Kids and healthy eating may seem like a daunting task. Heck, even changing your own diet can be difficult but trying to change your kid’s diet can seem close impossible. However, if you try to get your kids eating healthy foods with a few tips and tricks it can be much easier on you and your children. Here are a few things I have learned that work best.
1. Start your children on healthy food young. Obviously starting a one or two year old on a whole food diet is much easier than a fifteen year old. The earlier the better. Taste bud development actually starts in utero. The flavors a fetus is exposed to then are flavors they will seek out after birth often into adulthood.
Ok, so maybe your baby has already hatched. Don’t worry you haven’t ruined her taste buds for life. No matter the age of your child, better to get them started now then later.
2. Don’t be discouraged if your child rejects something you have cooked and slaved over for hours. Yes, it’s upsetting but the more often you offer your child a specific type of food the more likely they will come to enjoy it. A great example of this was how my 3 year old starting liking grapefruit. I am still no fan of grapefruit but Hubbs eats one every morning for breakfast. Daniel started trying some grapefruit juice at first and made a brilliant “I just took a bite out of a sour lemon” face. A few days later he wanted to try again. This continued on for a few weeks until he was eating grapefruit juice every morning. He then started eating grapefruit flesh, one spoonful at a time. Within a week he was eating half of a grapefruit by himself. This made me realize that the key to getting your child to eat something new is to try, try, try again.
3. Get your children (and dad) involved. I think it is really important to incorporate your children in the making or prepping of food. This makes your children feel important and more likely to eat what is being made since they “made it”.
With smaller children, start small. Even simple tasks such as lifting them up to stir the sauce or giving them a butter knife to cut vegetables or fruit will make them feel involved. Older children can be given more responsibility. Ask them to be in charge of making breakfast once a month. There are so many great children’s recipe books to choose from to get them started. This here is a great one: Kids Can Cook Vegetarian Recipes. This book has vegetarian recipes with optional vegan substitutes.
4. Don’t give them options. The biggest mistake I see people make is giving their child too many options. If for dinner you are serving a salad and soup, then that is what is going to be had for dinner. Do not fall into the trap of only preparing certain foods for you child because “that’s all they will eat” or ,worse yet, preparing two different meals for you and your child. Do, however, give them the option of choosing which dressing they would like on their salad of if they would like fresh parsley on their soup or not.
5. Start slow and start small. Don’t expect great results from changing a child’s diet drastically within a few days. The same goes for adults. Whenever we as adults quit something cold turkey, it usually backfires on us. Children will often react the same way. Don’t expect your child to go from eating eggs and bacon every morning to eating tempeh and cucumbers instead.
Here are some quick tips for how to slowly and easily make some healthy food changes:
- The smaller you dice vegetables, especially new ones, into sauces or salads the more likely children will eat them without picking them since they will quite simply not be able to.
- Substitute whole-wheat flour for white flour.
- Substitute whole cane sugar for white sugar.
- Use whole grains whenever possible.
- Make the switch from white pasta to whole wheat or spelt pasta
- Substitute quinoa, couscous, bulgur, or millet for white rice.
- If your child thinks tempeh or tofu is a type of meat…let them.
- Try different types of plant based milks until you find one your child enjoys. Daniel’s favorite is oat milk.