Get your kids to eat healthy food (happily)
You know that crazy dream where you are running and running and just cannot get any further ahead? It feels like you’re using every ounce of energy you have, getting no where?
It’s an awful feeling. Doing everything you can, and still, the thing you’re running from is gaining on you.
Yep. I really hate those dreams…
Kind of reminds me of attempting to get ‘not on board kiddos’ to try new food… You try every single trick/bribe/lecture/ you know & pull out the stops with your fancy food art, and yet…
“I don’t like this!”
“This is gross.”
“What’s that green stuff?”
You’d think at times that offering kids a healthy meal is on the same ‘bad, bad, very bad’ list as cleaning toilets.
From sudden lack of hunger (followed in 10 minutes by a starving 3 year old) to refusal to even eat one. little. bite., to complete meltdowns, it can really feel like you’re running your hardest, and getting NO WHERE.
I’ve talked with numerous moms who want to feed their families healthy foods. Naturally, they know why healthy foods are important.
- They want their kids to be healthy. Simple enough.
- They don’t want sugary food making it hard for their child to concentrate while sitting in the classroom.
- They want their kids to learn healthy eating habits now so that when they are facing teen years of body image and peer pressure challenges, food struggles don’t have to be added to the list.
- And they know that a home where kids have filled up on processed, sugary foods is a lot more loud and crazy than one where the kids have eaten a naturally filling, sustaining meal. (=more peace for Mom. Yes, please!)
For all these reasons and more, these moms want to get their kids eating more healthy foods, without worrying about it being kid approved.
Is that so much to ask?
As it turns out, yes. Yes it is. As a lady named Marie put it, quite simply, “I hate dinner time. It’s chaos.”
So what’s a mom to do?
- Hide all the veggies?
- Create elaborate, time consuming art out of every bit of food her child is presented so that it’s fun enough to eat?
- Bribe, lecture, negotiate, and nag until at least 3 of the broccoli florets have successfully reached her child’s stomach?
All too often, that’s exactly what we end up doing.
Yep, I’ve been there. This is me raising my hand.
I’ve bribed, I’ve lectured, I’ve negotiated, I’ve nagged, I’ve created food art, and yes, I’ve tucked veggies into unsuspecting foods to get more nutrition into my kids’ little stomachs. (Why hello, minced mushrooms in ground beef- no one will ever know you are hiding in there..)
And in doing this, I realized that if I wanted my kids to do MORE that just eat healthy foods because it’s required of them or hidden from them– if I wanted to break free of the bad dream and teach them to grow to enjoy healthy foods and even, *turning nightmare around* choose to eat it themselves, I needed a new tactic. Maybe several new tactics.
A new approach
So… simply waking up, as with bad dreams, is out of the question. Your kiddos and their determined ways are here to stay.
But that doesn’t mean you have to keep running… and running… and running.
There’s a better, easier way, and let me tell you that once you start using it, you ARE going to see progress.
The scoop to healthy (HAPPY) eaters
In steering myself and kiddos away from mealtime chaos, I asked myself this.
What part of this scenario do I have ABSOLUTE control over?
Because I knew that, as with anything, best, quickest results come when we start with things we have absolute control over rather than trying to change someone else.
Do I have absolute control over what my kids will eat? No.
Do I have absolute control over how much my kids will like certain foods? No.
Can I force them to eat 4 bites of broccoli without a fuss? No.
So I turned the tables and looked to myself instead of at my kids. What can I do to encourage happy eating? What things are completely in my control?
If you look at this question and think that ‘the answer could fit in large print on a post-it-note’, I have some good news for you.
As parents, we can do A LOT. And it goes far far beyond hiding the veggies.
It starts with mindset.
More exactly, stop looking for ways to “make” (or trick) your child to eat healthy foods. Instead, get creative! Make it look great! Show them the benefits of trying new, healthy meals.
In fact, I challenge you to make trying healthy foods so awesome that your kiddo feels like he’s missing out NOT to give it a chance. #totallydoable #witheverychild
How does it look in action?
It looks any number of different ways.
It looks like parents who speak well of eating healthy foods.
Who eat those veggies themselves.
Who choose to offer fruit over cake for dessert sometimes simply because fruit can be a very delicious treat.
Who make sure that there are opportunities in their home for kids to explore eating new & healthy foods.
Who make it obvious that healthy eating is an enjoyable lifestyle, not a life-sentence.
It looks like a kitchen that is open to a child’s curiosity and eagerness to help.
Chubby toddler hands helping put spinach into a smoothie.
Excited preschooler energy being run off in collecting ingredients.
Practicing fractions together with a grade school daughter as you add ingredients using measuring cups.
There are a lot of ways to include young kids in the kitchen.
It looks like a kindergartner’s excitement in realizing that the bean seed you planted together grew into that tiny little plant, and that in the coming month, you will harvest green beans off that plant!
Or the happy laughter of a toddler who has found a strawberry at the market garden patch and is delighted with how sweet it tastes as the juice drips off his chin.
It looks cozy when a mother and her son sit together and flip through a cookbook to choose a meal to try, or a favourite cookie recipe to make. Together.
It might look like elaborate food art. Done for a special occasion or ‘just because’ with no expectation of it happening with every meal.
It also looks like pride in an accomplishment when your child hears you tell his family how he helped to make supper by peeling the carrots all by himself, or how he washed and sliced the fruit and veggies for your salad.
It can even look like me biting my tongue and not saying anything as my son wants to try a food that I know he doesn’t like and just letting him try. Maybe this time he’ll like it… then again, maybe he won’t. But my part is to be quiet and let him try.
And maybe most of all, it looks like acceptance of what is, and the realization that healthy eating is a journey, not a destination.
It doesn’t have to revolve around night after night of negotiating, bribing, and veggie hiding.
If you look up from the scoop of mixed veggies, past the stubborn look on your child’s face, and see that healthy eating is something you can teach over weeks, months, and years, it becomes easier to let the pile of veggies sit for one night if they must.
Let go of the need to see healthy food getting eaten regardless of the habits being taught, and look instead for ways to help your child step away from ‘healthy eating is gross’, to instead discover the joy and community in enjoying delicious foods.
So that when your home DOES have less packaged meals, less sugary treats, more fruits and veggies, and all the things that moms have told me they want for their families, your whole family will enjoy it.
Create that positive environment. Start with one small change today, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Every journey starts with a single step. I’m cheering you on from my place in my own journey!
P.S…..Leave a comment letting me know one thing you will change in your home today. Writing it down makes you much more likely to follow through than just thinking it, so scroll down and share it here!
If you’re interested in this and more strategies along these lines, I’d love to have you check out my FREE online course – Ditch Picky Eating Foundations, for Moms of picky eaters.
More in the picky eater series:
Part 1: (Current post)
Part 3: The secret to less picky eating