7 Effective Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy

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Recently I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across a mom’s post about her children’s lunch. It was a prepackaged microwave meal with zero nutritional value. She was tired, the kids had been home all week for Christmas break, and it was just easy.

Can you relate?

I then looked at the comments that followed, where moms were confessing what their kids had eaten that day... and was a little disheartened. Not out of judgment, because I am the first to admit how hard it can be to get kids to eat healthy...my kids are no exception. But disheartened, because I know how difficult it can be but also how important and possible it is. And honestly, how simple it can be.

Children's eating habits start young

Children learn eating patterns from a very young age. And we are the best example to our kids and teach them eating behaviors through our own eating patterns. I truly believe if moms knew the long-term effects poor nutrition had on their child’s health, they would choose differently.

I share this with you not out of judgment, but a desire to see families and children thrive.

Children are developing habits they will carry with them throughout their lives. We are setting them up for success now. Research conducted by The Obesity Society suggests that eating habits begin as early as 12 to 24 months of age.

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The food industry has done a great job at marketing directly to children. Their packaging is bright, colorful and their favorite superhero/princess is all over the box. But most, “Kid Food” is loaded with extra sugars and depleted of nutritional value and this profoundly affects not only their weight but behavioral habits, general health, and future eating habits.

"We're seeing poor eating habits starting early in life, and they mirror those of older children and adults. Parents and caregivers need to know that eating patterns are set early - between 12 to 24 months. It's crucial to establish the foundation for healthy diets early in life when eating habits and food preferences are being formed," said Kathleen Reidy, DrPH, RD, who heads the Nutrition Science department for Nestlé Infant Nutrition, which conducted the study previously mentioned. "The new findings show how simple changes can make significant improvements in children's diets."

How does a mother get her child to eat healthy?

I know most of you are starting at a place where your kids are eating a lot of prepackaged foods and not a lot of whole foods like vegetables and fruit. Don’t be disheartened. You can make changes and over time your children can begin to eat healthier.

But if your kids are used to eating sugary cereal in the morning, they are not going to want eggs and toast for breakfast. Their taste buds need time to change. I teach this to my clients all the time. And it will be the same for your children. They are used to eating very sweet and processed foods so it will be natural for an apple or bell pepper to not taste as good. But with time, as we remove excess sugar and processed foods our taste buds do change and a bell pepper can be super sweet and taste good!

Depending on your child’s age, you need to start with baby steps (unless your child is a baby, start right now!). Start removing fruit snacks, sugary cereal, and sugar-filled granola bars one meal/snack at a time and instead introduce fruits and veggies to each meal. Instead of cereal make oatmeal with ½  a banana {bananas are naturally super sweet} and a little drizzle of honey. Instead of fruit snacks top celery with peanut butter and chocolate chips. Make smoothies with spinach to sneak in veggies.

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Get creative. Now that London is 5 and Iylee is 2 I have seen how kids sort of go through stages in their eating patterns when they are eating solids. Babies tend to eat everything because they aren’t used to anything else but breastmilk or formula. Toddlers start getting pickier and harder to enforce certain foods {I’m currently at this stage with my youngest!}. But then by 4, {maybe even 3?} they seem to understand more and what is expected of them.

For example, we were recently eating dinner and I told the girls they could have a few tortilla chips once they ate their veggies. London literally inhaled hers. Iylee just wanted the chips. I told Iylee a few more times that she needed to eat her veggies and then she could. But something wasn’t registering and I realized that she just didn’t understand. So I said, eat one green bean and then you can have a chip. She understood that...she ate one green bean and got a chip. And it went on like that until her green beans were gone.

We also have a rule {mostly for my oldest right now} that if they don’t finish their vegetables at a meal/snack then it will be their next snack until they finish it. So London will often time come home now from school and open up her lunch box to eat the veggies she didn’t finish so she can have a snack after. I will note that I don’t make them eat their whole dinner but veggies are non-negotiable. Kids are much better at knowing when they are full so I don’t make the girls eat everything off their plate but they do know that they have to finish their vegetables.

You are the parent. AKA you’re the boss. :) They don’t tell you what they want to eat or what to fill your fridge or pantry with. I promise they won’t die of starvation and they will begin to eat what you prepare for them.

I’ve had countless moms tell me that her kids are so picky and eat the same things every day and would never eat anything else.  But if you sit back and look at what we eat, we typically all eat the same things every day. There is a pattern to it. I typically buy the same foods, unless I’m making a new recipe or intentionally adding in something new. But for most of us, we are creatures of habits and we tend to eat the same foods. So your kid isn’t picky, they are just like us and like the same things each day. You can begin to change what they eat and start creating healthier habits though.

Changing the nutrition of your home won’t happen on its own. But if you make the commitment, I can guarantee you will see the reward.You can get your children to eat more vegetables, eat more whole foods, and eliminate junk food.

