We’ve all been there, we slave away at the stove making a healthy meal for our family and sure enough someone won’t eat it (hopefully it is just your little ones and not your partner in crime). Meal struggles can wear on you fast. There will be stages where they happen but with these tips you can help your kids get the nutrients they need and create lifelong, healthy habits. We all want to make our kids happy but that doesn’t mean giving them treats all the time or giving in and letting them eat whatever THEY want when they want it. What it really means is that you, the parent, give them foods that help them grown and develop, as well as give them the energy they need for the day. The earlier our kids learn healthy habits the easier their life is going to be because they won’t have to break bad habits when they get older.
- Offer healthy foods from the beginning. Once you start introducing food make sure you offer mostly healthy options. Offering healthy food right away reduces food struggles down the road. Food preferences are created in the womb and even through breast milk so make sure you are eating healthy foods that you would like your child to eat while you are pregnant and nursing.
- Create an environment that encourages healthy eating. That starts with you. Parents: Lead by example. Show an interest in trying new foods which will increase the chance they will too. Eat a range of healthy food in front of your child and avoid showing disgust for foods. Remember our children imitate us.
- Create a family food philosophy. Decide what is important to you about your family’s eating habits. For example, how often should you eat out or get fast food? Do you want to eat mostly organic food or is that not a priority? Do you feel it is important to eat fresh foods vs canned or processed food? Then sit down and make a weekly meal plan to make sure you are following through.
- Keep your fridge stocked with healthy, appealing choices. Our job as parents is to offer healthy food for our children. We also need to realize that it is the child’s responsibility to self-regulate how much he or she eats. Forcing them to eat more than they want, or cutting them off before they feel full, can lead to your child not learning how to self-regulate, increasing the risk of obesity.
- Make snacks balanced. Snacking is inevitable, so make sure to get lean protein or healthy fat into the snacks, not just quick carbs (like crackers, cereal, chips, etc.) to keep them full longer and give their bodies what they need to work properly. *In case you want some specific healthy snack ideas for every mood, click here Healthy Snack Ideas.
- Avoid a lot of sugary or salty foods. Frequent exposure to salt and sugar changes children’s taste buds so that real, healthy foods doesn’t taste as good. If you offer juice or other sugary drinks, water them down and limit how often they are offered. Rinse off canned fruits and vegetables to get rid of the extra sugar and salt. Limit the processed foods like white bread, white pasta, white crackers, chips, etc.
- Make sure they are hungry at meals. Cut off snacking at least 1-2 hours before mealtimes. Make sure they don’t fill up on junk food that won’t give them the vitamins and minerals they need, only empty calories. Avoid calorie drinks right before meals that will fill them up like milk or juice.
- Try to have most of the family eating the same meal & sit down for meals all together when possible. This one has been particularly hard for me, with one child in the power struggle phase, saying no before he even knows what we are eating, and another child who is allergic to anything that has eggs in it. We recently decided to stick to our guns with our four-year old and quit making him separate meals, and by some miracle it is working! We say if he doesn’t want what is for dinner he doesn’t need to eat, and food usually wins out (even if it is three hours later). Start by giving your kids small portions and let them ask for more. Leave the plate out for a few minutes so they can come back for more if they are still hungry instead of switching over to a snack.
- Get your kids involved. Include them in meal planning, asking what meals or foods they want to eat. Have them help with tasks like meal prep and cooking. Kids who help parents cook are more likely to eat the meal. They also tend to eat a wider variety of foods and are more willing to try new foods. When your kids help out they learn about what it takes to prepare a meal and even learn a life skill that will serve them down the road.
- Choose healthy versions of unhealthy favorites. Let’s say your child asks for macaroni and cheese. Find a recipe, like this one, that is a healthier version of their favorite. Swap out beef hotdogs with turkey hotdogs. Replace sugary popsicles with real fruit popsicles, or make your own.
- Don’t reward them with a treat for eating something healthy. Have you ever caught yourself saying, ‘If you eat your broccoli I will give you ice cream.’? This teaches kids that the healthy food doesn’t taste good because you are willing to bribe them to eat it.
- Try and try again. Try new foods regularly (starting with just a tablespoon until they like it). Research shows it can take up to 10 tries before kids accept a new food, so don’t give up! Incorporate new foods on their favorite plate/bowl or with some of their favorite foods to make them more willing to try them. Praise them for being adventurous.Be patient, some kids are more stubborn than others. Remember this is just a phase and if you really work at it you can get them eating healthier in no time. I would love to hear from you, what helps you get your kids to eat healthier?
Don’t forget to download your Healthy Snack Ideas here
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