Wednesday, November 11, 2009

20 Ways I Get My Kids to Eat Healthy

People often ask me how I get my kids to eat "healthy food."  I have a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter.  Here is a list of what tips that work for our family:
  1. Have the Right Attitude.  Approach each meal with the mindset that your kids will like what you serve.  Don't mention new ingredients, just let them try them themselves.  If they do respond negatively, keep the positive feelings going and talk it up.
  2. Make your Kids a Part of the Process.  Let them pick things out from the grocery store produce department.  Recently, my son saw Parsnips and wanted to get some because he had seen them on Curious George.  I had never cooked with them, but figured we could give them a try.  We all really liked them!  If I had left grocery shopping decisions up to me we never would have tried them.
  3. Start with Small Portions of New Foods.  If you are trying something new that you know will take a few times for them to start eating a full portion of, give them a very tiny portion so they can easily follow your directions to "eat it all."  Serve it with a big helping of a side dish that you know they enjoy.  Up the serving of the new item the next couple of times you serve it so they are increasingly expected to eat more.
  4. Serve New Foods at the Right Time.  Our kids always have the choice to eat all their dinner or not eat it and be hungry.  Sometimes I serve new things at lunch where this rule is a little more lenient in our house.  
  5. Serve New Food Several Times.  Recently I posted my recipe for Tomato Soup with Alphabet Pasta.  The first time I served it to my kids, they had one bite.  The next time, two bites.  The third time, 1/2 a bowl.  And now when I make it, they look forward to it and follow up with a "yummy that was good.  Make that again Mama."
  6. Make Trying New Foods Fun - Have a taste-test of the week time.  Grab a few new foods and let them try them.  Allow them to tell you what they do and don't like about the new foods. They could start a food journal if they know how to write.  Or they could draw pictures of the new food if can't write words yet.  Use your words and positive attitude to talk up new foods "Guess what guys?  We get to [don't save have to] try some new soup soups today.  You guys are really going to like it because it has chicken in it"
  7. Cook with Your Kids. My kids like to cook with me.  There are a lot of things that a 2 and 4 year-old can do to help while cooking.  My kids help me measure, dump the ingredients in the bowl, get the ingredients, put away the ingredients, wash a bowl, mix things and cut up ingredients (mine love to use a plastic knife to cut the carrots into chunks before I put it in the food processor).  You need to set ground rules.  Before we start I always say to them "what is the most important park of cooking?" they answer "listening."  "And what happens if you don't listen?" I ask.  "We get down." Meaning they have to get off the chair next to the counter and don't get to help anymore.  You may have to follow through on this threat a few times before cooking with them gets pleasant.  
  8. Teach them Where the Food Comes from.  Take them to a local farm.  Help them make a list of questions to ask a farmer at the farmer's market.  Plant a garden with them.  Search the internet for fun activities that will work for your family.
  9. Watch Cooking Shows with Them.  Talk about the ingredients.  Ask them what they think looks good.  We are big fans of the PBS channel Create.  My kids really like Lidia's Italy.  She goes places to see how the food is grown/made and then makes something from it.  If they like the looks of something that was made, I find the recipe and make it for them or with them.
  10. Have Discussions About Your Family's Food Choices.  Explain to them why you (and they) eat healthy food.  When they do have "junk food" and you notice that maybe they aren't feeling too well, start a discussion about how they feel.  Start with a question, not a lecture.  "How are you feeling after all that candy?  You think you might be crying because you are tired from eating all that candy?"
  11. Reinforce their Healthy Eating Habits.  Whenever we measure my kids, I say "wow, you must be eating all your vegetables, because you sure are growing"
  12. Don't Buy Food with Cartoon Characters on the Box.  Generally speaking, food with a cartoon character on it is pretty likely to contain a lot of sugar and/or sodium.  The food industry is working on programming us to eat more.  Cartoon Characters are only one more part of the psychological process they use to program our kids.  This is similar to Michael Pollen's rule: "Don't Eat Food that Makes Health Claims"
