How I Get My Kids to Eat Healthy Foods

by Wendy Copley on September 7, 2011

A ephalant made of cheese!

If you were to only look at the photos of my children’s lunches on my blog you might think that they looooove healthy food. And they do…sort of. They love some healthy foods — apples, corn on the cob, bananas, tofu, berries, grapes — but others… Well, let’s just say that there are a lot of foods that inspire whining, complaining and the occasional humongus tantrum at our dinner table.

So how do I get my kids to eat all those good for you foods? I’m hardly an expert and I don’t have a magic formula but I can tell you what my husband and I have done to encourage good eating habits. Nothing on this list is particularly ground-breaking but it all kind of works together.

Set a Good Example

My husband and I both enjoy cooking and we eat a wide range of different types of foods. We read cookbooks for fun, make food from all over the world and we’re positively giddy when artichokes and asparagus show up in the markets in the spring time. Because food is such an important part of our lives, we love sharing it with our kids and we’ve given our children the same foods we eat since they first picked up a spoon. I can’t help but think our attitude has encouraged them to try new things. By eating a variety of healthy foods — and talking about how much we like them — we send a message to our children that eating good-for-you food is pleasurable.

Don’t Force It but Ask That They Try Things

I generally subscribe to the school of thought that you shouldn’t force your children to eat something they don’t like. First off, I think that leads to a battle of wills that has very little to do with food. Another reason I do this is that I don’t want my kids to associate any foods with very negative experiences. And finally, I know I would find eating a plate of onions — the food I hate most — to be complete torture and I just can’t do something like that to my kids.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Wyatt and Augie can just say no to eating anything they don’t feel like eating. We do have a rule that everyone has to take at least one bite of every food on their plates. My husband refers to this as a “No thank you” bite, but I prefer to call it a “Try it” bite because it seems more positive to me.

Fancy Plate #1: June 5, 2011

Make it Fun

Coaxing that “Try It” bite out of our kids can be tough, but I’ve found that doing a little bit to make eating fun can go a long way. I try to arrange food to look attractive on the plate. I cut food into shapes and draw smiley faces on them. And I’ve had more than one long conversation about the types of foods that Batman likes to eat. (In case you’re wondering, he prefers vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins.)

Take What You Can Get

If your child only eats a few healthy foods embrace the things he likes. Despite all my efforts, there was a time when the only vegetables my oldest child would eat were peas, corn and sugar snap peas (a variation of item #1 on this short list, you might notice). What did I do then? I fed him peas, corn, and sugar snap peas. Sure, there wasn’t a lot of variety in those veggies, but they’re still healthy and they helped him grow. I also continued to serve him other vegetables and lots of varieties of fruit along-side those three vegetables and hoped for the best.

Keep Trying

Which leads me to another point: Never give up! My seven-year-old ate anything and everything I gave him when he was a baby and then when he was around two-years-old he started dropping foods from his repertoire. For three years, the number of foods he’d eat kept getting smaller and smaller and then finally one day when he was almost five, he tried salsa. And he liked it! And he ate a whole bunch of it! And since then, he’s steadily added more foods to his list of things he likes. If I had stopped serving him salsa, he never would have tried it and he’d still only eat peas and corn.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

This last point isn’t really a tip or a technique, but I think it’s important to mention. If you feel like you’ve tried everything to get your kids to eat healthy foods and you never seem to get anywhere, don’t beat yourself up about it. I truly believe that whether or not your child is a “good” eater has a lot to do with luck or genetics or some other factor that we have no control over. My two children have had food presented to them in a very similar manner their entire lives. One of them eats just about everything we put in front of him, the other eats significantly fewer foods. Likewise, I have friends who I would describe as “foodies” and their children only eat things that are white. As parents, I think it’s important to expose our children to a variety of healthy foods but whether or not the kids eat what we give them is really up to them. They’re little individuals and we can’t force them to do anything. Not really.

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Horizon. The opinions expressed by me do not necessarily reflect the view of the Horizon Organic brand.

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