Is mealtime often a nightmare when trying to get your child to eat healthy? Relax, it doesn’t have to be this way. Eating is the one behavior your child truly does have control over, and that’s okay, because after all we want our children to grow up to be assertive and independent, don’t we?
As parents, we need to know that it is the CHILD that decides how much they will eat, and IF they will eat at all. Of course you want your child to eat the most nutritious foods possible, and thankfully, that is what you can control. It’s you, the PARENT that determines what your child eats, when they eat and where they eat. If meal time is a constant struggle for you as a parent, consider that your expectations might be too high. Just as adults may be resistant to change or trying new things, children are no different. The only way a child can learn to like a new food is by repeated exposure, which takes anywhere from 10 to 20 times. When offering new foods, it’s best that the parent not make any comments about the new food. This can be hard to do, but as parents, if we tell the child he has to eat a specific food, we risk creating problems with feeding and distorting growth. Also resist the “clean plate” syndrome or the temptation of bribing your child with dessert. This can also create unhealthy eating habits and promote obesity. Never reward a child with food.
As a parent, we can sneak healthy foods like vegetables into our child’s foods, but we also need to let them learn to like a new food by seeing it in its natural form. When children are exposed to a new food, they may first look at it without tasting it, then they may taste it, but not swallow it, then they may swallow it, but not eat any more. It can be a long, drawn-out process. You must be patient. Don’t let the child dictate the family menu, however. They will eat when they are hungry. It is not your job to be a short-order cook, but only to provide them with the healthiest choices. When they are hungry, they WILL eat!
9 Ways to get kids to eat foods that are healthy:
- Present one fruit and one vegetable at every meal and snack.
- When you make up a pot of spaghetti sauce, add a box of frozen chopped spinach, chopped broccoli, carrots, peppers or other vegetable. After you simmer it for a while, you can process it in a food processor, and no one will ever guess there are healthy antioxidant-containing veggies in the sauce.
- When making macaroni and cheese, ask your kids if they want their vegetables plain or cheesy, like the macaroni (give them a choice, don’t just do it). You can add frozen mixed vegetables to the boiling pot of macaroni during the last few minutes of cooking. Drain the water and then add only 1 tablespoon of margarine (not the four that the box suggests) or better yet, use olive oil in place of margarine, and add the milk (preferably skim). Start introducing your child to whole-wheat pasta. The sooner they are exposed to it, the more easily they will accept it.
- When making grilled cheese sandwiches, use reduced-fat cheese and consider NOT using margarine or butter on the bread (preferably whole wheat bread), but instead, use healthy olive oil.
- If you want your kids to eat healthy cooked dried beans, rinse and drain a can of pinto beans, then blenderize with salsa into a dip and offer with some cut-up fresh vegetables.
- Instead of the greasy American version of French Fries, fix Oven-Baked Fries. For even more added nutrition, use sweet potatoes, but either way, for every 4 large potatoes cut lengthwise in wedges (peeled or unpeeled), drizzle with one tablespoon canola or olive oil. Spray a cooking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, and spread the potato wedges on a cooking sheet. Bake for 50 minutes, or until tender. Sprinkle with salt (easy on the salt) and pepper and serve with ketchup. Kids love this!
- Involve your child in the preparation of the food. They love to eat what they prepared.
- Be a good role model for your kids. Don’t drink sodas and excessive juice, yourself. Only offer your child 1 serving of juice a day, and provide milk, never sodas at meals.
- If your child just wants to eat unhealthy foods all the time, instead of saying that the food is bad, describe healthy foods as “grow foods” and unhealthy foods as not “grow foods.” Then ask them which foods they would prefer. (Do they want to grow up and get bigger?). Avoid, however, bringing unhealthy food choices into your home. Children won’t eat what is not available (and neither will parents)!