When I was growing up we didn’t have a choice about what was served to us. I ate almost everything because I knew I wouldn’t get anything else if I didn’t. There were still things I didn’t like (split pea soup and scalloped potatoes were on that list!) but I grew up to appreciate a lot of different foods and not turn my face at something unfamiliar.
Fast forward to today: Most parents have turned into short order cooks. If you’re reading this blog, Mac n’ cheese has probably become a staple in your house. You’ve probably read a hundred recipes claiming all kids will eat it, and yours didn’t! Plates leave the table full and in a final act of desperation to get your kids to eat “something” you give them a bowl of sugary cereal or make them a peanut butter sandwich instead. I remember when I first made the switch to only eating whole foods. I was still making my kids separate meals that I knew they would eat! (I look back and think how crazy and time consuming all that was.) Why weren’t my kids eating what I was eating!
For some people, it’s not only making the choice to get their children to eat healthy, but to eat healthy themselves. It’s hard to expect your kids to eat their vegetables when they don’t see you doing it! If you find yourself in this category, I can understand how hard it is to even know where to start! Don’t make food your first focus; make small changes in your habits first.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers 8 steps on getting started:
- Don’t force your kids to eat. Children are the best judges on how full they are, not you. I admit that this is a hard one for me and my husband. Our kids are naturally skinny and it’s our first instinct to tell them they need to eat everything on their plate. It’s also hard to remember that they aren’t as hungry as we are at dinner time just like we aren’t as hungry as them in the morning.
- Offer a variety of healthy and tasty foods. For us, it was as simple as always offering a fruit for breakfast and vegetables for lunch and dinner. When I was growing up, I have fond memories of my dad always buying one piece of weird fruit he saw at the grocery store.
- Serve meals and snacks on a regular schedule. For some families this might be hard, lucky for mine, I am pretty regular on when I need to eat so my kids have to be too!
- Make mealtime a happy time to spend with your family. Encourage conversations with your kids and significant others and try to relax and not rush. Worrying about how fast your child is eating or how much their eating causes more un-needed anxiety during mealtime. (I can speak from personal experience on this!)
- Set a good example in your food choices and drinks! It’s hard to tell your kids that they can’t have pop when they see you drinking it every day. If you have to, start with yourself first and let your kids learn from your example. If you’re not buying it, they aren’t having it!
- Don’t use food as a punishment or reward. Boy oh boy is this hard in our society. Even as parents we find ourselves telling our kids they won’t get dessert if they don’t finish their dinner, or if they are good at the store we can pick out a treat. Just this week my son got a sucker as a reward from his teacher because he cleaned out his desk!
- Involve your children in the kitchen. Plan meals with them let them help cook with you and most importantly, remind them why eating healthy is important and…educate them! One piece of advice that I found on a blog, called 100 Days of Real Food, was to never lie to your kids about what your feeding them. Don’t “hide” vegetables in their meals because you know that’s the only way they will eat them. Tell them they are eating vegetables so when they are grown, they will eat vegetables.
- Teach your children manners at the table. Remember, we are trying to make mealtime a happy time, so don’t spend the meal yelling at your children. Try one or two gentle reminders during mealtimes versus spending the whole meal correcting them.
Start with one habit and work your way to the next. When I try to make habit changes, I usually start with something I know would be easy for me and work my way to the hardest ones. Notice that none of these suggestions are about what food to eat but about changing habits! A good rule I try to stick by is feeding my kids healthy foods 80% of the time, and don’t feel guilty about the 20% that isn’t perfect. So start with small habit changes to get your picky eaters eating a little bit better at a time!