Getting kids to eat healthy is not an easy task in the world we live in today! Junk food is everywhere and there is a tremendous lack of knowledge on healthy eating and the side effects of junk food. Even parents who understand the value of healthy eating and try their best to provide the best nutrition for their kids still find it a struggle. I know that for sure because I’m one of them. I have two boys, ages 8 and 6, and I am concerned about what they eat and want to teach them healthy eating habits. I have read all the books and articles I could find, talked to many parents I know, and taken inspiration from my own childhood experiences. Nothing works all the time, and what works with one child doesn’t with the other. Here is what worked for us, I hope it inspires you to find better methods that work for your unique family.
Enjoy eating vegetables in front of the kids. We all know that actions speak louder than words, so it is difficult for kids to eat vegetables if they don’t see their parents eating and enjoying them. Enjoy eating your favorite vegetables, even if the kids don’t - you don’t even have to offer it to them, their natural curiosity will get them to ask you to try some.
Get kids cooking and make it fun. One of the best ways to get kids to eat is to let them cook. The level of cooking depends on the age of course; even a two year old child can help rip the lettuce for salad! Make the process fun, give funny names to vegetables and let them create their dish if possible. When I first introduced dinosaur kale to my kids, they loved it, not because it tasted or looked good, but because it was a dinosaur kale and probably dinosaurs ate them! (that’s their own conclusion and I left them to their imagination!)
Don’t take it personally. From my own experience I realized that making a big issue about vegetables is never a good idea. The more I insist on them eating the veggies, the more they resist! It really is not beneficial to get into a power struggle over food. They won’t enjoy eating them (that’s if they eat them at all!), and they won't make good choices when I’m not around which is my ultimate goal. So I've learnt to ease up sometimes and know when to let go of the matter.
Let them choose what to eat. It is ok if they don’t like certain vegetables. Everyone has a different taste so I ask my kids to list their top three veggies and I will do my best to make them. Both my kids love fasoleya (green beans), red pepper and avocado. My youngest loves mushrooms while his brother hates it but loves cooked broccoli while the other wants to eat it raw!
Try new ingredients. Experiment with different recipes, share this with the kids, and let them tell you whether they like it or not. When I’m experimenting with a new recipe, I tell my kids that if they don’t like it then I will not make it again, but they have to eat it only this time so it doesn’t go to waste.
Designate a day for everyone. Have a day of the week when you cook the food they like best. I tell my kids that there are four of us in the house, and we need to cook what everyone likes. So whilst one day I will make their favorite dish (pasta and chicken), on another day I will cook what I like (lentil and rice for example). That way they understand that everyone has to compromise sometimes.
Talk to your kids. Explain why you make the choices you make, why eating brown rice is better than white for example. Explain that not all foods are created equal; that a McDonalds burger is not like the one made from fresh meat in a good quality burger joint. It all registers!
The 80/20 rule. Explain this simple rule to your kids (it’s a great one for adults too!): as a rule of thumb, a healthy diet should consist of at least 80% healthy food and 20% junk food. My kids were more receptive to eating vegetables and healthy food when they knew that they could have the candy or chocolate they wanted. This is not a reward system, which I never think is a good idea, but more of a realistic scenario. Sweet treats and junk food are ok to have as long as they are occasional.
“Eat healthy food that you like, I like fasoleya (Green beans) and I like fool (Fava beans) and I eat it”
“Don’t eat your chocolate first, eat your vegetables, then eat your chocolate”
Manal Aldabbagh is a Nia teacher, health coach and busy mother of two. She helps parents inspire their children into leading a healthy lifestyle and balance good nutrition, physical activity, mental and emotional health.
Are you ready for change? Join our Detox Workshops