I have a four year-old and a two year-old and while eating isn’t without it’s challenges, we have a schedule and some ground rules. These are my tried and true six ways to get kids to eat healthy food.
“You’re so lucky your kids are good eaters.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that in my four years of parenting. The truth is, it’s not luck. It’s years of thoughtful, mindful decisions surrounding food choices for our family.
I realize it’s not this easy for everyone, particularly marginalized moms, moms who are on WIC, moms of color and moms who live in food deserts.
But for the average mom, which most people reading this blog are, here are six ways to get kids to eat healthy food.
One snack a day.
Our kids are snacked out. They get snacks at school, at activities and seemingly between breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you don’t want your kids to eat their meals, give them snacks all day.
Here’s the thing: it’s okay for kids to get hungry. It’s a natural feeling they need to understand.
I think so many parents don’t want their kids to get hungry, but hunger is good! It teaches them about their bodies and what they need. Hunger is the body’s way of signaling that it needs nutrients.
Here is our typical meal schedule:
7:45am – breakfast
12pm – lunch
3:30pm – snack
6pm – dinner
Of course if they’re really hungry between meal times I’ll give them a snack. But they’re usually not and this is a good schedule for this. It also allows their bodies adequate time to digest their food.
No separate kid meals.
I’m not a short order cook. I’m not going to make a dinner for myself and my husband, and then also make a separate dinner for my kids. Within reason of course. If I make a spicy dish or something I know they hate, of course I’ll make them something else.
But the vast majority of the time, they get what we get.
If we’re having meatloaf, they’re having meatloaf. If we’re having salmon, they’re having salmon. If I make pasta, they’re eating pasta.
If for some reason they really hate what I’ve made, they can have something else. This usually includes avocado, chicken, cheese, beef sticks, cucumbers and berries. They’ve got other options, but those other options are healthy.
They don’t have to eat it, but they have to try it.
Self explanatory. This helps develop their palate as well.
I never introduced typical kid junk food.
My kids’ first food was chicken liver. Why? Because it’s nutrient dense, in fact it’s the most nutrient dense food available.
Majority of first foods available for children are straight sugar and carbohydrate. Pouches made up of fruits exclusively, rice cereal, puffs. These are all sugar and carbohydrate.
There are affordable savory pouches made from turkey and veggies and those were really the only ones we consistently gave our kids.
The thing is – if you start them out on sugar and carbohydrate, that shapes both their palate and their microbiome, so that in the future they will crave sugar and starch. Their tastebuds won’t enjoy the taste of something savory like veggies and protein.
If possible, start your kids out on veggies, protein and healthy fats like olive oil, butter and avocado. Let them try veggies, proteins and what you’re eating! Avoid the typical kid junk food, which is marketed specifically to you and your kids.
If your kids are older, start introducing more and more foods to them. At the same time, try to phase out the typical kid junk food. Buy less of that, buy more real, whole foods you want them to eat.
Bring healthy food options into the house, get rid of junk food options.
If we had candy, chips, Goldfish, fruit snacks, sugary yogurts and all the junk food that is marketed to kids in our house – that’s all they would eat. They would go into the fridge and pantry and gorge on that all day long.
The things with these foods is that they’re designed to be hyperpalatable. They are super sweet, salty, fatty – and they make the brain crave more and more.
It’s much easier to fight the battle when no battle is necessary. If you don’t have the food in the house – what are they going to do? Complain, then get over it.
Give them options. Get them involved.
“Would you like X or X?”
I give them options, but those options are healthy. Kids want control, and this is a great way to give them some while also teaching them the value and importance of healthy eating.
So this can look like,
“Do you want eggs or oatmeal for breakfast?”
“Do you want avocado or cucumber with your burger?”
“Do you want carrots or cheese for a snack?”
Sometimes, they want both. Sometimes neither. And that’s okay.
A list of healthy, easy foods my kids love:
- all types of berries
- beef sticks
- these savory (not sweet) pouches
- smoked oysters
- canned tuna/salmon salad
- grilled cheese on gluten-free bread (not the healthiest, not the unhealthiest, almost never fails)
- these healthy crackers that taste just like Goldfish but better
Kids are intuitive eaters.
I don’t force my kids to eat. If they’re not hungry, that’s fine. If they had two bites and are done – okay. But they don’t get a snack 20 minutes later. Meal times are meal times. Like I said above, they get one snack a day and that is between lunch and dinner.
I really love to utilize Thrive Market for a lot of our kid food. I setup autoship so it’s sent every month, and this way I get the beef sticks I linked above, gluten-free snacks, crackers, tuna, etc.