When trying to eat healthier or take on a new eating approach it can be impossible if your family is not on board. When they are all eating fast food or take out, that salad can feel very unsatisfying. At other times, you may find yourself being a short-order chef cooking multiple meals to please everyone in the family. I see this so often with families I work with. Parents are exhausted and frustrated, sick of cooking three different meals every night or seeing food wasted on the plate. So how do you get your kids to join you on this journey towards healthier eating?
Let’s focus on vegetables as this is most likely the hardest food group to get kids (and really adults) to accept.
1) Get Them Involved
While grocery shopping, let each kid pick out a vegetable to purchase (even if you haven’t tried it before!). Spend time together learning about the item, i.e. how it’s grown, what nutrients it provides, and different ways it is prepared. When you are home and cooking, let them be involved in the process. If they are too young to use the kitchen utensils, give them a plastic or pretend knife. Let them play with a few cut up pieces, make different shapes or practice counting with the pieces. When kids feel involved or are making the choices, they are more likely to try the item.
If you’re feeling extra motivated, grow a few vegetables at home! Kids will feel a sense of accomplishment watching their plant grow and will be much more excited to eat the vegetable.
2) Make Something on the Plate Familiar
Kids are more apt to trying a new food if it is paired with something they are familiar with and like. That way the entire plate is not foreign and their will be less complaints. If they already like potatoes, add a new vegetable such as mixed peppers and see how they do. If there are no vegetables they like, make at least one thing on the plate familiar. There is a good chance they pick around it at first, but the more exposure to new foods the more normal the food becomes. It can take up to 10-15 times of trying something before learning to like it! Just keep offering. Ask them to taste one bite, but that’s all they have to do (even if they politely spit it out) – being forced to finish creates negative feelings towards that item.
3) You Need to Eat Them Too
Kids learn by example. If you are not eating a certain dish, why would they try it? They will think there must be something wrong with that food if Mom and Dad aren’t eating it. Just because you didn’t like something ten years ago doesn’t mean you won’t like it now. Don’t shy away from trying new foods! After all, you are trying to make changes right? Lastly, just because you absolutely can’t stand it doesn’t mean they won’t either. Give them a chance to form their own opinions on what they do and do not like.
4) Don’t Make a Big Deal of It
Parents and children each have responsibilities at meal/snack time. Ellyn Satter, a Registered Dietitian, who specializes in how behaviors play a role in nutrition explains it well (check out the website at www.ellynsatterinstitute.org). Often kids are looking for independence. What they eat is one of the few thing they can control. The more you force him or her to eat something, the less control they feel, which may lead to refusal. You as a parent decide what food is offered, when it’s offered and where it will be eaten. The child ultimately decide how much of the food offered he or she will eat. It can be hard to relinquish this control. Most of us are hardwired to finish our plates and it can feel worrisome when a child skips a meal. However, a child will rarely let themselves starve and will give in eventually. If they don’t want it now, well then it’s their snack later.
. . . . .
Children only need about 1/2 of an adult serving size so don’t be discouraged when they aren’t eating as much as you. Start small and give them more if they are still hungry. Aim for 3 servings of vegetables daily and choose from a variety of colors to give them more nutrients. For a child, 1 serving = 1/2 cup raw or 1/4 cup cooked.
For more helpful information, check out a few of Ellyn Satter’s well known books such as How to Get Your Child to Eat…But Not Too Much and Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.
Rooting for you!
– Hilarie 🙂