It’s never too early or too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle – and the kitchen is an excellent place to start! Whether you’ve got an adventurous eater or finicky feeder, kids can learn to love (or at least accept) nutritious foods. Almost every tot goes through a picky stage, making mealtime a lot more stressful and discouraging than it has to be. If that’s where you’re at, then hang in there! We’ve got a few tips that, with practice, can help your kid come around!
Here are our top 10 easiest ways to get kids to eat healthy:
#1 Have Fun With Food.
Toys, books, and kitchen sets are perfect gateways to healthy eating. Surround your little food critic with pretend fruits and veggies, books about farming, and kid-friendly kitchen tools. Our favorite way to have fun with food? ChopChop Family’s Eatable Alphabet – a delightful deck of educational cards that teach toddlers about real food and cooking. Hello Bello employees have tested these out on our own kiddos and the vote is unanimous: Eatable Alphabet is a brilliant way to encourage healthy eating!
#2 Teach ‘Em Young.
The more we learn about food and where it comes from, the more respect we’ll have for it (and it might even turn your reluctant eater into a full-fledged foodie!). For some edible education consider planting a garden, growing herbs indoors, or joining a community garden. And when spring and summer roll around, visit your nearby farmer’s market as a way to learn about local food, seasonal produce, and different types of fruits and veggies. Plus, there are often samples and kids love taste-testing!
#3 Cook Together.
Make some memories in the kitchen! Kids love to “help” and mimic their caregivers, so let your wee one participate. Older kids can tear lettuce for salad, mash bananas for banana bread, or stir ingredients together in a bowl. Even babies like to be a part of the action, so pull their highchair up to the counter for a front row view. Let them smell, touch, and (if age appropriate) taste whatever you’re cooking up. And on days you can’t involve them, give your kids wooden spoons, pots, and pans to play with. Wondering what this has to do with teaching kids to eat healthier? When we engage littles in our everyday lifestyle choices (like cooking, exercising, or even chores), they’re much more likely to be curious, willing participants when it comes time to dig in at the dinner table.
#4 Set an Example.
Demonstrate a healthy attitude and relationship with food so eating fruits and veggies feels “normal.” When mealtime comes around, enjoy the food on your plate, pause between bites, chat with your dining companions, and involve your kid. Pull their highchair up to the table and let them eat what you’re eating (with necessary modifications, of course!). Note: If your family normally scarfs down their food, eats standing up, or looks at their electronics during the meal, now’s a great time to brush up on your table manners. Your little one is watching EVERYTHING.
#5 Be Nonchalant.
When picky eating strikes, make the dinner table a pressure-free zone. Don’t harp on your kid to finish their plate and, on the flip side, don’t overdo it with praise when they scarf it all down. Keep eating anxiety at bay by adopting a neutral attitude about food. Plus, let’s be real, would you want somebody micromanaging your every munch? We didn’t think so!
As tempting as it may be, don’t bargain with your toddler about food – it’ll only come back to bite you (pun intended) by creating a stressful power struggle at every single meal of the day. Do: Keep the mood upbeat and trust in the process. Don’t: Don’t force kids to finish their plate at every single meal, as it teaches them to ignore their body’s hunger and fullness signals.
#6 Give Them Choices.
Make ‘em think they’re in charge. Let your kid choose between 2 or 3 healthy options, so they have some autonomy over what goes in their mouth. And no matter what option they choose, enjoy it with them for some positive eating reinforcement. If you’ve got a particularly anxious eater on your hands, go over the weekly meal plan together and let them help you decide what’s on the menu. Afterwards, head to the grocery store together to buy your ingredients. Ownership in the process = more buy in!
#7 Get Points For Presentation.
It’s been said that people “eat with their eyes first.” This is especially true of toddlers! Here are few ways to jazz things up:
- Make a smiley face out of whatever’s on their plate!
- Use cute cookie cutters on toast or pancakes (or anything that they’ll work with!).
- Add dip whenever possible, because kids just love it! Healthy, homemade dips (like honey mustard or yogurt and dill dip) are super easy to whip up and keep on hand.
- Add teeny tiny, diced veggies to anything and call it “sprinkles”!
- Make healthy hummus cups – add sand (hummus), trees (broccoli), a patch of grass (mashed avocado), and rocks (cherry tomatoes).
#8 Be Predictable.
Just like a bedtime routine, kids do best with a cuisine routine, too. Keep mealtime and snack time predictable so your kid always knows the drill. Try offering a veggie and fruit each time they sit down at the highchair or table (maybe a healthy fat and carb, too) – over time, they’ll come to expect it and, hopefully, encountering healthier foods won’t be such a scary prospect. ;)
#9 Be Sneaky. But Not TOO Sneaky.
You’ve been hyper aware of what’s gone in your baby’s belly since day one – so you know when your wee one is way overdue for something green. Luckily, there are tons of ways to disguise veggies in any dish. Add chopped spinach, carrots, or celery to pasta sauce. Make a “rainbow pizza” with diced up peppers, broccoli, and basil. Include greens in your morning smoothie. Add fruits to a batch of homemade popsicles. Bake some zucchini muffins.
Beware: While it’s A-OK to slip some spinach or avocado into a smoothie, for example, it’s not teaching your kid to willingly eat said spinach or avo. But hey, if they’ll slurp it down and you’re desperate to boost their nutrition, then go for it. Just don’t give up on intro’ing them to real, whole foods (in their original form!) as often as you can.
#10 Try, Try Again.
Teaching kids to eat (and enjoy) healthy foods is a process. Remember: If your little one turns up their nose at avocado one day, it doesn’t mean they’ll refuse it next time – keep offering and exposing them to it at different times and in various forms. In other words, don’t give up! Stay consistent and patient as your baby’s taste buds and preferences grow and develop.
And if they never come around to kale or cucumbers or [insert healthy food here] – it’s ALL good. Celebrate the foods they do enjoy (and consider a kid-friendly multivitamin to be extra sure they’re getting those essential vitamins and minerals)! You’ve got this!
How do you get your kids to eat healthy foods? Please share your ideas in the comments!