5 More Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthy
There are lots of creative ways to get kids to eat healthy. Some of those ways to get kids to eat a healthy diet apply to all ages of kids, while some techniques work best with older kids and teenagers or with young children and toddlers. The techniques explored have included talking to kids about how diet affects health, exposing kids to new foods, getting them involved in gardening, cooking, and shopping, and offering healthy foods repeatedly. Now here are four more techniques you can try to get your kids to eat a healthy diet.
Set a Routine
Kids inherently prefer routine. While they may seem to want lots of freedom and spontaneity, kids actually need some structure in their lives. This can take lots of forms, but the most common one is to set some sort of schedule. Kids sleep better if they go to bed and wake up at around the same time, and eating is no different. Kids are more likely to eat healthy if they eat meals at designated times of the day. Otherwise, they have a tendency to snack or to eat what is most conveniently at hand. Eating on a schedule trains them, both physically and mentally, to expect nourishing food at predictable times.
Let Them Get Hungry
Kids are more likely to eat healthy food if they are hungry when it is put in front of them. As the saying goes, “Hunger is the best seasoning!” Kids do not need a snack every time they get hungry. Set firm mealtimes (e.g., breakfast at 7 AM, snack 10 AM, lunch 12 PM, snack 3 PM, dinner 6 PM) and stick to them. If your child comes to you complaining they are hungry and dinner is going to be soon, there is no harm in telling them they have to wait. They will not starve in the space of a few minutes or even an hour. Giving them a snack to quiet them will only serve to spoil their appetite for a healthy meal later.
Let it Be Their Decision
Prepare healthy meals at home, but let your kids serve themselves. At first, you may feel dismayed when they take the least healthy of the options. Perhaps they will load up on mashed potatoes but leave the peas and corn behind. Or maybe they will eat only the soup and not take any salad. Don’t force them to take these foods. Yes, they may be the healthiest options and of course you really want your kids to eat them, but you also have to ask yourself what is the most effective way to get them to eat these foods in the long term? It is more important to establish a lifelong healthy habit than to win the Phyrric victory of forcing them to eat healthy in the short term but making them resentful for life. Keep serving healthy foods every day and let your kids see you eating these foods yourself. Eventually they will decide to try them and will make them a part of their own meals, on their own. When kids decide of their own volition to eat healthy, this sets them up for a lifetime of healthy eating.
Another option is to place a variety of healthy foods separately on the table and letting your kids choose which ones they want. For instance, a platter of cut vegetables from which they can choose which ones they want to eat. Or perhaps a salad bar, where they can add as much of each salad component as they want. Then you do not need to force them to take healthy food, as all the options are nutritious, but kids still get the sense that they are in charge and able to make their own decisions. Encourage them by telling them how proud and impressed you are with their choices. This will increase feelings of positive association and self empowerment when it comes to good food choices, making it more likely they will choose healthy foods again in the future.
Don’t Just Tell Them: Show Them!
Make kids’ understanding of healthy food more visual. It’s good to talk to kids about the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods, but find ways to make your message more visual. Kids often understand and remember a visual message better than a spoken one. Explain to kids how many teaspoons of sugar are in one bottle of soda, then have them put that number of teaspoons into an empty soda bottle so they can see just how much sugar is in each sweet beverage. You can do this with healthy nutrients, too. For instance, see if you can get a bunch of empty boxes for cheeseburgers from a local fast food restaurant like McDonald’s, then compare how many cheeseburgers you’d need to eat to get the same amount of vitamin C as in one cup of strawberries (150g) (the answer is approximately 75), or the same amount of vitamin A as in one cup of carrots (the answer is approximately 68). It may seem extreme, but a visual comparison of this nature can be massively compelling. They will not soon forget which type of food gives them the best nutrition.
Educate kids about other aspects of food as well by showing them. Demonstrate portion sizes, for instance, in comparison to what is normally served at restaurants. Next time you go out and order a meal, ask the server for some extra plates and divide the meal into healthy serving sizes. For instance, a 9-ounce steak is actually three servings! You can also show kids how small a serving of healthy veggies is. For instance, cut a carrot into 1 cup’s worth of sticks (100-120 grams) and place it in the center of a big plate. Kids will be surprised to see that one serving of veggies is not that much – it is more like a snack! Then the idea of eating several servings of vegetables per day will not seem so daunting or unappetizing.
Let Them Be the Food Critic
I love watching cooking shows. It’s really the only kind of television you’ll catch me occasionally watching. I love food, nutrition, tastes, and flavors. Let kids emulate the judges on these shows by being little food critics. Give them a selection of foods and let them try them. This is a good option for some snack time fun. Prepare a few different kinds of healthy foods and have your child answer questions about the foods and describe them just like on cooking shows. For instance, do a raw vegetable taste test and give kids red capsicum/bell pepper, green capsicum/bell pepper, cucumber, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli. Have them describe which are hard and which are soft, which are most juicy, which are the most crunchy, and which ones are sweet or savory. This makes trying healthy foods fun and frees them up to safely form and express their opinions. It also gives you more ideas what kind of healthy snacks they might enjoy in the future.
It is a challenge to get kids to eat healthy food, but there are new ideas and techniques being thought up every day. Try a variety of techniques until you find some that work for you. Get them involved and make it fun. Make healthy food synonymous with good feelings and good experiences, instead of letting mealtime become a daily battleground. Let’s inspire healthy kids!