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Parent to a picky eater? here’s how to establish healthy eating habits for kids
Moms, you know what I’m talking about, right? You make dinner for your family and one of your kids pushes their plate back at you and refuses to eat. There’s pouting, there’s whining, and there’s begging for something better. Like macaroni and cheese, or a peanut butter & jelly sandwich — or maybe just dessert. Creating healthy eating habits for kids can seem like a daunting task.
As a parent, you’re bound to run into resistance when it comes to healthy eating. I know I’ve been there! Even the most adventurous eaters can put up a fight when it comes to leafy greens. And that’s why I’m sharing some tips to help you establish healthy eating habits for kids — especially if you have some super picky eaters in your house, like me!
Healthy kids, healthy future
When it’s dinnertime and your toddler is in full meltdown mode, it’s tempting to just give in and make them something they will eat without a fuss. But, it’s a slippery slope! One meal can turn into ten and can easily become a habit that leads down a path full of processed foods, sugary snacks, and unhealthy demands from your kids. Instead, establish healthy eating habits for kids from the start, so your little ones can grow and learn about why balanced nutrition is important.
Your kids need healthy food for growth: Look back at photos of your kids from two months ago, 6 months ago, a year ago. It’s amazing how much they change and how fast they grow! Their bodies need energy and nutrients to fuel that development. Those nutrients won’t be found in frequent fast-food dinners or lots of sweets!
Childhood obesity continues to be a problem: Your kids’ healthy weight depends on the diet they eat. If they’re frequently eating processed foods and refined sugars, they’re far more likely to gain extra weight. Excess weight can affect their health well into adulthood. Plus, Type 2 Diabetes rates continue to increase in kids and doctors say they’re seeing cases starting at younger and younger ages. It’s more important than ever to support your kiddos with healthy foods and a balanced diet!
Nutrition affects every aspect of wellness for kids: From mood swings to lack of focus, your kids can experience some frustrating mood issues if they’re not eating the proper diet. The food they eat plays a role in their achievements at school, their relationships with family and friends, and their performance in sports. Set them up for success in all areas of their life by feeding them the nutrients their bodies need.
Childhood eating habits carry over into adulthood: A taste for processed foods, fried snacks, and sugary desserts doesn’t have to be the norm for your kids. If you help them establish healthy eating habits from a young age, you’re setting them up with the tools — and the tastebuds — they need to make healthy decisions as an adult. Your kids are far more likely to eat a balanced diet as an adult if they eat a balanced diet as a child.
Plus, bad eating habits can cause digestive issues when your kids become adults — not all effects are immediately seen! If your little ones can’t get enough sugar, they may be facing dental issues down the road or develop a sugar addiction.
Yes, addiction! When your kids consume lots of refined sugar, it causes their blood sugar levels to spike sky high and then crash. They seek out even more sugar to make them feel better and it can become a nasty cycle that’s hard to break.
Children who have unhealthy eating habits when they are young may gain excess weight and have trouble losing weight as they age. Their bodies are accustomed to carrying extra lbs. which can make it tough to maintain a healthy weight later in life.
Tip #1: Explain healthy eating to help your kids understand why nutritious foods are important
When you explain to your children in ‘kid terms’ why they should eat those veggies and what powers they’ll find in a bowl of fruit, they’re far more likely to forget their picky eating ways and dig into dinner.
Sit your kids down at the dinner table to discuss what a healthy diet for children looks like, and don’t leave out the details. Sure, it’s important to explain things in a way they’ll understand, but, avoid being too vague! Telling your kids that broccoli will ‘help them grow strong,’ is a tough concept to grasp and not one that will make a lasting impact on a toddler or young child. Instead, describe healthy eating in a way your kids can relate to.
I couldn’t get my youngest to eat oatmeal until I took the time to explain that oatmeal helps his muscles grow strong. Strong muscles are what make it possible for him to run and play. Now, he asks for oatmeal every day!
Here are some other ideas to share with your kids when you’re talking about foods and nutrition:
- Berries Have Antioxidant Superpowers: Like their favorite superheroes, berries are supercharged with these things called antioxidants. They fight bad guys like germs and bacteria. So, when they eat all their berries, they are helping to keep their bodies safe from bad stuff. Super hero food!
- Carrots, Tomatoes, And Peppers Are Great For Their Peepers: Remind your kids how important their eyes are and why taking care of them is key! Your kids wear sunglasses outside, goggles at the pool, and safety glasses for protection. Foods like the ones listed help protect their eyes, but from the inside, out.
- Whole Grains Are Good For Their Guts: If your kids would prefer white bread, tell them how important whole grains are to their health. Ask them to remember the last time they had a tummy ache or the last time they had trouble going poop. Whether it was diarrhea or constipation, they’ll definitely recall how uncomfortable they were on the toilet and feel more inclined to eat those whole grains so they can keep their tummies healthy.
- Protein And Healthy Fats Give Them Energy: The next time your kids are complaining about eating fish for dinner, let them in on a little secret: protein (from fish) is what gives them energy. Remind them that their body is like a car. It needs to be filled up with healthy food, especially protein, in order to go, go, go. Without fuel, they won’t be able to do all the fun things they enjoy, just like a car isn’t able to drive when its gas tank is empty.
- Their Favorite Creatures Eat Plenty Of Vegetables: If you’re having trouble getting your kids on board with leafy greens and other veggies, explain to them how amazing these foods are by talking about some of the animals that eat only foliage. Giant dinosaurs grazed on grasses and leaves all day. Giraffes eat from trees. Pandas, elephants, rhinos, horses, and so many others animals your little one loves, eat only vegetables!
