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Teaching our children to eat a healthy diet is an essential part of parenthood. We all define “eating healthy” a little differently, and the number of food choices we face in a typical day can be dizzying. Having fun with healthy food is the approach I take. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but my children are exposed to many nutritious goodies over the course of a normal week. Here are ten tips about how to encourage your children to start eating healthy food.
Plant and Harvest Food
Get children involved in food production from the beginning by having them plant seeds every year. I like to have my children choose a few types of seeds so they can take ownership of the whole process. I’m not a great gardener and we don’t have a whole lot of sun in our yard, but even with these limitations we’ve had success with carrots, green beans, cucumbers, and berries. If gardening isn’t an option for you, be sure to take your children to pick-your-own farms and orchards so they can enjoy freshly picked produce.
Splurge at the Farmers’ Market
Take your children to the farmers’ market and give them money to buy anything they want that’s unprocessed. You may also encourage them to pick something new that they haven’t tried before. This is a fun process for kids, and it works at the grocery store too.
Plan Meals Together
Include children in the meal planning process. If you ask you kids to pick out a recipe to try for dinner, they’ll be more likely to try something new. Looking through cookbooks and magazines is a great way for children to find recipes to try.
As parents, it’s our job to teach our children to cook. Just like cleaning their rooms and saying “please” and “thank you,” cooking is a life skill that everyone should have. From a young age, children can help in the kitchen by pouring ingredients into a bowl or stirring whatever is in the pot. As they get older, they can take on more tasks. My 8-year-daughter loves to pick out a recipe from ChopChop Magazine and kick me out of the kitchen while she makes the whole thing herself. This works for some recipes, but I do love the time together in the kitchen when we’re working on a joint project.
Do Food Science Experiments
Treat some of your recipes like kitchen science experiments. The process behind making food like homemade yogurt, vanilla extract, or apple cider vinegar is fascinating, and inquisitive children will want to participate. I had a group of 9-year-old Cub Scouts in my kitchen for a cooking class last year, and they were mesmerized by the process of making homemade ice cream. Seeing their dessert change from liquid cream into thickened ice cream through the churning process was captivating for them.
Introduce Food in Different Disguises
Keep trying different preparations of basic ingredients. My 10-year-old son “doesn’t like” chicken. He does, however, like chicken quesadillas, chicken tacos, barbecue chicken, and chicken salad. Many vegetables can be unappealing to kids when served plain, but a little butter and salt can go a long way.
Market Healthy Food with Appealing Names
Sometimes it’s all in the wording we use. Give food appealing names like “cookie dough bar” instead of “protein bar.” If you have a vegetable salad for dinner one night, it might go over better if you call it “summer sunshine salad” rather than “mixed vegetable salad.” Be creative with how you name your recipes and your children might go along with some surprising dishes.
When I know my kids won’t be excited about the vegetable on the dinner menu, I resort to this tactic on occasion. Let’s say we’re having green beans, which they don’t love but I know they’re willing to eat. I’ll ask them, “Would you like green beans or squash with dinner tonight?” I know full well that they won’t touch squash, so of course they choose the green beans. They’re more likely to eat it since they chose it, even though they would probably have complained about it otherwise.
Stock Your Pantry with Healthy Snacks
Make lots of whole food snacks available and leave them in a place where the children can easily get them. Keep fresh in a fruit bowl on the counter and store healthy snacks in low cabinet where children can reach them. I believe children should be able to get food for themselves when they’re hungry, even from a young age. If you don’t keep junk food in the house, your kids won’t be eating it (at least when they’re at home).
Keep It Fun to Get Kids Eating Healthy
Stay relaxed about food. Give your children the space to not eat every healthy food out there. As a parent, it’s your job to provide lots of healthy food options, but it’s not your job to make your children eat them. Picky eaters can raise a parent’s anxiety level, but if it becomes a battle, it can make things worse. Try to keep things fun and eventually children will branch out and sample new foods.
Please share in the comments what you’ve done to help your children start eating healthy food.