5 Ways to Encourage your Kids to Eat Healthy Foods
by Karen Campbell McGinn
When was the last time your kiddo sat down at the dinner table and said, “Hey dad and mom, thanks for this delicious plate of healthy food. I’d love to have seconds!” Alas, if you’re like me, it hardly ever happened.
As a conscientious parent, providing delicious and healthy meals for your child is your primary goal. But with constantly changing dietary needs and hectic schedules, that can be a daunting task. Fear not! Here are five simple ways to get your kids excited about eating healthy food. I can’t promise these tips will convert your child into a vegetable and fruit junkie, but they should make good food choices appear more attractive to everyone.
Make healthy snacks available
- Chances are if you offer healthy treats to your kids early on, they are most likely to eat them. And as your child grows older, placing those healthy snacks in cabinets assessable to them without your help will reinforce their desire to eat healthy.
- When traveling in a car, make sure you take along nutritious snacks whether you’re driving in a carpool or going to soccer practice. Smart choices include organic sliced apples and carrot sticks, whole grain crackers, homemade popcorn and raisins.
- The important thing to remember is to provide your kids with nutritious snacks that don’t undermine your primary goal of keeping them fit and healthy. Make it a habit to avoid foods that are processed, fried, or contain too much salt or sugar. Hopefully, if your child eats healthy snacks from the start, they’ll likely continue to make good food choices throughout their life. Click here for some healthy snack ideas.
Involve them in the process
- Recent studies have shown that food preferences and eating patterns develop very early in life. Helping your kids establish a healthy relationship with food will not only benefit them during their adolescence but throughout their entire life.
- Involving kiddos in meal planning, grocery shopping and preparing food will help them become invested in the process and increase their desire to eat healthy food. Even toddlers too young to make grocery lists can help make important food choices. Ask them “Would you like apples or nectarines this week? Which cheese would you like? Swiss or cheddar?”
Go to the source
- There are numerous exciting and informative ways to teach our kids about food. Visiting a dairy farm can show children where their milk comes from and why we should care about what ingredients goes into it. Planting a garden with easy to grow vegetables such as melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers may tempt a child to try the fruits of her labor.
- Plan a weekly visit to a local farmer’s market or participate in a CSA and meet the people who grow your food. Picking berries from a vine can help nurture a lifelong love of good eating and environmental stewardship.
Give them freedom of choice
- Kids are just like adults: they want to have their food their way. But no parent wants to be a short order cook, making three different meals for three different family members.
- For lunch or dinner, consider ‘the fixings bar’ approach. During meal time, offer a base protein or vegetarian dish, like red beans & rice, quinoa and barley or whole wheat tortillas and ground meat. Then let everyone dress it up with peppers, salsa, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, jicama and other toppings.
Another option is a pasta bar with a variety of healthy sauces and proteins from which to choose. This approach works especially well when you’re serving young guests whose food preferences are unknown to you.
Drink to that
As every parent knows, your kid’s diet should include fresh fruits and veggies for complete nutrition. But sometimes it’s difficult to get your kiddos to eat them in their solid form. If that is the case, you might want to consider smoothies.
- A smoothie is a finely blended juice made of raw fruits, vegetables and/or dairy products like milk or yogurt. It can also be made with rice or almond milk. What makes a smoothie appealing to most children is its creamy texture and the fact they can get to choose the ingredients themselves. Smoothies are healthy and easy to make and can be served any time of the day, as a meal or snack.
Use meal and snack times as teachable moments to help even the youngest child to make wise food choices. You’ll find some great tips and strategies for helping babies and toddlers develop healthy eating habits in this downloadable booklet, Healthy from the Start.
Karen Campbell McGinn Teacher. Tutor. Author.
Educator, turned writer. As a teacher in Philadelphia and Bucks County for over 30 years, Karen has tons of experience and knowledge to pass on to families. Given a simple topic, Karen uses her first hand experience, wit and humor to make the complex... well, simple. Check out her articles on "Judgement Call, Decoding the Teenage Brain" and "Teach Your Children Well: Disability Awareness" plus tons more. Keyword Search "Karen Campbell McGinn" or search Features/Education.