We know the struggle. Kids can be picky, and more often than not, they’re picky for the sugary, refined-carbohydrate-y foods that have been squeezed of any and all nutrients. You rejoice when your kid agrees to eat a chicken nugget, because hey—it’s protein!
Let’s get real, though. Your kids need way more servings of fruits and vegetables than they do protein. They need the fiber, vitamins, and minerals— as well as healthy fats from legumes, nuts, seeds, and fish— for proper brain development and overall growth at this critical stage of their lives.
Struggling with a picky eater? Or perhaps you’re just looking to instill healthier habits at home. These eight kid-friendly healthy eating tips are just what you need!
- Limit unhealthy options
If you find that your child is opting for the unhealthy choice over the healthy one every time, it’s time to take away unhealthy choices altogether. Don’t keep the stuff around, and it won’t get eaten— plain and simple.
Keep one (unreachable) shelf with unhealthy snacks, and pull them out on special occasions, or over the weekend— whenever YOU decide it’s okay to let loose a bit.
Another bonus to cutting out sugar during the week (other than getting more nutrients into your kids through healthier choices)? You may find that your child is in a better mood, better behaved, and able to concentrate for longer periods of time.
According to an article by Teresa Aubele, Ph.D., published in Psychology Today, excess sugar intake can lead to brain cell damage, cognitive deficits, and anxiety— not to mention symptoms like fatigue, lack of concentration, shakiness, and nervousness after a sugar high.
It’s in your child’s best interest not to eat sugary snacks at school—or at home after school— or ever, really. Since we know that’s not possible, let’s just limit it to 2-3 sugary snacks over the weekend.
- Don’t make a big stink about it
Just because you’ve decided to go a healthier route, does not mean you need to declare it throughout the household. Over a few weeks, slowly make the changes you want to implement, but do it naturally, and don’t make any steadfast declarations. “There will be no more unhealthy snacks during the week!” is an example of something you should NOT say— especially if you don’t want any tantrums.
When your child asks for a Fruit Roll Up, a chocolate bar, or her favorite cream-filled-whatever, you can simply say “We’re not having that today honey, but you can have either a cookie (oh yeah— make some healthy cookies) or veggies and dip.” Remember which treats they asked you for during the week and give it to them over the weekend so they know they’re not being “deprived.”
- Make it readily available
Without saying a word, when the kids come home from school, have a healthy snack ready to put out on the kitchen table or coffee table— wherever they hang out most. If they see you snacking on it yourself, it may appeal to them even more. You may be surprised at how easily you can get your kids to eat healthily just by making it available.
In the fridge, have washed and prepared individual servings of mixed berries— blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.– in little bowls, ready for grabbing. Put them on low shelves at your children’s eye-level, and see what happens.
Struggling with healthy snack ideas? Try these:
- Vegetable sticks and hummus
- Apples and peanut butter
- “Ants on a log”
- Greek yogurt and berries
- Healthy homemade muffins or cookies
- Cheese and whole grain crackers
- Homemade trail mix
- Fruit salad
- Fruit nachos
- Make smoothies
Creamy colorful smoothies are a great way to get your child to each a few servings of fruit— and maybe even some vegetables too. They’re also sweet without any added sugar.
At the beginning, only make smoothies with ingredients you know they’ll love. Once they’re used to the idea, you may start experimenting with ingredients, and maybe even sneak a little bit of kale in.
If your kid is a fan of Reese’s, make a Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie using:
- 1 frozen banana
- 1 Tbsp peanut butter
- 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
- ½ cup vanilla greek yogurt
- ¾ cup milk
If you’re feeling lucky, you can even try adding some avocado to this one!
Check out these smoothies for some more ideas.
- Cook vegetables into their food
There are so many ways to incorporate vegetables into otherwise veggie-free dishes. Fritters, quiches, lasagnas, bolognese— even mac’ and cheese— there is no reason to make these dishes (or any dishes) without veggies. Puree vegetables into sauces and baked goods, and your kids will have no escape from all those essential vitamins and minerals they would otherwise reject.
- Get them involved
Ask your kids to help you meal-plan by throwing out some dinner ideas, or choosing a few from a list. This will ensure that some of their favorites get to the table, but you can still tweak them to make them healthier.
Younger kids and toddlers can stand on a chair next to you while you cook. Give your toddler the job of putting cut up vegetables into the salad bowl, and encourage snacking on them. They can stir and pour measured-out ingredients. When you offer them the food, remind them that they helped make it, and they may eat it more readily.
- Make homemade “fast food”
What kid doesn’t love pizza, chicken nuggets, hamburgers, and french fries? Make all of these things at home instead of ordering in.
For chicken nuggets, take strips of chicken breast and dip in flour, egg, then panko breadcrumbs. Spray lightly with oil and bake in the oven at 450 F for about 20 minutes.
You can also make oven-baked french fries that are WAY better than the fast-food kind. Make homemade pizza with whole-wheat pizza dough for added fiber, and add as many veggie toppings as your kids will allow (and hide vegetables in the sauce, of course).
Find other creative ways to make homemade fast food, and involve your kids in the process.
- Set clear guidelines for unhealthy foods
“Mom, can I have chips?”
Let’s say the answer is yes. Don’t just go with ‘yes’ and let them decide when to stop. Tell your kids to stick to the serving size, and when they’re finished, they can then have a different snack. So, if the bag says ‘serving size: 10 chips,’ let them have 10 chips. Then move on to a healthier snack.
Sugary cereal only on Sundays, pudding once-a-week— whatever your guidelines may be, make them clear and unambiguous.
- Educate them
Kids are smart. They’re naturally curious, and their growing brains are constantly looking for new information to take in. If you know the difference between healthy and unhealthy— between nutrient-dense and empty-calorie foods— your kids (assuming they are an appropriate age) can understand too.
Start a program, where you learn about one nutrient each week. Take vitamin A, for example. Teach your kids what vitamin A is, what roles it plays in the body, why it’s needed for functioning, and which foods contain vitamin A. If you need some assistance, take a look at this guide from Parenting Pod on Everything You Need to Know About Vitamin A.
Teach them to make smart choices. If you give your kid health-food now, he’ll eat healthily today. Teach him about health-food, and he’ll eat healthily for a lifetime.
By Ariela Schwartz