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7 effective ways to get your child to eat health

The importance of healthy food in for your kids can’t be underestimated. My passion is to help both you and your family thrive. I want to give you 7 ways to get your baby, toddler, grade school child, or teenager to consume a healthier diet.

1. Healthy eating starts with you

As I said earlier, you’re the mom. So that means you get to make the decisions here. It’s one thing to cater to allergies, but your toddler is too little to dictate what he or she eats.

Along with choosing what to feed your child, you need to be aware that they are watching you. If you want to improve your child's nutrition then you have a responsibility to set an example. And if your girls are anything like mine, they love eating off your plate or whatever you have in your hand.  Without fail, every night at dinner Iylee tries to sit on my lap to sneak some food. There have been times when I have been shocked that she liked the kale off my plate but I love that she tried it. All this to say, it starts with us. Setting the example and choosing whole foods so our kids will do the same.

It won’t work if you’re trying to clean up their nutrition, but continue to eat fast food all the time. They inherit their diet from you. Show your child that nutrition is important to you.

One simple way is to ensure you start your morning off right. For some reason, most breakfast foods look more like prepackaged desserts. Did you know one Pop Tarts pastry contains 17 grams of sugar? Assuming both pastries are eaten and washed down with either a glass of chocolate milk (12 ounces = 33 grams of sugar) or a glass of orange juice (8 ounces = 21 grams) they will have more than doubled the amount of daily sugar intake recommended for an adult in one sitting.

A simple alternative to the colorful pastries and breakfast cereals lining the grocery aisles is to make my favorite 3-ingredient pancakes. It’s a great way to sneak in spinach and you can drizzle a little pure maple syrup on top.

2. Eat as a family (as much as you can)

Eating together as a family helps reinforce good dietary habits. As your children become more active it may become increasingly more difficult to consistently maintain this practice. But making a habit of sitting down together to eat at the dinner table ensures that everyone lands on the same nutritional page.

It's also been my experience that when we eat as a family I'm more likely to prepare a well-rounded meal for the family to enjoy.

3. Don’t try to make a radical change overnight

Again, depending on your child's age, it will take time. It will depend on the age of your child and how “picky” or willing they are to try new things.

But don’t try to radically change your child’s diet overnight. I know I don’t like radical changes and I’m sure you don’t either. If you try to revolutionize the way your family eats in one day you’ll most likely meet some resistance and in the end will lead you both frustrated.

4. Be sneaky

Whenever I make smoothies for my girls I load them with greens. I see it as a great opportunity to get extra nutrients into their diet. The best part is that they never even notice.It’s not always easy to get your child to eat their veggies, but don’t let that prevent you from continuing to serve them.

Try adding some spaghetti or marinara sauce {check labels and get one with no added sugar} to their cooked vegetables. The 3-ingredient pancakes are the perfect example of being sneaky.

“Encouraging children to eat more fruits and vegetables is a national health priority because fruits and vegetables provide important nutrients and childhood dietary patterns are associated with food patterns later in life.” The CDC reports that on average, children consume .2 cups of vegetables for every 1,000 calories they consume.

5. Try things

Maybe your child doesn’t like broccoli. That’s okay. You can move on to other options. London, my oldest, didn’t like several vegetables the first time she tried them. But I would eventually reintroduce them to see if she liked them the second or third time around.

London didn’t like asparagus and would literally gag. So I stopped giving her asparagus and would give her a different veggie at dinner. My husband and I would still eat it though and one night she stole an asparagus from my plate and loved it.

Don’t give up on a certain veggie just because they don’t like it. Kids can be so fickle. If you can tell they truly don’t like it, try another veggie. And then reintroduce the disliked veggie later.

6. Make healthy snacking fun

Make air-popped popcorn together, make a yummy dessert like these Banana Bread Cookies or Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie Skillet as a family, allow your children to be a part of the preparation of their snacks. Have them top the celery with peanut butter and chocolate chips. Involving your kids in nutrition as much as possible will cause them to take personal ownership of their food choices as they get older.

7. Make “treats” something special, not the norm

We all love treats. And there’s nothing wrong with them. But they shouldn’t be a free for all in the home. Your little girl (or boy) shouldn’t expect treats throughout the day. An overconsumption of sugary snacks will undoubtedly lead to weight issues and other health-related problems.

Treats should be reserved for special moments. And there is nothing wrong with having special times set aside for these times.

Summary

Let these 7 ideas for improving your child’s nutrition help you as you work to improve your child's nutrition. It can be discouraging hearing “NO” to every healthy option you serve. But realize you’re setting them up for success or failure. Stick with it, momma! Your child’s health is so worth it!

And if you're totally lost on what to actually make for dinner, I’ve got you covered. Join my next bootcamp where I will show you how to make nutrition simple + easy + delicious!