Ever spent fifteen minutes watching a kid knock a green bean or a hunk of squash around their dinner plate, face contorted as though in pain? If not, you’re either the rare, lucky parent of an agreeable eater, or someone without kids who reads parenting tips to relax.
Getting kids to eat anything can be tough. Getting them to eat healthy food? Even tougher. But you shouldn’t give up on healthy just to get food in their stomach. Healthy food habits formed while young will keep them healthy as they grow into adulthood.
Make it fun, funny, and kid-friendly.
Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring. In food, as in the rest of their lives, kids respond to bright colors and cool ideas. Grapes, cherry tomatoes, and raisins make great eyes for a funny food face. And those aren’t broccoli florets—they’re a tree-size meal for your forest-eating monster. There are tons of ideas online, but don’t be afraid to use your imagination—and tap into your child’s.
Get them involved.
Kids respond better to choices than to commands or requests. Give them healthy options at home—like orange, grapefruit, or kiwi—and at the store, let them do the choosing in the produce area. You might have to do a little research to identify what they’ve picked or how to cook it. That’s okay. Adventure is also good for grownups.
Make it custom.
You know you love a salad bar—or a sundae bar. It’s just more fun to make your meal the way you want it. You can offer kids the same at home: Let them trick out their own veggie pizza or fruit salad. Or put together a healthy fixin’s bar so they can dress up a basic baked potato.
Go to the source.
When food is just a glop on a plate—or goop from a package—kids can be suspicious of what they don’t understand. But put it in context, show them where it comes from, or get them involved in growing it, and suddenly their curiosity is engaged. Kids are natural gardeners, unafraid to get their hands or knees (or heads) dirty. They love taking care of their crops and watching their progress. And when the harvest arrives, they’re usually willing, even eager, to give the fruits of their labor a try.
Try, try again. Times five.
Speaking of trying new foods—it’s essential for developing healthy eaters. Kids may need to try a new food as many as 10 to 15 times before they’ll develop a taste for it. Establish a tradition of “good-sport bites” for foods they won’t eat, and make sure you try presenting the food in lots of different ways. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the sweet spot in the sweet potato recipe book. Don’t give up. The earlier your child eats healthy, the better health habits they’ll have as they grow.