach, lettuce, brussels sprouts, broccoli, apples, grapes
Red – Strawberries, cherries, apples, radishes
Orange – Oranges (duh), Carrots, butternut squash, bell peppers
Yellow – Bananas, Onions, bell peppers
It takes time to break old habits and make better choices. Don’t get discouraged if your kids still hate healthy food after trying every single item on this list. Keep trying. Keep offering new foods.
Remember the kid who would only eat grapes, string cheese, and apples? This is him today:
I’ve got tons of other tips for getting your kids to eat healthy foods, but this article is getting long enough. If you want me to create a second article on this topic, let me know!