I had an email the other day from a mum who was struggling to get her kids to eat healthy food…
“I am desperate to get try to get my son to eat vegetables, but he just sticks to his chicken nuggets and baked beans, what can I do? If I don’t give in, he won’t eat!”
Getting your kids to eat healthy healthy food can be really frustrating and lead to miserable mealtimes and unhealthy over or underweight children who the harder you try the more they resist.
The first step is to give yourself a break, aim to win the war and accept that you are likely to lose a few of the battles along the way.
The best way to ensure that our children stay healthy, slim and don’t spend the rest of their lives worrying about their weight or health is by educating them now and leading by example.
What you are working towards is having them make the right choices as they become teenagers and young adults – you don’t have to be super strict you just need to ensure that 80% of the time they are eating healthy, nutritious REAL food!!
One thing to know is that processed and sugary foods are highly addictive and therefore removing them from the diet completely will literally give your child withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, lethargy & headaches.
This can last a few days so be prepared.
So how do you take a veggie hater into a veggie lover? Here are a few of my tried and tested methods to get your kids to eat healthy foodL
Take it slow
Suddenly serving up plates of spinach and Brussel sprouts whilst eliminating all goodies from the house will probably cause an uproar, mutiny and most likely fail unless you really do have an iron will!
Instead, to get your kids to eat healthy food, try introducing new foods in small portions before taking away others and don’t give up.
The chances are the first time you offer a new food it will be ignored or meet with disgust.
The less you say the better, maybe something like “really you don’t like it? I’m surprised, it’s one of my favorites”
Invite them to try it, don’t insist but make sure you put a small portion on the plate again next time you are having it. Expect that it may take several attempts before they try the food so be patient.
Lead by example
Remember children learn from what you do, not what you say, so lead by example and eat healthily yourself if you want to get your kids to eat healthy food.
If it can’t be every day then have set nights each week when you do. Even on the days you can’t try and get your children to eat at a table without the TV/PlayStation/Ipad/laptop, and sit with them if you can.
Mealtimes are an ideal time to discuss your children’s favorite foods, which ones they like and why. Which new ones they are open to trying and if they are choices that will make them healthier.
Also discussing the advantages of being healthy, increased sporting ability, more energy, better concentration, etc.
(If your child is overweight avoid putting them down or embarrassing them. If you want them to lose a few pounds your best bet is to help them feel comfortable in their body and confident in themselves, then helping them decide to make the right choices).
Don’t make big announcements
Family meetings or big sweeping statements are likely to get you ignored! Instead, to get your kids to eat healthy food, start conversations with your children, play games where they have to guess if a food is healthy. Relating it to their interests is better than just saying if it is good or bad.
“Do you think eating an apple will make you run better?”
“What do you think Superman has for his breakfast?”
“Do you think eating too many biscuits will make you stronger or weaker”
As the parent you are in control of what is bought in your weekly shop, the buck stops with you.
Now is the time for action! To get your kids to eat healthy food, limit the number of sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks and processed foods you buy.
Have healthy snacks available
Offer before you’re asked. Cut up apple spread with cashew nut butter is a tasty after school snack for example, or spread some oatcakes with butter and marmite or feta cheese with olives and olive oil, or cherry tomatoes and avocado kebabs.
Try to avoid too much dried fruit as it is high in sugar and will stick to their teeth, having said that they are still a better choice than a bag of Haribo!
Let them play with their food!
One of my favorite memories is my children making fruit kebabs! Some of the kebabs were rather sparse, they ate as much as they made, it was a sticky, messy state of affairs!
But they loved it and its so much more fun to eat something you have made.
Having them help in the kitchen can be a daunting thought but set aside time and let them get involved in making REAL food, even if it is just cakes to start with, a homemade cake will be far better than a shop-bought one full of trans fats, preservatives and additives.
Pick your own farms are a great day out and brilliant for teaching the children what’s what, as well as letting them see where foods come from (not in plastic bags or tins on the supermarket shelves) then when you get home get them to help clean and prepare them.
Take them shopping with you
…And let them choose some of the family meals.
When I once gave my 16-year-old a £20 budget to spend as part of my weekly shop, it wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t too bad either.
If your children are younger, they can choose fruits and vegetables that they would like to try, getting them to help you pick out items during the shop, so they get to know the names of all the good foods.
Treat food as food
…without attaching too much emotion to it. Always be aware of using food to bribe, reward or punish. Food is there to feed and nourish you rather than to be given in times of stress or celebration or taken away as a punishment.
It is these anchors from childhood that are so often the route of over or under eating in our adult lives.
Play the tasting game
This was another favorite in our house. Blindfold your child and offer a variety of foods, including some you know they love, then let them guess what they are eating.
My children used to love this, and I give it full credit for the fact that olives are still favorites in our house.
Finally, don’t deny them (or you) life’s pleasures – ice cream on a summer’s day, a biscuit after swimming or hot chocolate after a winters walk are one of life’s many joys. Just try and get the same enthusiasm for a bowl of strawberries or a juicy satsuma.
Remember 80/20 and you’ll be fine!
About Kim Raine
Kim Raine is a Life Coach and Health Mentor with over 13 years of experience working with women to reduce anxiety, overcome burnout, get on top of stress, lose weight, sleep better and live healthier happier lives.
She is also co-host of the Living Your Legacy podcast.
Get her free Lose Your First 7lbs Blueprint with over 15 family-friendly recipes designed to increase your energy, balance your hormones and help you lose weight over at https://kimrainewellbeing.com/loseyourfirst7/