How to Get Your Child to Eat Healthy in 10 Easy Steps
People are always asking me how I get my daughter to eat so well, so I’d like to pass my secrets on to you! The girl literally eats all foods. Every fruit, every vegetable, everything mixed together and anyway I prepare it. So, how did we accomplish such a feat? I will start by telling you I did not get here on my own. I am always seeking the advice of people who are where I want to be and I have received so many invaluable tips as a result.
My daughter was about 18 months old and I felt like I was losing my ability to get her to eat at mealtime and experience new foods. I would say things like, “She doesn’t like anything!” and “She just never wants to eat!” I talked to my friend, Melissa, who at the time was the mom of three boys, ages 1- 5, who were amazing eaters. In talking to her and complaining about my predicament, she gave me so many great tips, and yet I remember fighting her on everything she said. I had an answer for everything. "But you don't understand. Ada is like this… Ada wants that… That wouldn't work because…". When I talk to my friends now about this topic, I hear a lot of the same things, and it's interesting for me to remember that I also once thought that getting her to change and eat well would be impossible. In the end, I decided to stop making excuses and put my friends advice into action regardless of whether or not I thought it would work. We got home from visiting Melissa and I implemented all that she had taught me. Wouldn't you know that within a week or two Adalyn had turned over a completely new leaf. She ate everything I gave her at meals, and she was eating so many different foods and trying lots of new things. It was amazing! I am forever thankful to Melissa for the great advice, because it truly turned around all of my daughters eating habits.
If you feel your child doesn't like anything, is picky, or won't eat at meals, then these tips are for you. Please keep in mind that there are varying degrees to which you might choose to implement these tips and you should always talk to your dr. before changing your eating regimen. The majority of the advice below would be applicable to children ages 2-6, although this will vary.
My TOP 10 TIPS for helping your children become HEALTHY EATERS:
1. NO MORE MILK
Now, there's much debate on the health benefits of cow’s milk and whether or not it is nutritional or harmful, which I am not going to get into here, but no matter what kind of milk you use, children seem to love it and it is very filling (especially cow’s milk). If your child spends the day filling up on milk they will be much less likely to be hungry at meal time or hungry for healthy snacks. I am not saying to eliminate it forever, however excluding or limiting it for a period of time will help with the process of getting your child to create healthy positive eating habits. If a child is hungry, and not filling their hunger with milk, they will fulfill their needs with the foods that you provide for them.
2. TRYING EVERYTHING IS A MUST
Do not make trying something new optional. I would never make my child eat something as they gag and cry because it tastes so terrible to them, however I do require that a new food be tried. Not just a lick, or nibble, but a normal sized bite must be taken of a new food. My daughter went through a period of a month or two where she would cry and get upset everytime I made something new. She would say it’s disgusting without even trying it, but I consistently made her try it. 98% of the time she would stop crying and say, “I love this mommy. Thank you for making it. I am not going to be rude to you anymore!” She cracks me up and is quite the pip, but the point here is that trying new things is very important and not optional, which has proven to be very successful.
3. WATCH YOUR WORDS
Never say "he/she doesn't like that” in front of them. Children often become what you say and while we all want to make realistic statements, children change ever so quickly, so a true statement today may not be a true statement tomorrow. They are also so impressionable, so we don’t want to impress something on them that isn’t positive or necessarily true long term. By repeating to friends or family in front of the child that they don’t like something you may engrain it into them and cause them to not want to try it again or have a preconceived notion about it in the future. Sometimes it’s all in the wording. Try to put a positive spin on whatever is being discussed about food. If your child says, “I don’t like this.” Turn the negative statement around by saying something like, “I’m so sorry you don’t like it. I hope that you can try it again and that you will like it.” We have found that a simple statement like this can turn the child’s attitude around. You have acknowledged their feelings and told them your hope for them. You might also tell them how much you love the food and how delicious it is. Teaching manners is a discussion for a whole new post, but making sure your children are exercising good table manners and not speaking rudely about the food is also important, especially in families where there are several siblings and one attitude may influence the others. Over time, teaching gratitude and even teaching your children information about where their food comes from and how their bodies need it leads to great lessons and dinner table discussions.
4. TRY, TRY AGAIN
Just because the child dislikes something once doesn't mean you shouldn't give it to them again. Tell your children that sometimes they have to try something 30 times before they will like it! If the child says, “I don’t like carrots!!!” you might respond, “It’s always good to try things again because you might like it this time!” My friend Melissa tells her boys that it can take 30 tries to like something as well, and often overhears her children encouraging each other with it! They just need to keep trying it and they will eventually like it! Children are constantly growing and changing. They may have not liked avocado last week because they were not ready for such a texture, but this week they do! Or maybe they were full and not hungry enough to want to truly explore something new the last time you tried, but are ready today. Even if you have offered them the item many times in the past and they never liked it, never assume they won’t like it today! Ada did not like avocado for about a year, but every time we ate something with it I would give her some because she always eats what we eat. One day she announced that she loved it! Wa-la! Just like magic!
