Let me preface this by saying I'm still figuring out this whole how to get kids to eat vegetables thing. Healthy eating for kids... scratch that, plain ol' feeding kids is pull-your-hair-out hard.
There are few things more frustrating in life than spending precious time preparing a healthy, balanced meal and then seeing said meal a.) thrown across the room b.) completely ignored and c.) ultimately end up in the trash. Or, it ends up in your own mouth, which you didn’t want to happen either.
My girls turn three this summer and I thought this whole healthy eating for kids thing would be getting easier, though it seems to only be getting harder.
The healthy foods they loved to eat before, now they won't touch. And if it were up to them they'd live on cheddar bunnies.
I have my ways though...
Most of these I’ve figured out by accident... more like, “hey, that worked, maybe I'll try that again next time...” and they've become sort of strategies.
I'll tell you a little story to explain what I mean...
One evening while the girls were eating their dinner I was chopping vegetables for a curry - carrots, celery, cauliflower, onion… Just like every time I do this, they watched intently as they ate, curious what each food was.
As I chopped the celery, one of them reached out asking for a piece. I gave it to her and she put it her mouth. She reached out again, “more.”
This time the other one did too.
I went on feeding my girls pieces of celery, something I would never have thought to offer and expect them to eat. Even if I had, I doubt they’d be as interested.
The difference: They discovered it on their own.
I have consistently found the more I involve them in the kitchen - ask them what they want to eat, let them help, eat the same foods with them... - the more willing and excited they are to eat new foods, especially healthy ones.
These seven healthy eating for kids tips are what I've found to be the most helpful and encouraging just from my experience.
I definitely don't have it all figured out and I'm learning as I go here. Here's what I've found that's worked for us...
7 Strategies To Get Your Kid Eating More Veggies
Put on a cooking show.
I’m not talking about Rachel Ray. YOU put on the show, in your own kitchen. Cook in front of your kids. Let them see you wash, chop, sauté, clean… There’s a reason cooking shows are the most popular programs on television right now. People love to watch other people cook, including kids. They will be so entertained and they’ll probably want to get involved too. If they reach or ask, go ahead and give them a piece of whatever it is you’re chopping. Or bring them over and let them see the eggs sizzling in the pan. With each experience they’re learning more about food and getting more interested in trying new things.
Give them the groceries.
And let them help unpack them. This is a great way to talk to your kids about food and get them familiar with more vegetables and fruits. If your kids are young and still learning the names of foods, say what each item is all they pull it from the shopping bag. “Apples!” Let them take them out and ask them to hand them to you and show where they go in the kitchen. It may take a little longer, and they may take a bite out of that apple before you get a chance to put it away…. but it’s another great way to get them interacting and comfortable with new foods.
Play with your food.
Kids learn best through play and food is no exception. So keep it fun. Make a smiley face out of fruit. Call broccoli “trees.” Show them how beets turn their skin pink. Serve a dip they can slosh veggies through. Teach them how to twirl their fork with pasta or veggie noodles. Put a bunch of veggies and fruits out on a plate and eat off of it together. When food becomes an activity they just might forget what they’re eating…
Order off the adult menu.
Who says kids need “kid’s menus?” Those made for little people menus are usually full of a bunch of crap - chicken fingers, french fries… you know the drill. You know why kids end up only eating chicken fingers and french fries? Because we keep ordering them chicken fingers and french fries! I realize it may be hard if that's the norm. Kids are crazy adaptable though and while it may take a few tries, most will eventually eat it. I hate wasting food as much as anyone else. Most restaurants will make a kid-sized (and usually priced) version of an adult meal. Or will modify something from the kids menu with healthier options.
Serve it anyway.
Remember, you're playing the long game here. And consistency is here. Even if your littles aren’t eating broccoli, keep giving it to them. Just seeing that vegetables are a given at meal times sends a message on it’s own. I've had to get over a lot of wasted broccoli at our house.... I've accepted the fact that many bunches will be sacrificed for the greater good. That greater good being that one day, they will eat it and enjoy it.
Don’t push it.
You know how when someone tells you to do something it makes you really not want to do it. If they hadn’t said anything it may not have been such a big deal. Just because they said it though, you’re like, “Eh, I don’t know…” That’s kids and vegetables. It may be the hardest thing you’ll do but try as hard as you can to not say it. I’m talking about the “one more bites” and the “not until you finish all your….” Statements like these do absolutely no good in the eat your veggies game. You’re better off just serving and staying silent... or only opening your mouth to eat one of those veggies yourself. Encourage and then let them do their thing.
Eat with them.
Have you ever been eating and your kid comes up with her sweet little face all, "I want some"? You share and before you know it they've eaten the whole thing. Kids want what you have. Plain and simple. They want to be just like you (until they don't but hopefully that's a ways away). Take advantage of this law of nature while you can. Sit down with your kids and eat with them. When they see you eating and enjoying all the veggies and fruits, they will be more interested and inclined to put them in their mouths too. They may still eat off your plate, but hey, they're eating it!
The Real Secret To Healthy Eating for Kids...
It's healthy eating parents. That's right, it ALL starts with you.
Ya, that means you have to eat the broccoli, too. Though, it's so much more than that.
When kids grow up in a house where they see fruits and veg on reg, they're going to be more comfortable, accepting, curious and interested in eating them.
I'm talking about a whole other level than a few green things on your plate...
When you've made healthy foods and a healthy routine an intricate part of your lifestyle and you do it on the reg because you know it makes you feel great, your kids see that and they want to do that too.
So if you're already there and you've got it, flaunt it. The more you put it in your kids' face, the more they're gonna pick it up.
If you need help getting on the veggie-eating bandwagon as much as your little ones, I'd love to help you get there.
What do you think?
I hope you found these 7 strategies for healthy eating for kids helpful.
Like I said before, these are just what I've found that's worked for us. If you have your own tips, tricks and ideas, I'd love to hear them. Please share them with us in the comments!
And if you try out one of the seven I've shared here, I'd love to hear how it worked for you. Come back and tell us what you think, what worked, what didn't...
I hope we can keep the conversation going and help a mama out.
Love & #realkidseatrealfood,
P.S. My next [RE]NEW group starts in June! I'll have dates and details for you soon. In the meantime, you can learn more about how it works here. If you're interested, have questions or want to make sure you get on the waitlist (you'll be the first to know details when I do), email me.
Megan Adams Brown, CHC, helps people take charge of their health and to start listening to themselves over the latest diet trend to optimize their own wellness, happiness and potential. Her family-friendly meal plans help parents take charge in the kitchen, too. This leads to more vegetables, less junk, and happier, healthier kids and parents. Megan shares kid-approved, allergy-friendly recipes on her blog. To learn more click here.