Is it even possible to get my kids to eat healthy without losing what’s left of my mind after halfway raising all these kids?
Getting a strong willed 3-year-old to do something they don’t wanna do without fighting, serious bribing, and major drama… I hear ya, there are few harder things in life.
I have heard from many moms who have only terrible memories of trying to push healthy foods into the bellies of their little people. So tiring it can be that more often than not, we give in, give up, and bust out something, ANYTHING the little rascals will eat without complaining and tantruming over.
While there are SOOO many things I struggle with as a mom, this one isn’t on that long list. Ask me about frustration, discipline or how to get my boys to stop wrestling on restaurant floors, and it’s a different story…
Our eating habits as a fam can be traced back, like most things, to my family of origin. When I was a kid, my mom did some simple things that helped create a certain mindset about food, healthy food in particular. She’d serve us all the same meal, and our plates were always super colorful. I loved all sorts of veggies and “abnormal kid foods,” and I didn’t know anything different. Burned in my memory is the feeling I had when tasting my first bite of Velveeta Shells & Cheese at a friend’s house. I ran home and begged my mom to buy some, and we had things like that occasionally. Moderation, 80/20, healthy and mindful but not perfection was the mantra.
In the spirit of learning from one another, please excuse me while I google “how to wean my way-too-old boy no. 3 off the pacifier,” and I’ll leave ya here with this…
5 Tips to Help Kids & Healthy Food Get Along
1. One meal for everyone, always. This kitchen ain’t no restaurant, so it doesn’t come with a menu. You get what you get and you be (or at least act) grateful for it. There’s no second meal that will be made if you don’t like the first one. It may sound mean at first, but it’s a big help in fighting the entitlement monster and supporting your kid’s health. If a kid knows that dinner no. 2 (PBJ) is an option if they don’t like dinner no. 1, then they are highly unlikely to give dinner no. 1 any time of day. They have probably already decided they don’t like dinner no. 1 before they even take a bite! Not to mention, instead of enjoying a meal yourself, you will be up gathering foods for dinner no. 2. Do yourself a favor and practice monogamy with your dinner meals.
2. Early exposure is a positive, when talkin’ food. When my first boy was just shy of a year old, a good friend from out of town came to visit. She would not stop taking photos of him and his strange kitchen habits — ya know, like eating capers straight from the jar, drinking green juice, chomping on fresh rosemary, testing spices — ginger, paprika, chili pepper, you name it! Exposing kids to various tastes from an early age helps expand their palate and prepares them to try different foods later without inducing shock.
3. Dip it, cover it, jazz it up! Enter the conversation in my head, The kids are definitely gonna think this rainbow chard is weird and bitter, so what fun sauce could they dip it in — ranch, ketchup, honey mustard? Should I cover this broccoli with cheese or soy sauce? Or, how about those parsnips —definitely roasted them and sprinkling on some salt, garlic and parmesan — fries, anyone? These are some tricks I consider when I look at a veggie that I’m pretty sure my kids will be scared of or will act like they are choking on so they can spit it out. To jazz it up, try giving your kids lunch/dinner plates with a bunch of grazing foods shaped into a goofy face. Then, you can entice them with things like, “The eyeballs tasty?” I have all boys, so of course we always look to see if the olive “nose” has any boogers in it, but you get the idea.
4. Fruit, the new dessert. Don’t we all have a sweet tooth? Now, I’m sure my memory fails me (at a ripe age of 33), BUT I don’t remember having a lot of desserts growing up. Occasional, yes and holidays, definitely, but point being — dessert wasn’t expected. I’ve adopted this rule of thumb for my family — that sweet things are occasional, and they remain special that way. Having an “only dinner’s expected policy” helps me and my kids eat more dinner if we’re still hungry instead of saving room for dessert. It also helps our sugar craving stay in check. Often, we will have some fresh watermelon, oranges, or strawberries after dinner, and the kids have grown to consider these a treat — still sweet, just in its natural, healthy form. And when it is time to celebrate (like when the kids FINALLY go to bed after a long day), I grab a real food treat like some good dark chocolate and eat that special thing up. If they’re lucky, I will save ’em some, you know, for bribing purposes.
5. Learn what they like, and love ’em with it! Who woulda known that this firstborn kid of mine would grow up to love raw green beans and cauliflower but not like either of them cooked, like, at all!? So, as a way to honor his preference, I will set aside raw green beans or cauli for him, then cook whats remaining for the rest of us. My middle kid loves ranch, and he will eat just about anything if that is offered as a dip with it. Honoring your kids’ preferences in little ways shows you know and care, all the while showing them that healthy eating can actually be enjoyable… imagine that!
What’s your struggle with kids and healthy food? What one tip could you try out? Do share!
About the Author
Amy Jensen is a Jacksonville-born food lover and recipe developer. She started a meal planning service to help the busiest people cook fresh food at home. Efficiency in the kitchen, without sacrificing quality, is Amy’s specialty. Eat Real With Me is her main gig and food is her favorite form of art. Amy and her husband live near downtown Jax with their three boys.