5 Ways To Get Your Child To Eat Healthy
This article was originally posted on CNN
Ask any parent about the top challenges of raising kids, and getting them to eat healthy would probably be high on the list. Countless parents have kids who just want to eat chicken nuggets, or pasta, or macaroni and cheese, or all of the above, and definitely without any vegetables.
It’s a problem throughout the year, but at back-to-school time, it gets maybe a tad more stressful, as parents are looking to start over or at least give their kids lunches that pack a healthy punch and won’t get traded away for Oreos or some other sugary snack.
So what’s a parent to do? First, don’t stress — we reached out to parents across the country, including a few experts on healthy eating for kids, and they had a ton of great advice. We’ve boiled down their insights into 5 great tips that are sure to make healthy eating in your household a little less complicated, beginning with what not to do:
1.Do nots? There are many
Don’t let your kids get hooked on sugar, says Agatha Achindu, a mother of three who founded Yummy Spoonfuls Organic Baby Food in 2006. “Sugar is in just about all packaged food these days, in one form or another,” said Achindu, who grew up on a farm in Cameroon, West Africa. Banish soda and other sugary drinks from the household, read the labels and don’t buy anything with added sugar, she says.
You might not be able to control everything your child eats, especially when your kids are not at home, but you can give them a good healthy foundation. She suggests not bringing junk food into the house: “If it’s not there, they won’t eat it.” Don’t plead or threaten or bribe your child to eat healthy food, she says, because those tactics are not effective. And don’t judge your child’s tastes by your own. “You may not like broccoli, but your child is not you. He/she may love foods that you don’t care for,” Achindu said.
2.Make food interesting
Lori Day, an educational psychologist and consultant, says her mom always told her that she was a terrible eater and that it would be karma if her daughter also didn’t like to eat well. But that’s not what happened. When her now-grown daughter was young, Day thought that if she found food interesting, she’d be more likely to try it. So Day let her daughter shell peas, count them, sort them by size and play with them before putting them in the pot. She loved eating them raw or cooked, Day said.
Same with mussels marinara, which became one of her daughter’s favorite foods. She enjoyed inspecting the mussels and looking for the potentially dead ones to throw away, learning about their biology and pulling the cooked shells all the way apart and picking out the meat.
“My main tip is to make food interesting if your child is naturally curious, enjoys science/nature and is willing to engage,” Day said.
3.Get the kids involved
Several parents talked about how bringing their children with them to the farmers market or the grocery store and having them help with the cooking can get them more excited and invested in what they are eating. “Kids can be inspired to eat healthy when they are part of the meal and snack planning process,” said Margaret McSweeney, host of the podcast Kitchen Chat, on which she has interviewed about 200 chefs, cookbook authors and food industry experts. “A trip to the local farmers market or produce aisle can be an adventure and connect them with the source of food.”
Monica Sakala, a mother of two who runs the social media consulting business SOMA Strategies, said she continues to be amazed by the power that growing their own vegetables has had on encouraging healthy eating in her kids. This is their third summer with a vegetable garden.
“They delight in going out back, getting dirty and picking the veggies. I watch them eat them raw,” she said. “They seem to delight in what they’ve grown, and there’s never a battle.”
4.Give kids choices
Ava Parnass, an infant-child psychotherapist and author of “Hungry Feelings Not Hungry Tummy,” said that from a young age, parents should let their kids choose foods, fruits, vegetables and snacks they like, within reason.
“Give them more room to choose as they get older,” she added. And never get into a power struggle with your kids about eating, food or even healthy food, she said. “Make sure you are not overcontrolling, overeducating or over-lecturing them, or they will rebel in the food arena.”
Rachel Matos, a social media marketing strategist, says her teenage son would live on chicken wings and Pop-Tarts if she let him. He has always been picky about eating his greens but loves his juices, she said. “Instead of arguing every night at dinner, I got a juicer … and started making him natural fruit juices and smoothies but gradually started adding in kale, spinach and other greens.”
He noticed the change in color but continued to enjoy the taste, so as time went on, she added more and more greens. Now, he can drink a kale or spinach drink with no issue. “The juices helped him develop taste for veggies. He also notices how much better he feels when he drinks them consistently,” she said.
McSweeney, the podcast host, has another idea, this one for younger kids: Present healthy food in a creative way, such as hosting a purple night. “Everyone dresses in purple for a purple meal. Menu items could include purple peppers, purple cauliflower, purple potatoes, grapes and/or eggplant,” she said. “Savor the day!”