Whether your kids are picky eaters or they’re more open to trying new flavors, getting children to make healthy food choices consistently can feel like one of the biggest parenting challenges out there. Simply making healthy eating a rule in your house likely won’t do the trick. So, let Crème de la Crème give you some tips for inspiring your kids to learn healthy habits and make healthy food choices now and as they develop and grow.
Take Some Time to Schedule
Advance planning can take the guesswork out of staying healthy as a family. Even if adding yet another aspect to your busy schedule seems overwhelming, a little work ahead of time will go a long way. So, schedule meals and snacks, keeping in mind that kids typically should eat every three or four hours. That translates to three meals, two snacks, and plenty of liquids throughout the day.
By planning these ahead of time, you’ll be less likely to turn to fast food and other unhealthy choices when your kids get hungry (and cranky) and keep your kids’ diets more balanced. It’s especially helpful to plan dinners in advance. Start with just a handful of days if planning a full week seems too scary at first. You can make and freeze simple meal components like chili or soup ahead of time, then reheat and add fresh ingredients the day you plan to eat it. Every dinner doesn’t need to be fancy, but aim for balance and include:
- Whole grains: Pasta, rice, or bread can all work for different meals.
- Protein source: Lean meat, cheese, or something plant-based like beans are all great options.
- Vegetable and/or fruit: Add some melon, sliced apple, or a fun homemade salad.
Prepare Only One Meal
It can feel all too tempting to make one meal you know your kids will actually eat and another the adults will enjoy. Over time, though, that’s going to get exhausting — and it won’t help your kids build healthy eating habits.
Prepare only one meal, but try serving it family-style if you’re having trouble getting your kids to eat what you make. That gives kids some agency, as they can pick what they want to eat. You’ll likely find your kids eating more than you might first expect, though, since kids really do mimic what their parents do.
Make Motivation Age-Appropriate
When you understand developmental stages, you can make sure the message you’re trying to get across about healthy eating is age-appropriate. Children learn best from hands-on learning, for example. Instead of simply telling your kiddo that veggies are healthy, let them get in on the action in the kitchen and help you make a stir-fry or salad.
As kids reach their teenage years, they’ll get motivated to make healthy food choices if they see the immediate benefit, such as better concentration at school or enhanced performance in sports. Teens want to see a pay-off instead of feeling like the adult in their lives are telling them what to do.
Try Not to Comment
Resist the urge to critique what your kids choose to eat. Though it may seem counterintuitive when you’re looking to inspire kids to eat healthily, passing judgment on what — or how much — your children eat can have the opposite outcome. Stay as neutral as you can when discussing food. Common mantras like “eat your vegetables” turn you into a food enforcer and tend to inspire resistance. Remind yourself that you’ve done your job as a parent when you serve healthy foods and balanced meals.
Model Healthy Behavior
Likewise, if you’re constantly commenting on your own “bad” eating habits or dieting, your kids will internalize that relationship with food. Take a moment to honestly assess the messages you’re sending with food. Your kids will learn how to trust their bodies to tell them when they’re hungry or full when you model this behavior.
Make Healthy Choices Fun
Let yourself experiment if your kids aren’t eating fruits and vegetables. Condiments and dips can make healthy choices more fun to eat, so try things like hummus, yogurt-based dressings, salsa, and ketchup. You’ll get those nutrients into your kids’ diets and show them that eating healthy foods isn’t as boring as they might think.
Cut Down on Junk, But Don’t Cut It Completely
You’re in charge of what foods come into your home, so take the reins and cut back on junk foods. If you don’t have as many unhealthy snacks around, your kids will instead reach for vegetables, fruits, or whole-grain snacks.
That said, you can allow treats in moderation. If you don’t allow those “unhealthy” foods at all, they can become even more appealing to kids. Having treats like sugary cereals on vacation, cookies with the grandparents, or buttery popcorn during movie night can ensure junk food doesn’t feel forbidden. What your children eat over time matters. Treats are pleasures in life, and as long as you’re keeping that in balance with physical activity and healthy eating overall, your kids will be just fine in the long run.
Get Your Kids Involved in the Kitchen
Getting kiddos involved with choosing and preparing vegetables and other healthy meals can really get them interested in eating those foods. Bring kids with you on shopping trips and let them help with choosing the produce you’re buying. Once they’re old enough, let them cut vegetables and mix them into a salad or add fruit ingredients as you bake muffins.
Not only are you getting in some quality family time while checking items off your to-do list, but you’re also adding extra incentive for your kids to consume healthy foods when you tackle healthy, fun recipes as a team. Get creative by making healthy pancakes or toast into fun shapes, or give foods fun names like dinosaur food for vegetables. When kids associate healthy eating with fun and family time, they’re more likely to learn healthy eating habits.
That wraps up Crème de la Crème’s tips for inspiring kids to make healthy food choices. Do you have a fun way to get your kids to try new foods or enjoy eating healthy meals with your family? Drop us a line so we can share your ideas.