Healthy Eating Strategies for Children: If you are a parent, then more than likely you have been frustrated at what your child has eaten or what they have NOT eaten from time to time. I am sharing with you my top 5 ways to get your children to eat better at any age.
Do you have children? Have you found yourself banging your head on the table after begging your child (unsuccessfully) to please just try one bite? Are you worried about your child not having good nutrition based on their eating habits? Do you worry that your child will be a picky eater for the rest of his/her life?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Welcome to being a parent!
I don’t know a single parent who has not wanted to throw a sippy cup or two across the floor out of frustration when it comes to mealtime with a toddler–and that frustration often continues until the day the child leaves for college.
However, I want to help you with 5 things you can start TODAY and continue every day to help your child improve their eating habits and end the war at the family dinner table. And save yourself a few gray hairs 🙂
1. Let your child help with cooking and meal selection.
- I get my kids in the kitchen almost daily. I let them sit on the counter and mix up batters, spread jelly on bread, flip pancakes, etc.
- I started when my children were just a year. I would pour pasta into a large bowl and give them a mixing spoon and let them get carried away. This way I could actually get dinner going while my toddler was entertained.
- I let the kids make choices, but NOT unlimited choices. For example, I will say do you want cheddar cheese or swiss cheese on your sandwich? Would you like to pick the vegetable–broccoli or green beans?
- I take the kids with me to the store (on occasion) and let them choose a new fruit or vegetable to try.
- We experiment with ethnic cuisine. After learning about a region or a country, we will find out what type of cuisine they eat and then I will let the kids help me pick out a meal that we can try–and there has been some huge successes and some ordering of pizza last minute in these little experiments, but we do them together!
- Some great recipes to get the little hands involved are Vegetable Potstickers, Pizza Bread, Pizza, Blueberry Pie Bars, Bunny Scones, and Fruit Pizza.
2. Eat at specific and predictable times throughout the day.
- We do not graze at my house. We eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 2-3 snacks.
- We sit down when we are eating and focus on eating and conversation versus mindlessly munching while watching TV or as we come in and out of the kitchen.
- If my child is hungry in between meals, they wait. PERIOD. This may sound harsh, but you can pretty much guarantee they will eat better at the next “scheduled” mealtime.
3. Don’t let your children fill up on beverages between meals.
- Drink ONLY water in between meals.
- We only drink fruit juice on special occasions.
- A simple glass of milk has more calories than many snacks, so it is easy for your child to fill up on milk or juice (or sugary sodas) and not feel hungry when it is time to eat food.
4. Don’t make the dinner table a battlefield.
- We eat as a family. My husband travels, but even when he does, I still sit down at the dinner table with my kids and we eat together. We always talk about our days–the good, the bad, and hopefully share some laughs with each other. We look forward to that time to relax together.
- I am NOT a short-order chef. I will not make 4 different meals. However, there are some exceptions. I will cook one person’s carrots and leave one person’s raw. I blend diced tomatoes before making my soups for my kids’ sake. I will let one person have salsa on the side and one has yogurt to dip or top their burgers/sandwiches any way they like. But the bottom line is that my kids (and my husband) eat what I cook.
- If we are having something new and my child genuinely tries it and dislikes it, they are allowed to make themselves a bowl of plain oatmeal (oats and water/milk). This ensures they will not starve, but is nothing that they love (like a PB&J), so I know they are really giving the new food a good try. When they were younger, I still gave them the option of plain oatmeal but I had to make it for them at that age. The exception to this rule is that if it is something they have eaten before or something made with simple ingredients they are known to like, they eat it or go hungry. Sounds harsh, but I make sure they have already eaten breakfast, lunch, and usually 2 snacks by dinner. They will NOT starve.
5. Set the example.
- Your child will ultimately learn from you.
- I eat with my children and I don’t have a stash of junk food that is just mine. What is in the house is fair game for everyone (with the exception of my husband’s ice cream–he is loyal to one brand and the kids and I have to eat a different kind. But if I have it for him, I have some for us as well.)
- If you want your child to try new things, you need to try them too. We joke at our house because my kids are now more adventurous than their father as eaters, but he still tries everything–that took a firm talk from me, if I am being honest 🙂
How do I personally know that these tips work? Well, I have had experience.
My son was declared the PICKIEST of eaters by occupational therapists and doctors at the age of two. He was placed into therapy for eating because he literally would starve himself rather than try new food. The ONLY thing he ate was oatmeal, broccoli, yogurt, and applesauce. Yes, they were healthy items, but I would have been ecstatic if he tried a cookie. But he did NOT, for years.
So the doctors recommended therapy. And the therapist came to our house weekly. I was hopeful but skeptical.
She would get in the kitchen and cook with him (I tried this too) and he refused to eat anything they cooked together, even though he loved helping out. She bribed him, begged him, and continued to be as frustrated as I was. He was a happy little guy that just didn’t want to eat.
So what did we do?
I stopped therapy. What I was doing would work, I knew it and had to trust my gut and continue striving to get my child to eat more variety. I was right, it took patience and years, but my son can now be declared the heartiest of eaters for any 10-year-old boy–just ask anyone that has had us over for dinner. And he will try almost ANYTHING.
People ask how I raised such a good, healthy eater. I laugh.
Yes, it was because I did not give up that he eats healthy now. But I laugh because it took my son 5 years before he even tried a pancake–true story.
I was sure he ate–even if it was just plain oatmeal most nights for dinner. I was sure to get his nutrients in at breakfast and lunch and offer him daily what we were eating for dinner. And I never pushed. (Sometimes I wanted to scream and cry, but I refrained and got out the plain oatmeal, or put him to bed hungry as he got older.)
So if I can break the pickiest of eaters of their bad habits, you can help your child develop healthier eating habits as well, with 5 steps I listed above.
Most importantly: DON’T GIVE UP AND DON’T GIVE IN
I would love to hear your picky eater story or your tips for getting your kids to eat better.