Many people have asked me “How do I get my kids to eat healthy?”
It can be a real challenge. Many children are picky and there are many foods they don’t like. It can be really hard to get them to try new things too. And, of course, there is a reason for all of that. Studies from the University of Copenhagen show that there is a significant change in taste perception as a child develops into a teenager. The research shows that first, as teenagers, can distinguish between different flavours and that there is a decreased preference for sweet flavors.
So, until the teenage years, their taste buds are not fully developed. The research also showed that girls taste buds are more sensitive than boys. This means that there are a reason why kids can be picky and boys eat differently than girls and like different things.
Taste buds and flavor preferences change as the child grows.
See a great article by Christine Bude Nyhom here
Without considering this, dinner time can turn into a battle and a power struggle. We want to be good parents, we know the importance of healthy eating. And we get scared and worried if they don’t like to eat the carrots.
Knowing that kids have a legitimate reasons for their food choices helps. They are not just being picky and difficult. Their bodies are growing, their minds and spirits are developing and so are their taste buds.
It is now they build the foundation for a healthy life.
My tips to help encourage kids to eat healthily and establish healthy eating habits
- Never force them – I remember when I started eating more healthy food, I felt So Great and I wanted the whole entire world to know about it so that they could feel the same! But, I was too pushy, and it had quite the opposite effect. Especially my son made a point of NOT wanting to eat that healthy stuff. So, I had to change the strategy. I actually apologized to him and told him I was really sorry that I had been so pushy. Then I cooked the usual food but I also cooked the new more healthy options – and I allowed everyone choose. To my surprise, one night I had made lasagne, but also raw food “healthy” lasagne instead of a salad. My husband and I took big portions of the raw food plant-based lasagne and we munched away while smiling and saying – “yum, yum, yum – oh, how good this is”. And, the kids looked at us and without saying anything joined in and started to eat the healthy lasagne. By the end of the meal, the raw food lasagne had been devoured and the normal lasagne was hardly touched!
- Always have fruits and veggies easily available – Having a fruit basket and plate of cut vegetables available, perhaps with some great dip, or freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices are a great way to get more healthy food. Often, if delicious fresh fruits and veggies are available, and cut into bites or as a fruit salad, kids will snack on it rather then the usual chips and sweets. And setting a good example is a great convincer, if you do it perhaps they’ll follow too. Maybe not at first, maybe even months, but one day they will – in the meantime give them a multivitamin and trust that it will happen and that they will not die of hunger.
- Make green smoothies. This is such a fantastic way to get some greens and fruits down and it taste SO good! In the beginning make them more fruity and the kids will love them. Then over time add more of the leafy greens that are so good for us. In the beginning my kids did not even want to try it, so I poured some for myself and sat down while I slowly drank it and did a “when Sally met Harry stunt”. First, they shook their heads and walked away. But one day my daughter said, “hmmm, can I try that green stuff?” – I wanted to pour her a huge drink in the biggest tumbler I could find in the house, but I restrained myself and poured her a tiny one. “Yum this is quite good, can I have another one?” Victory! My arms were high in the air (metaphorically) !! My son eventually said “Mom, it’s unfair that you always make the green smoothies when I’m in school because then I can’t have one”. As they started drinking the green smoothies they automatically started to crave more greens – so I often see them choose fruits over chips or ask if they can have 1/2 cucumber or an avocado. They make more healthy choices naturally and that is awesome! It took time and patience, but it was well worth it.
- Freeze smoothies and make ice cream – smoothies make perfect ice cream and the green once make the coolest looking ice cream. A friend of mine who has little kids, came up with the idea of freezing the leftover green smoothies and the kids loved them!! She has promised me a photo 🙂
- prepare food together – cooking together is so much fun. Yes, it does take longer and yes, there is more cleaning up to do but over time your kids will be little masters in cooking and cleaning up after themselves. They are more likely to try something new if they have helped prepare it and it is a great way to be together.
- Make dinner time a shared experience – sitting down, having dinner together means so much, in so many ways – socially of course, and also when it comes to establishing healthy eating habits – for everyone. If they see us take time for eating and enjoying our food that is what they learn. Maybe not today, maybe not right away, but over time – they will treasure that time together and the good food.
- prepare what you know they like and add healthy sides – allow them to choose. Also try to ‘healthy-up’ old favorites, like adding grated carrots and zucchini to meat balls or add grated vegetables to sauces, or use 1/2 the amount of meat in a chili con carne and add more veggies and beans instead.
- Be an example – This is probably the number one most important tip. Be an example, kids look at us and what we eat and if the majority of what we eat is healthy nourishing food, they will learn to eat that way too and enjoy it.
This is a great article about kids and eating: