Tips to encourage kids to eat healthier — what worked for our family

February 29, 2020

A question I’ve been asked as I’ve shared more of our dinners is: Do your kids eat that too? And the answer is yes* (but with an asterisk). 🙂 My girls are not always happy about what we’re eating, and they don’t always finish everything on their plate. Sometimes they whine and complain and ask […]

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A question I’ve been asked as I’ve shared more of our dinners is: Do your kids eat that too? And the answer is yes* (but with an asterisk). 🙂

My girls are not always happy about what we’re eating, and they don’t always finish everything on their plate. Sometimes they whine and complain and ask for something else. They don’t always want to choose the healthier choice. And that’s ok. The most important part to me is that they’re trying new things. And they’re learning about why certain foods are good for them. And that makes me so happy because they’re learning and building a foundation toward having a positive relationship with food.

When I thought about things Alex and I have done to encourage our kids to eat more whole, real foods and less processed items, I couldn’t pinpoint just one thing that worked for us. Instead it was a whole bunch of things we’ve done consistently. Consistency has been key.

Getting kids to eat healthier can be really frustrating, but here are some tips that have helped get our kids to eat healthier. I know that not all of these suggestions will work for every child and family, but hopefully you’ll find something helpful. 🙂

First, start small

If your kids are used to eating one way and then suddenly all of their favorite and familiar foods are no longer an option, it can be disappointing and frustrating, maybe even scary if your child finds comfort in their food.

Instead of making drastic changes, we started small and added more veggies to our meals. We’d add a side of broccoli or carrots or peas to our typical dinner. Or cucumber slices to our girls’ snack, spinach to their smoothies. Even if they don’t eat it all, they may be curious to try it. Once we all got more comfortable with that, we’d add more veggies to our plates, and then introduce the next healthier swap.

It takes time and consistency, but it’s so worth it in the end!

Be prepared for complaining & lots of it!

I feel like this applies to so much of parenting: vacations, disciplining, picking up their toys … even eating more real foods. Your kids are going to whine and complain, so just be prepared for it. 🙂

Help them understand why

The “why” behind something is so important, especially if it’s something new.

We talk to our girls about why we choose to eat the foods we eat, and why specific foods we’re eating are good for their body.

So for example, we talk a lot about how some foods give us lasting energy, help us grow strong, help us focus and learn and help our bodies feel really good. And we talk about how other foods may taste especially delicious, they’re full of lots of sugar or salt or ingredients we don’t even understand and can leave us feeling tired, still hungry, grumpy, give us short bursts of hyper-ness but then a crash in energy.

The other part to the why is why specific foods are good for their bodies. We talk to our girls about how wild salmon is a brain food and broccoli is a great source of Vitamin C, an immunity-booster. Sweet potatoes are high in fiber and help with digestion and gut health. Oatmeal gives them energy to start their day. We put it in terms the girls will understand and they seem to really connect with that.

One of the reasons we make healthy eating a priority is for our girls — to teach them the importance of their health and the role food can play in that.

Make their favorite foods healthier

This tip has helped us so much, not just for the girls but Alex and I too. We have found small tweaks that we make to our favorite meals to add in more real foods and be healthier, but just as delicious. Like:

  • Spaghetti: Instead of white pasta, use whole wheat, chickpea, edamame or veggie spirals. There are so many healthier pasta options. Add more veggies to the sauce, like chopped spinach (it wilts down so much they may not even notice it), diced bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, etc. 
  • Pizza: Instead of a frozen pizza, consider making your own with a bunch of toppings like black olives, artichoke, bell pepper, zucchini. Try different crusts too like cauliflower crust, whole wheat, flatbreads. 
  • PB&Js: Use peanut butter that only has peanuts and salt and bread that’s full of seeds and good grains. (We love Dave’s Killer Bread and Costco’s organic peanut butter.) You could also try sliced bananas and cinnamon instead of jelly. My girls love that.

Consider growing a garden

The first year we grew a garden, 3-year-old Raegan grabbed a big bunch of kale and stuffed it in her face, then asked for more. Alex and I were stunned!

Just the fact that she helped pick out the crops, plant the seeds, pull weeds and pick the veggies and herbs we grew, she was so excited to eat it. I find the girls are way more likely to eat the tomatoes and basil and squash grown in our backyard than from the store.

If you don’t have the space, time, or desire to have a garden, maybe consider a pot of herbs like cilantro and basil, or a small container of strawberries that your kids can help water and watch grow.

Lead by example

Kids are like sponges, they soak up so much from our actions. So if you’re complaining about what you’re eating, your kids will see that and might mimic that. I make it a point to be excited about eating whole, colorful foods because of the way they make me feel, and my kids can get on board with that. Sometimes 🙂

Introduce new foods with some of their favorites

When we’re trying out a new dish, I like to give the girls some of their favorites to go along with it. So for example, if we’re trying a new recipe that has brussel sprouts and salmon, I might also give them a couple strawberries and brown rice to go with it since I know they’ll eat those. We also encourage them to try everything. 

Also, my girls will usually eat broccoli, carrots and beets. So I try to find recipes that include those veggies that I already know they like. If there’s a specific vegetable they love, try to find new ways to cook it and incorporate it into meals. 

Let kids help with meal planning, cooking, and/or prepping

When I ask the girls what they want for dinner or if they want to help stir or set the table, they respond really well because they feel included and want to help. If they ask for something like pizza, it’s the perfect opportunity to find ways to make their favorite meals healthier. 🙂 

Be consistent & keep trying

At the very least, we ask that the girls try everything on their plates. They may not like it at first, but I’ve read that it may take up to 10 times of trying something to figure out if they really like it. So we keep introducing new foods to our girls. Sometimes they surprise me and eat up something I wasn’t sure they’d like.

Eating nourishing, good-for-your-body foods is how we eat now, consistently. And our girls know that. It’s not a diet that we’re trying out temporarily, but part of our every day. 

I know these things don’t work for every kid, but doing these things consistently has been a big help for our family, and I hope some of them help you too! 

Do you have any other tips for encouraging your kids to eat healthier?

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