Cooking for kids can be one of the most challenging parts of a parent’s day. With picky eaters and some fierce aversions to veggies, it isn’t always easy. Finding food for energy that’s both nutritious and kid-friendly is a task. That’s why moms and dads give into selecting foods that are less than healthy to appease blowouts and meltdowns. Since feeding your children healthy food is so important, diffusing the power struggle during mealtime is key to properly nourishing them.
Research shows that it can take an average of 8–15 times for a child to adopt a new food.
Research shows that it can take an average of 8–15 times for a child to adopt a new food, whereas most parents give up after offering a new food to their child after five times. As a parent in control of their environment, you have a lot of influence on the choices your child makes. These suggestions will make it easier for the whole family to enjoy eating better.
Be a Healthy Eating Role Model
It’s crucial to lead by example. Your kids won’t get healthier until you make healthier choices yourself. Remember, they are always watching. Make the commitment as a family to choose better food.
Keep the Junk Food Out of the House
Only stock your home with nutritious choices. Your kids might throw a hissy fit at first or give you the silent treatment and push away new food. Don’t worry, they won’t starve. In time, they have to eat something. If all you have in the house is healthy food, they will have to try it. Plus, when they see Mom and Dad eating it, you can create conversations around how good it makes you feel.
Food is actually a form of medicine
Teach Your Kids That Food is Fuel
Discuss the connection between health and energy. Even if the little ones stomp and roll their eyes, I do think consistent conversations about the deeper benefits of food are important. If they view food as only a surface treat that is meant to taste sweet or salty, they won’t understand that food is actually a form of medicine. Your four year old may not really care right now, but it’s a long journey to creating excellent habits. The more you do it, the more it sinks in for them. Clients always mention to me how they ate as a child and how much that affects their current diet, both positively and negatively.
Prep Dinner as a Family
Recruit your kids to help in the kitchen. This could be as simple as dumping the pre-measured ingredients into a bowl or holding down the switch on the blender. When kids get to help, they’re more likely to eat what they created. Teach them to also make good choices in their food purchases by letting them pick out the ingredients at the grocery store or farmers’ market.
Create Healthy Meal Makeovers
Make their favorite dishes, but with your favorite healthy ingredients, like mac and cheese made with quinoa pasta, coconut milk, and nutritional yeast. You don’t have to do the whole transition at once. That’s one sure way to make them rebel and make your job even harder. But small changes can give you big results and more open-minded kids at meal times.
Make One Dish for Everyone
Move towards having the kids eat what you eat. In most other countries, this is how it is. There isn’t a separate kids’ menu. Kids eat smaller amounts (except for my big-appetite 3 year old!) of the same food you eat. These foods should be whole food-based for the most part, and will save you time and stress from creating a separate menu for the little ones. It also creates unity and bonding when everyone eats the same thing.
Swap This for That
Be aware of unhealthy foods marketed as “kids’ foods” and sub out better choices whenever possible.
- Yogurts marketed specifically to children, particularly the “fun” yogurts in tubes are high in sugar, artificial colorings, and other chemicals. Read the label and you’ll see they often contain high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), artificial flavorings, and artificial colors.
A better choice: Coconut yogurt or chia seed pudding.
- Instant oatmeal tends to be just as high in sugar as other cereals marketed to kids—sometimes as high as 12 grams of sugar per serving in certain flavors like maple. Additionally, some instant oats may be contaminated with gluten during manufacturing. If your child is gluten sensitive, this can cause a real problem.
A better choice: Try steel-cut oatmeal (look for products labeled gluten-free), kasha cereal, or buckwheat granola.
- Read the label of breakfast or granola bars and you’re likely to discover the first ingredient is enriched flour. Next usually comes the ubiquitous sugar, listed in all its different alias, or HFCS. You’ll often find other chemicals as well. While these foods appear to be healthy, they are actually filled with empty calories that make hunger return shortly after. You’ll save calories by providing your child a real meal that fills them up first thing in the morning.
A better choice: Green smoothies with extra banana to give it a yummy, kid-friendly flavor. About 25 minutes later, give them almonds to snack on, steel-cut oatmeal, or gluten-free sprouted toast with hummus or avocado.
Kimberly Snyder, CN, is a celebrity nutritionalist and the founder of Solluna.