Every parent knows the struggle of getting their child to eat a more healthy balanced diet. Eating healthy is essential, but how do you get them to do it? The earlier you start, the better chance they have of developing it into life-long habits.
We consulted nutritionists and health experts to share some tips to develop healthier eating habits in little children.
Teach By Example
“I’ve found that the best way to get my kids to eat healthier is to let them observe my eating habits. My kids see me eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and it makes them want to try them, too. They also see me pass up ice cream and treats when at gatherings and they ask me why they do this. I tell them I don’t feel well when I eat bad food, and they like little mimics – repeat what I do (sometimes!).”
Treat After A Healthy Meal
“I don’t ask them to eat anything that I wouldn’t eat, and I also don’t force them to eat like me. However, the rule is that they have to eat a balanced meal before they get a treat – like ice cream. So, if they eat a portion of chicken and vegetables, then they can have a scoop of ice cream. I don’t want them to be scared of eating treats, but I want to teach them how to do so reasonably as part of a healthy approach to lifelong eating habits.”
“If you have young kids, then try this approach. It’s usually much easier to develop these habits while they are young as younger kids are more influential (teenagers might be more inclined to do what their friends do, not their parents!).”
Heather Hanks, (MS Complementary and Alternative Medicine) Nutritionist at Life Insurance Star, specializing in holistic nutrition, gut health, and chronic disease management.
Make It Fun For Them
“One of the best ways to get children to eat healthier is to make things more fun for them! Vegetables and fruits are rarely sold in a way that appeals to younger demographics. Getting creative about bringing your children’s interests into the food they’re eating is a great way to get them engaged.
“For example, if your child loves outer space, using cookie cutters to make star and planet vegetable patties could get them to consider foods they wouldn’t before. Or if your child is always talking about dinosaurs, tell them a story about how the meal they’re eating tonight is vegetarian just like their favorite herbivores would eat. Let your child’s imagination guide you!”
Angelo Larocca, Health Specialist Orblue
Develop Habits Early On
“Introducing kids to healthy foods early on (along with limiting their exposure to unhealthy foods) is an effective way to naturally train them to enjoy fruits, vegetables, and other foods with higher nutritional value. Making healthy snacks a regular part of your family’s diet is a great way to help kids learn to enjoy them – sweet and refreshing fruits and vegetables like strawberries, watermelon and cucumbers are an especially easy sell in our family!”
Sneak The Healthy Ingredients In
“And, for kids who don’t like the texture or taste of certain healthier plant-based foods, there are plenty of ways to hide veggies and other nutrient-rich food in meals and snacks where kids will never know what they are eating! Our parent-to-parent website has been collecting recommendations from parents about the recipes with hidden veggies their families love best, with some stand-out favorites including chickpea cookie pie and black bean brownies!”
Alexandra Fung is the Co-Founder and CEO of Upparent
Include The Kids In The Meal Prep Process
“A tried and true way to get your kids to eat more vegetables is by sneaking them into things like sauces, smoothies, muffins, or even cookies. However, a more direct approach would be to include kids in the kitchen with you and make the experience fun. Get them involved in the process from the very start. Have your kids help choose their own vegetables at the grocery store. Show them a handful of new recipe ideas and allow them to pick one to try. And of course, make it with them!
“Have fun making the recipe they choose and get creative with it: like using shape cutters for vegetables. Much of the time, kids (especially younger kids), just want a say in the matter. Letting them take part in the process from start to finish will give them a sense of pride and thus they’ll be more likely to sample what they made themselves.”
Shelby Stover, a Strength & Nutrition Coach and the person behind the blog Fit As A Mama Bear
Focus On Variety
“The most effective thing I’ve found to get my kids to eat healthier is to focus on variety, not quantity. Instead of filling up their dinner plates with meat and two sides, I often give them 7-10 items in small quantities: a handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced fruits, pickles, a couple of celery sticks, a few crackers, nuts, a few slices of pepperoni, and so on. If there’s something they don’t like, they still have plenty to choose from.
“And if there’s something healthy on their plate that they don’t really like but can at least tolerate, they don’t have much of it to eat. I also negotiate eating healthy foods if they want more of something that isn’t as healthy.
“Variety eating lets them experience lots of types of foods so they can figure out what they really like, kind of like, and don’t like. You never know until you try (and we try things several times before deciding we don’t like them).”
Alli Hill, Founder and Director, Freelance Speak
Make Healthy Snacks Easily Available
“When kids are hungry, they are more often than not going to grab the quickest and easiest thing from the fridge or cupboard. Because highly processed low-nutrient foods often come pre-packaged and ready to eat, they are often the go-to choice for most kids. I suggest removing accessibility barriers for healthy foods by cutting and peeling fruits and vegetables ahead of time to create easy-to-grab snack bags. Even though kids won’t always make the best choice, setting them up for success will go a long way to overall healthier eating.”
Jake Harcoff, Head Coach and Owner of AIM Athletic