“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 be a challenge!
I’ve talked with numerous moms who want to feed their families healthy foods. 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!)
These moms want to get their kids eating healthy foods.
Eating more veggies.
Eating less sugary, processed foods.
Eating more whole grains and legumes.
Drinking less pop and more water.
And as several moms said, they just want to be able to make a meal and have it eaten without a fuss. Without worrying about it being ‘kid approved’.
Is that so much to ask?
As it turns out, it often is a lot to ask. Mealtime drama is very real around tables across the country… actually the continent, and likely many places around the globe.
So what’s a mom to do?
- Hide 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?
I fear that all too often, that’s what we end up doing when our goal is to get kids to eat healthy foods. 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’ve realized that if I want my kids to do MORE that just eat healthy foods because it’s required of them or hidden from them- if I want them to grow to enjoy healthy foods and even, *imagine this* choose to eat them of their own accord, I needed a new tactic. Maybe several new tactics. Likely a complete 360.
So I turned the tables and looked to myself instead of at my kids. What can I do to encourage a love of healthy eating? What things are completely in my control?
If you look at this question and think that ‘the answers 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 your mindset.
More exactly, stop looking for ways to “make” your children eat healthy foods. Instead, look for ways to “encourage” your children to eat healthy foods by creating a positive environment around healthy foods in your home.
Too abstract? As in, what does that even look like?
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 it can be a very delicious treat.
Who make sure that there are opportunities in their home for kids to explore eating 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 kindergartener’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 dessert 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 rainbow 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 of eating delicious, nourishing 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!
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!