How do you get your kids to eat healthy food?
Updated: Oct 19
That is a question I get asked a lot and it’s a very hard question to answer when each of our four kids have been very different!
One kid started out on not-so-good food and then we started making changes, so they had to adapt.
One kid was really not ever picky and loved to eat so it wasn’t a battle.
One kid was super picky for a season and it was a big battle!
The other kid isn’t too picky, but they are so SLOW at eating.
Then there are the kids who have been with us in foster care, as you can imagine getting them on the “healthy food train” was not easy when they were not used to that at all!
We have had kids spit food out on the floor, scream and throw fits, sit at the table for hours and flat out refuse to eat.
I can’t give you a “do this and it works every time” guide. But after 15 years of feeding kids, I can give you some advice.
Training Kids To Eat Healthy Is Important
Before I give you my tips, let’s talk about why this is important. I mean - aren’t kids just kids? Can’t they just burn off all the calories and sugar? They’re young, won’t they be fine?
Training our kids to eat and enjoy real, nutrient-dense food is not the easiest path in our world where fake, processed food is just everywhere. But here are a few reasons why it’s 1000% worth the effort:
It helps them to feel their best NOW. They will have more focus, stabilized energy, stronger immune function and better behavior. Feeling their best means they’ll be able to enjoy life!
Consider this: 1 in 5 children are obese, 1 in 8 children have asthma, 1 in 6 children have a mental health disorder, 1 in 2 children has at least one chronic health condition, childhood cancer has increased 27% since 1975.
They’ll have a chance at a better future. They will have less chance of developing chronic diseases in adulthood like heart disease, autoimmune disorders, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some cancers.
They will learn healthy-living skills that will benefit them their whole lives.
In 2019, a survey by OnePoll found that most Americans mainly just know how to make breakfast food.
With stress, junk-food and convenience living ruling our modern day, it’s more important than ever to teach our kids how they can live a life of wellness!
10 Tips for helping kids eat healthy food:
Start early. If you can start kids on real, healthy from the beginning, there are some real advantages. You can get their taste buds used to real food vs. processed food. And when they are little they are at home more, eating options that you provide, so it’s easier to control the food options they have.
Eat at the table. There are a lot of beneficial reasons for this but it helps you to actually see what your kids are eating and what they are not. You can encourage them more and model healthy eating.
Connect with your food. One way to do this is to set a “buffet” style meal occasionally with all nutritious options and let them choose what they want. (This also helps them feel more in control.) You could also try to grow some of your food in a garden or containers, connecting with how your food makes it to your plate is a beautiful thing! Shop at the Farmer’s Market. If they are old enough, they can even help you with the meal plan!
Model curiosity and enthusiasm about healthy meals and real food. You need to be the lead learner for your children. Ask questions about your food - where it came from, what type of food it is, what nutrients are in it, etc. Have these conversations while you are eating. Teach them to recognize real vs. processed food!
Explain it to them. Be firm and confident in your decisions and tell them why you are making changes. Help them understand how important healthy food is for our bodies. For older kids, have them watch food documentaries with you. For 3 years in a row, I had my kids watch a documentary on the negative effects of sugar right before Halloween! It worked!
Reset expectations. Don’t cater to their preference every meal. And don’t offer desserts as a reward for finishing their healthy meal. I think that always giving our kids what they want is setting them up for disappointment in life. If I serve something that isn’t a favorite for my kids, I will say, “That’s ok, you can eat it even if it’s not your favorite.”
Don’t keep junk food in the house. Parents are the gate-keepers for the pantry. An apple is just as convenient to grab and eat as a processed pastry. Keep healthy food in the house, and you’ll end up eating a lot more of it! (Who am I kidding, this tip is just as much for me as it is my kids!)
Plan ahead. A meal plan is a wonderful thing. If you don’t love doing it, I recommend making a 2 week plan and then just repeat it! In some seasons of life (when I had a lot of littles), I planned out every meal plus snacks! Do what is going to lessen the stress and make it EASY to pick healthy options. Keep a pinterest board of healthy snacks, one of lunch ideas, one of meals, etc. That way, when you can’t think of options, you can go there and get ideas!
Get kids in the kitchen. My kids are always excited to eat a meal they helped make! They are proud to serve it, too. I love that it helps them learn those kitchen skills needed for healthy living in their future.
Don’t make every meal a battle. If this is all new to your kiddo, try working things in slowly and involve them in their choices when possible. Healthy eating was really important to me, so it was a battle I was willing to fight for the long haul, but not at every meal. That would have been exhausting. Find healthy meals they like that you can serve when you know something new or not-their-favorite is going to be too much.
The best meal is a real-food, healthy meal that your family will actually eat! Work on finding at least 5 meals you can make that your whole family will eat without a battle! If needed, just keep repeating those, adding more variety as you can.
What tips would you add to this list? What other questions do you have about kids and healthy eating?