5. DON’T USE PLATES WITH DIVIDERS
Ok, so not going to lie here, we do own some plates with dividers, but only because they don’t sell very many regular plates with cute kids pictures on them. However, we don’t actually use the dividers! Here’s why. How many times have you heard someone say that he/she as a child or their children are horrified if anything on the plate touched anything else on the plate? I can raise my hand to that because I was like that as a kid as well. Did you ever consider that a possible contributing reason for this is that as toddlers our children are receiving their food perfectly placed into separate compartments? My children are unaware that the idea of keeping food separate even exists, and we have always fed them everything blended together. Take Thanksgiving dinner for example. Ada will eat a forkful containing everything on her plate at once; potato, chicken, cranberry, and carrot all in the same bite. It wouldn’t occur to her that it all doesn’t go together because we have always fed her foods mixed (as we would eat them). The idea that using plate dividers with little kids could affect their eating habits as they grow is only a theory, but something to consider!
6. FEED YOUR CHILDREN WHAT YOU EAT
Whatever my husband and I eat, and however we eat it, is how my daughter eats as well. Everything from salad with cranberries, walnuts, feta, and a homemade balsamic dressing to lentil dahl stew, veggie soup, quinoa with chicken and broccoli, or pecan crusted salmon with a dijon glaze, and the list goes on. You will never see a chicken nugget in this house! If I wouldn’t eat it, I won’t give it to my kids! The idea of “kids food” in our society is such a travesty. I mean, I get it, hotdogs, pizza, macaroni and cheese, French fries, who doesn’t love that!? But it’s JUNK food, not kid’s food, and I am not sure how we ever came to believe that. That being said, it is also important that we take a look at what we eat as well. Do as I say not as I do will never work long term with kids. They need to see you making good choices and eating healthy foods as well. At this age you are their world and they want to be like you.
7. DON’T ORDER FROM THE CHILDREN’S MENU
I just mentioned that junk food is not kid’s food, and yet those are the foods we see on all children’s menus. Did you know that in other countries around the globe kid’s menus don’t even exist? Children may get anything that adults choose, but in a smaller portion. Children can learn at a young age that a variety of foods are delicious, not that they are kids and should be subject to eating “kid’s food”. We personally never use the kids menu for this reason, but we also save money by simply sharing what we order with our children. Let’s face it, most American portions are definitely large enough to share, so I see no need to order a separate meal for my child. Of course, as they get older this will change and I would think that I might read through the menu and suggest 3 or 4 reasonably healthy options that they could choose from.
8. ELIMINATE SNACKS
Yes. I said it and I know it is scary. This was one of the tips that I initially pushed back on because I was scared to not have snacks to help entertain my children, especially when I was out and they were in the shopping cart or the car. Here’s the thing. You don’t have to eliminate snacks forever or even completely, but this is essential to help your children be hunger-driven at meal time so that they will want to eat. What I came to understand was that I had not realized how much I was feeding my daughter in between meals and how significantly it was affecting her eating habits. It was not necessary to do this forever, but for a period of time while helping her to retrain her eating habits. Now, at the age of 3.5 she snacks A LOT, but they are all healthy snacks and she also eats very well at mealtime! Eliminating and or limiting the snacking was a very important part of helping our daughter to become a great eater.
9. CONSIDER YOUR PLATING PORTIONS
This was another tip I received that was so key. When you give your children their meals give them specific portions to encourage them to eat what they aren’t as excited about. For example, let’s say your child loves potatoes and chicken, but is not as excited about broccoli. Give them a small portion of both the chicken and potato and but the full amount of broccoli that you would like them to consume. When they finish the chicken and potato and ask for more you tell them that they can have more once they finish the broccoli. When the going was a little tougher, or if I had made a meal that was fully mixed like a curry and rice dish, I would let my daughter know that if she didn’t finish she would not be able to have a nighttime snack. Some would say dessert, but we prefer to leave it a little more open-ended so it could be a variety of things. This would always give her enough motivation to eat her dinner.This tip is in conjunction with all of the other tips, so you should have a hungry, food-motivated child who will be less picky about what is on his/her plate and will want to eat, plus will be motivated by the concept of receiving more of what they really love.
10. DEVEOPING TASTEBUDS
If you have ever eliminated sugar for a period of time from your own diet you will have experienced how significantly it changes your sense of taste. Sweet tastes SO much sweeter when you add it back in! When your children are young, ideally from day one, you can significantly impact how their tastes develop. Dr. Sears recommends avoiding sugar until the age of 3 because that is when they are most seriously developing their eating habits and tastes for things. (He also states that sugar also has effects on behavior and learning!) You might love dessert, candy, chocolate etc. but your child doesn’t know what they are missing! A party of two or three year olds will be thrilled with fruit, veggies, and maybe even a sugar free banana bread, or something simple sweetened with maple syrup! They don’t need rice crispy treats, jelly beans, candy bars, and donuts! It will never occur to them that they are “missing out”! Instead of a basket of Easter candy give them things like stickers and other fun items with maybe one small pie of chocolate. You might know the difference but they do not! You are responsible for molding their expectations and habits. What you do for them at this young age is their standard! Help them develop great pallets by avoiding sugar and by eating clean foods.
Whether you decide to implement only a few or all of these steps to help guide your children to develop healthy eating habits, I hope that you and your family are blessed! The process should be fun and enlightening and the child should be happy as you guide them through it!
Wishing you wellness, purpose, and abundance,