I have recently been asked by several moms for some direction and hints on how to get their children to eat healthy. There really isn’t any complicated formula or tricks to help our children embrace their fruits and vegetables. (See the original post and answer by clicking here.) In some areas, I still struggle with this in our own family. Sometimes it’s my own weaknesses shining through and sometimes it’s my children’s weaknesses. Salads have always been a source of frustration and challenges in our family. I did not grow up liking green, leafy salads. In fact, it has only been in the last 5 to 7 years that I have really begun to love them and crave them. For me, it took finding the right kind of lettuce. Then I discovered that leaf lettuces are very sweet and tasty – to MY taste buds. Other people really love the taste of Romaine, but I always found it bitter and would find myself drowning the salad in dressings. When I finally made the switch to red and green leaf lettuce I discovered how much I truly enjoyed the taste of greens and how much less salad dressing a good salad requires. I also discovered the joy of creating a masterpiece salad when I eat. A salad isn’t really a salad in my house unless it’s topped with a very wide variety of toppings. A few of my favorite toppings are homemade pickled beets, beans, cucumbers, shredded carrots, raisins, diced pears, leftover vegetables (roasted green beans, roasted asparagus, broccoli, peas and corn to name a few), sea vegetable flakes, ground flax seed, chopped walnuts and sunflower seeds. My children have only recently (within the last 2 months) begun embracing salads. For years, we tried all kinds of lettuce, toppings and dressings. It wasn’t until I thought about texture that I really found the solution. After visiting with another homeschool mom, I noticed that her kids readily ate salads – but they were chopped salads. (I wrote about this in my blog.) Between chopping their salad and adding black olives and garbanzo beans to the top, my kids are suddenly eating salads – and enjoying them. Although our salad adventure took place fairly slowly over the course of a few years, we have finally arrived. If you are struggling with eating issues in your house, perhaps the 7 tips below might help you on your journey to tabletop harmony.
- Persistence – We often think that if our children don’t like something the first one, two or three times we serve them, then they won’t ever like them. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. On average it takes over 18 times for a presented food to be accepted. This may seem like a lot, but over the course of a lifetime, 18 times is hardly anything.
- Education – If your children are old enough, a good home-based course on nutrition can be a key which unlocks the door to healthy eating. The other day my son came home from Nana’s with a bad tummy ache and that was the beginning of another series of nutrition lessons. It only took us a few minutes each day for a week to help both children better understand the how and why of healthier eating. Each day at lunch I placed quite a few choices on the kitchen counter and challenged them to make a plate of food for their lunch that they were happy with and that they thought would make me happy too. Their food choices still aren’t perfect, but we’re getting there.
- Determination and a plan – If your child is very determined and stubborn about not eating healthy, it may take quite a bit of tenacity and planning on your part to overcome their resolve. During the time period you are going to get firm about eating habits be sure to get your spouse’s support. When a child is whining and complaining, it can get pretty hard to resist the temptation to give in to their old eating habits. Having an ally or two in the family can really make the difference between success and failure.
- Don’t have unhealthy alternatives in the house – It can be overwhelmingly tempting to resort to unhealthy food choices when we feel like our children are not getting enough to eat, or we just can’t stand the complaining any more. If you do not have the unhealthy choices in the house, it is much easier to stick to your guns.
- Insist that each dish is sampled – In our house, the rule is that everything served must be eaten. It might be a very small serving if we are just introducing the food or if we know it is not one of their favorites. Sometimes we will not serve their favorites until the new or less favorite food is eaten.
- Hunger is a great motivator. – I am amazed at how well my children eat when they are truly hungry. My son would snack all throughout the day if we let him and when we do, trying to get him to eat a healthy dinner is nearly impossible. If I know that dinner may not be his favorite, I make sure he does not get a snack between lunch and dinner.
- Creativity – Sometimes it just takes a little bit of creativity and careful observation to encourage healthy eating in our children. We often think of potato chips, pretzels and cookies as snacks, but by watching what my children like, I was able to develop an easy and creative list of snack ideas. Some parents think that being creative means finding new and different ways to hide or disguise vegetables in the food they serve. I strongly disagree. How will our children ever be able to develop a lifetime of good eating habits if we don’t train them now?
- It may not be the taste they don’t like, but the texture. – I like vegetables now, but I didn’t always. Now that I do love their taste, I can easily overlook an odd texture or too. Be sure when introducing new foods, that you don’t over or undercook them.
- Parents must model the behaviour they want their children to embrace. – Proper modeling by parents holds true whether it is in the area of healthy eating, relationship with God, exercise, reading habits, language or any area of our life. Don’t expect your children to readily accept a healthy diet if your diet is full of junk food.