At some point in time, every parent has gone through the food wars with their child. Whether it’s from the beginning of refusing the bottle or breast or they turn up their noses at fruit and vegetables. For most of us – our picky eaters eventually outgrow their pickiness and expand their repertoire of foods.
I’m know that I’m lucky that my children actually love most fruit and vegetables. If I have fruit available, they will eat it. However, with a special needs child in the house, meal prep can become a huge problem. Especially when that child has become a full-fledged teenager and no longer willing to be guided; however reluctantly, away from poor choices. It also doesn’t help when her “won’t eat” foods changes frequently. I just get into the groove of making potatoes one way when she announces she will only eat potatoes if there are made a different way.
I swear having a special needs child was all about teaching me to become more flexible! Believe me, it’s an ongoing learning process but here’s my take on how to get your kids to eat healthy.
Tips To Getting Your Kids to Eat Healthier
1. Don’t make a big deal about it. The more pressure you put on about food choices, the greater chance that your kids are going to rebel. Maybe not in front of you but behind your backs. Trust me, when they get bigger they will no longer ask for a snack, they’ll wait until you’re occupied and sneak it. I’ve found used ice cream bowls in the closet, cookie wrappers in the cat post, and drink cans under beds. Instead of placing restrictions on food, we talk about nutrition and what we need to fuel our bodies and how having treats in moderation is okay.
2. Have healthy food on hand. If you don’t stock it, they can’t eat it. I don’t like to have my fruit out because of fruit flies but there’s no reason I can’t have a bowl of fruit in the fridge on display so every time they open the fridge they see the yumminess. Figure out what fruits your child likes. If they don’t like apples – is it because it’s too sour or does it need to be peeled and cut first. I discovered that while I hated to bite into a whole apple, once it was cut up, I actually enjoyed eating apples.
Stock healthy snack options in the pantry. Pre-prep your veggies and fruit where you can so that you have quick and healthy snacks ready to grab.
3. Model Healthy Eating. If you’re scarfing chocolate in the pantry but telling them to eat an apple, they are going to call you on it. Instead, let them know that treats in moderation are okay and share a piece with everyone. Then grab the apple or whip up a fruit smoothie or fruit salad that will satisfy those sweet cravings. Be the example.
4. Involve the Kids. It’s true that if you involve the kids in some of the planning, shopping and preparing of food you have a better chance of getting them to try new things. It’s very easy to get caught up in the circle of always doing for your kids but they really are capable of being independent little beings and helping mom out. When my kids were 8, 6 & 5, they were given plastic knives to cut peppers and onions up for fresh salsa. They loved it and I was impressed with how well they did. What’s more is they loved eating the fresh salsa and couldn’t wait to go home and make it for their dad.
5. Offer Choices. I refuse to cook a bunch of different meals to make everyone happy. At the same time, I don’t want to see one of my kids be miserable either. So, I make sure that on top of the main offering I offer something else. For example, one child doesn’t like potatoes if we bake them so I offer her a whole grain bun instead. Their dad and I love roasted peppers but we’ll also cook a different vegetable that they’ll like or we’ll cut up raw peppers since they like those instead. Another child can’t stand having their food mixed up in casseroles so before I mix everything together to put in the oven, I set aside a portion of protein, noodles and vegetables without the sauce. It’s easy to do since typically most casserole ingredients are pre-cooked before you assemble it.
6.Don’t Give Up. Just because they don’t like something today doesn’t mean that they won’t like it next week. Children’s taste buds on continually developing and what may seem too strong tasting to them today may not next week. My children all hated brussel sprouts but it’s something that my family prepares for every big holiday dinner. Now, even my pickiest eater enjoys eating brussel sprouts. Crazy, right? So, keep introducing new foods and re-introduce foods regularly. In our house, it’s you have to try everything on your plate – just one bite (it has to be a decent bite not a crumb) and if they don’t like it they don’t have to eat it but they will have to try it again in the future some time.
What about your family, what do you do to encourage healthy eating in your home?