Raising a kid who likes healthy food is a major challenge these days. Unhealthy food is marketed to children in a way that is irresistable to them. Why would your kid want the plainly packaged Greek yogurt when she could have the neon colored yogurt with Dora’s face plastered all over the container? Additionally, it takes work and planning to feed your child whole, unprocessed food. It’s so easy to zip through a drive-through for some fast food when you’re running late or simply too tired to go home and prepare something. Eating high quality food takes discipline and planning, but in my experience it is 100% worth the effort. Here are some things I’ve done with my family that have worked well:
1. Lead by example. You can’t eat a cheeseburger and fries and feed your kid broccoli. Your child will want bad food because it tastes good and it’s chemically enhanced to make us want more. You have to first commit to eating healthy yourself before you can raise a healthy eater.
2. Let them help in the kitchen. I find that my 3 year old has much more interest in eating something she helped cook. We make smoothies together and she picks out the ingredients. I let her pick two fruits and I let her pour the almond milk. I also put in a scoop of milled flax seed for the Omega 3’s. She loves making smoothies and would rather eat this than any other breakfast. We also make salads and I ask her what she would like in her salad. She picks tomatoes and carrots usually, and skips onion and raw zucchini. When she gets to participate and have some decision making power, I find that she is a lot less likely to put up a fight about dinner.
3. Feed healthy food first. My son is 18 months and eats in a high chair. When it’s dinner time, I put him in his chair and put an “appetizer” on his plate. I will put cherry tomatoes sliced in half or apple slices or some sort of vegetable, like cooked green beans, that he can feed himself. There is nothing else on his tray but the healthy food, and when he’s hungry, he eats it up. If I put macaroni and cheese next to the cherry tomatoes, he will eat the macaroni and leave the tomatoes. Limiting his options ensures that he eats at least a few bites of the healthiest foods.
4. Dipping sauces cannot be underestimated. My kids love to dip. Three year old E will eat baby carrots all day long if she can dip them in dressing. I use balsamic vinaigrette instead of something fattening like ranch dressing. Celery all of a sudden becomes a treat with a little bit of peanut butter and some raisins.
5. Don’t buy bad food. If you ask your child what he wants for a snack and his options are fruit roll-ups or baby carrots, guess which one he’s going to pick. Get rid of the unhealthy options. If your pantry is full of whole food, your kid can pick anything and it will be a healthy snack!
6. Plan ahead. We are all busy and if you want healthy eating to happen, you have to plan for it. It’s simple but it’s not easy!
7. Talk to your kids about your food choices. At the grocery store, E will point at the cookies and say, “We don’t eat those because we want to be healthy.” She’s just parroting what I told her last time she asked why she couldn’t have Oreo’s, but it goes to show that kids really do absorb what we tell them. I explain that fruits and veggies will make us strong and healthy, and cookies and candy will make us fat and sick. Maybe it’s not PC to say “fat,” but it’s true.
8. Use fun kids’ plates with different compartments or spaces. The different spaces on the plate remind me to serve a variety of food. I try to fill the spaces with different colors and varieties of foods, like red strawberries, green cucumber, and brown bread with (natural) peanut butter and (organic) jam. The multiple spaces remind me that variety is key when getting lots of nutrients.
Here are some healthy snacks my kids like:
1. Grapes, mandarin oranges and thinly sliced apples
2. Homemade trail mix- I buy Cheerio’s and add raisins or craisins, nuts, banana chips and sometimes chocolate chips. My kids love it. It’s sweet but not super sugary.
3. Crackers- I buy organic versions of Cheez-it’s or Wheat Thins. My kids also love graham crackers.
4. Sliced red pepper and baby carrots- I love red peppers and I’ve fed them to my kids since they were very small. Maybe that’s why they like them now. Carrots are sort of sweet, for a vegetable, and my kids like the crunch.
5. String cheese- I am trying to transition to a mostly vegan diet, but my kids adore string cheese so I still feed them some occasionally.
6. Vegetarian baked beans- My kids both love these and even though they’re out of a can, they’re a low fat source of non-animal protein.
We by no means eat a perfect diet. We are a normal family, and every bite of food that goes into our mouths isn’t organic or unprocessed. My husband is definitely not as committed to healthy eating as I am, so he brings home things I would never buy and the kids eat some of that. But overall, we eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and we skip fried food, fast food and sugary desserts. No matter where you’re at on your journey to health, what’s important is that you’re making positive changes for yourself and your kids.