  13. Don't Assume What Foods they Will or Will Not Like.  I never liked fish when I was a kid.  For awhile, I assumed my kids wouldn't either.  But I picked up some Salmon at Whole Foods and baked it and they both LOVED it!  I am not crazy about unsweetened kefir.  But it is the only thing my daughter drinks besides water.  Had I imposed my own tastes on my kids, they would have missed out.  Yes, sometimes this means gagging down an ingredient that you don't like to set an example and get them to try it.
  14. Let THEM Pick Out the Foods they Don't Like.  If they don't like a specific ingredient in a dish, let them pick it out, but make them pick it out.  If they are young, they won't be very good at it, so they will miss some, eat it and get used to it.
  15. Try New Varieties of Foods.  I've been wanting my kids to eat raw salad greens for sometime, but whenever I bring up the fact that they should try eating some salad It is not met with excited anticipation.  Last week I told them "I know this great lettuce that kids like.  Do you want to try it?"  My son said, "sure."  So I picked up some mache salad.  And served it with some grapes and they really liked it.  
  16. Mache & Grape Salad for Kids
  17. Promote the Food in a Dish you Know They Will Like.  Sometimes if I serve something new, my son will say "I am not eating that." I tell him "really? Why not?  You like carrots, you like chicken, you like crust and you like peas.  All that stuff is in there.  You will really like this Chicken Pot Pie."
  18. Accept that they Won't Like All Foods.  As much as I would like my son to eat oatmeal with the rest of the family, he simply doesn't like it.  He's tried quick oatmeal, old-fashioned oatmeal, steel cut oatmeal - all several times and he never has grown to like it.  I have accepted that he doesn't like it and he can have a banana or piece of sprouted bread for breakfast.  I don't like EVERY food I taste, so why should he?  He eats almost every food I put in front of him, oatmeal isn't going to be one of them.
  19. Name it or Shape It.   Yesterday my kids weren't too excited about the prospect of eating Beet Risotto, so I renamed it Red Rice and used some cookie cutters to shape it into their favorite shapes, a pumpkin and a heart.  If food manufacturers can do it, so can you! 
  20. Beet Risotto in Shapes for Kids
  21. Model What you Want Them to Eat.  Your kids won't eat healthy if they see you eating junk all day.  So ask yourself before you eat that second cookie.  "Would I let my kids eat this?"  If the answer is no, don't eat it.  This question helped me cut out a lot of the junk I used to eat when my kids weren't looking.
  22. Be Patient and Realistic.  These things take time.  I've been at this since my kids started on solids.  Sometimes we have a bad month where they don't want to eat anything new.  That's ok.  Take a month off and re-eat the healthy foods you know they like.  
What are your favorite tips to get your kids to eat healthy foods?


Nicole said...

all good advice, julie. I use some of the same ideas. I have never assumed that the kids wont like something and when i am cooking I always say "I am making ____ and I think you are really going to like it!" Staying positive always helps!!!

Anonymous said...

What a great post. I have often been guilty of imposing my food tastes on the kids, good point. My problem now, is that we started eating a nourishing, traditional diet during their teenage years. Ever try talking a teenager into eating something they think is gross?

MaltaMom said...

I have no experience with teenagers. That is why I put my kids ages at the top of the post, because what work for a 2 & 4 year old will be much different than what would work for a teenager. Good luck!

The Adventures of Princess Zaria said...

LOl. Your kids are still young enough for the okey-doke. Wait until they get older. Just kidding, it does start with a foundation. My daughter loves veggies because we introduced them to her early on. Most of her friends hate the look, feel and even smell of (cooked) ones. Keep up the good work.

Colleen said...

So many great tips here! I love the idea of saying "we get to try ...." instead of "we have to." Sometimes the way we present something makes all the difference.

(Also -- my husband and I were just laughing. We thought we had the only little kids who adored Lydia's Italy!)

chloe said...

are you sure this will work

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