“I don’t want to eat that!” My son sinks to the floor, the life-force sucked out of him by the thought of eating quinoa and broccoli.
“But I’m so hungry,” he whines. I roll my eyes and admit I’ll make macaroni and cheese to halt the meltdown and avoid 30 minutes of arguing and complaining.
It’s great to start healthy habits, but nothing can derail your efforts faster than a kid tantrum. We learn to keep the peace around meal times, sticking with whatever the kids will eat.
But if you resolved to eat healthy this year, you can get your kids on board without the fuss with a little planning and the right mindset. Follow any or all of these tips to see your family eating healthier in no time!
1. Let them make the choice.
Kids LOVE control. They are more likely to consume healthy foods that they choose. When presenting healthy snacks, let them pick from two or three. When adding a vegetable side to a meal, involve them in the decision. Get creative; when you find yourself making a choice, include your child. You may be surprised by their choices.
2. Integrate what they learn at school.
School-aged kids learn about nutrition and eating healthy at school, and they love applying what they learn. Ask them what they know about the healthy food you are offering and be prepared to share some interesting facts. Your conversations will also give them confidence to discuss healthy foods when they are outside the home.
3. Keep track of the foods they like and don’t like.
When introducing healthy foods, have your kids keep track of which foods they love – and which ones they don’t. They will be more willing to eat them in the future if they are familiar. You will also have a cheat sheet of which healthy foods to keep in your kitchen.
4. Keep healthy sweets on hand.
It’s easier not to eat candy if we don’t buy it in the first place. Instead of keeping junky sweets, keep healthy treats on hand. Snacks like raisins, fruit, or dark chocolate will satisfy the sweet tooth without adding a bunch of processed sugar.
5. Do not be a short-order cook.
When your kids refuse to eat what you prepare, it’s okay! Don’t make them a separate meal. When introducing something new, serve them a little bit and insist they try it. If they don’t like it, fine. They can sit with the family while you eat. Nine times out of 10, kids will eat more because it’s in front of them. If they are still hungry after dinner, use the next rule:
6. Implement the “Fruits or veggies anytime” rule.
It’s infuriating when 10 minutes after dinner you hear “I’m hungry.” Use this simple rule: if it is not snack or meal time, fruits or veggies are always available. If they’re hungry, they’ll eat healthy. The rule will get them used to snacking on fruits or veggies when they feel hunger, and you have the peace of mind knowing if they don’t eat the meal you have prepared, they will still get healthy food to eat.
7. Pick a day of the week to try new recipes.
As much as kids love choices, they hate surprises when it comes to healthy food. If they are expecting chicken nuggets and get chicken stir-fry, they will push-back. But if Wednesday is always new recipe day, it’s not a surprise when there are no dinosaur-shaped chicken pieces. This doesn’t guarantee they will like what you serve, but it will avoid power struggles from the change in routine.
8. Make changes gradual and incremental.
If you suddenly stop making their favorites, you might have a riot on your hands. Instead of going all-out healthy for your kids, start adding healthy foods where you can. Don’t add broccoli to the mac and cheese (again, riot), but try something like adding sliced carrots or celery to your Texas chili. I’m not advocating for “hiding” veggies; after they enjoy the meal, make sure you tell them about the extra vegetables, so they know they tried it and liked it!
9. Lead by example.
Your kids look up to you, and when they see you thriving, it makes them happy and want to follow in your footsteps. If you are not ready to swap out white rice for cauliflower rice for the whole family, do it for yourself first. Make it a point to talk about how you have a healthier option, and it tastes great! Let them try it. Then next time you make the dish, make the swap for them.
10. Keep calm and stay strong.
Kids will complain when things change. If they are used to eating sugar-laden granola bars when they get home from school, they are not going to like it when you start offering them ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisins). But remain calm and matter-of-fact. Pick a phrase to repeat, such as “I don’t have that, but you can choose from a piece of fruit or some ants on a log” If you plan your response, you will handle complaining like a pro and avoid feeling guilty.
While it’s easier to make healthy food for ourselves and feed our kids unhealthy foods, we owe it to our children to teach them healthy habits. When we make small changes to feed our families healthy food, we set them up for a life of healthy food choices and are more likely to eat healthy ourselves. It takes a little work to get your kids on board, but in the end, the rewards are worth it!