Tip #2: Show your children where their food comes from to get them excited to eat a healthy diet for kids
Take a field trip to the local farm to teach your kids about food. They’ll probably learn about farming in school, but when you can actually show them where and how the food they eat grows, it’s an amazing motivator at mealtime.
Many local farms are family-friendly and even have special events dedicated to teaching kids about gardening and farming. Many also have hands-on days where kids are allowed to pick their own produce and explore the crops.
Your kids will be thrilled to eat a tomato if they’ve picked it themselves. They’re far more likely to enjoy a green pepper if they saw a bunch of them growing at the farm. And they’ll definitely be on board with scrambled eggs if they get to see the hens in their coops! We have a big garden where each of our kids has a section that’s just theirs to grow food in. It makes them so much more excited to eat veggies when they are harvesting dinner from their own garden patch!
Here are some more ideas to help you show your kids where their food comes from:
- Head To The Farmer’s Market: If you don’t have a local farm nearby, head to the farmer’s market. Play a game of ‘guess that fruit or vegetable,’ to introduce your kids to new foods. Strike up a conversation with the vendors and encourage your kids to ask them questions.
- Plant A Garden: Let your kids get their hands dirty in your own garden. It’s easy to start one! If you have the space and are planning a big bed full of fruits and veggies, great! But, a simple planter with a few herbs is a great place to start and just as effective when it comes to teaching your kids about food and how food grows.
- Apple Orchards are The Perfect Place For Fall Fun: Living in Wisconsin, a visit to the apple orchard is a fall tradition for most! The local orchards have all kinds of fun activities your children can participate in, but I love to let my kids pick their own apples. They learn about apple trees and get to enjoy the naturally sweet treats.
Tip #3: Involve your kids in meal planning, prep & cooking
If my kids help me make dinner, they’re more likely to try it. When kids are involved in the process, they feel a sense of pride when dinner is ready to eat and they are way more likely to try new ingredients. It’s one of my favorite suggestions to encourage healthy eating habits for kids.
Show your little ones how different vegetables are chopped, explain why you’re cooking certain ingredients in the oven, and sauteeing others on the stovetop, and let them help you with all the kid-safe tasks, like rinsing, mixing, and taste-testing.
I also involve my kids in the meal planning process. We choose the dishes we’ll make together. This way, my kids aren’t surprised by something that’s totally new to them when it’s dinnertime and they feel heard because they got a say in the meals we’re making.
It’s also a good way to expand my horizons! Sometimes I’m surprised by the dishes my kids request. They’ll see a photo of something and say ‘that looks good,’ and I’m the one who’s hesitant to try it out! It’s an activity we do as a family and it makes mealtime a breeze.
Tip #4: Simple swaps can transform meals into healthy foods for picky kids
If your kids are picky, swap out ingredients in their favorite foods for healthier options. They won’t know the difference and you get to add nutrients to their diets where you can! This works especially well with baked goods. Here are some of my favorite healthy ingredient swaps that are perfect for picky kids:
- Ditch The All-Purpose Flour: Instead, add a whole-grain option or a blend of flour that’s packed with whole grains. Better yet, go high-protein. Add almond flour or ground flax seeds when baking cookies, muffins, or bread.
- Swap Out The Sweetener: Satisfy your kids’ sweet tooth by swapping sugar for a sweetener that’s a little bit better for them. Dates offer amazing flavor and just the right amount of sweetness to most baked goods. Maple syrup and honey are two more great alternatives that won’t cause your kids’ blood sugar to spike the way that refined sugars can.
- Forget The Fats: Instead of adding butter or vegetable oil to your recipes, swap the fats for something else. Applesauce can be used instead. Not only does it make any baked good a bit healthier, but it adds a light, fluffy texture, too. Or, if you still want to include fat, go for coconut oil. It’s packed with antioxidants and Omega Fatty Acids that can benefit your kids.
- Add-In Healthy Ingredients: Feel free to toss in additional ingredients! Add a handful of spinach to a smoothie, or some chia seeds to oatmeal. Flaxseed is a perfect choice for any baked good! Sneak in some pumpkin puree wherever you can. It’s loaded with fiber and tastes amazing. Avocado can add richness to any dessert and you can always use Greek yogurt instead of milk or water. Get creative and have fun coming up with ‘secret ingredients’ to add to your baked goods!
Tip #5: You can add almost anything to a smoothie so it fits into a healthy diet for kids
Similarly, I make smoothies all the time for my children and load them up with healthy ingredients. My kids love a frozen treat and I take full advantage of the fact that they’re always happy to sip on a smoothie!
Instead of sticking to fruit and juice, I load smoothies with fruit, veggies, and anything healthy I can think of! One of my favorite ingredients to toss in the blender is frozen cauliflower. You cannot taste the veggie at all and my kids are none the wiser that their dessert contains vegetables.
I also toss in greens like spinach and kale. And I know what you’re thinking… ‘there’s no way my kids will drink a green smoothie.’ But, I’ve got a solution for you. Throw in some blueberries and blackberries. You’ll end up with a rich purple-blue smoothie that looks amazing, tastes amazing, and is packed with greens and antioxidant-rich berries. It’s a no-brainer!
Not to mention, you can add a delicious — and healthy! — protein powder to enhance the nutritional value and taste of your kids’ smoothies. Superfood powders are a great way to sneak in extra nutrients from fruits and veggies, disguised with the flavors of chocolate, vanilla, berry, and more. You can top off already-packed smoothies or create a yummy drink from these tasty powders alone. Our store sells superior powders — and my kids love them! In my opinion, our best protein powders and green drinks include:
- Vibrant Health Green Vibrance: With 25 billion probiotics, this powder is rich in the nutrients your child needs for better digestive health, circulatory function, nutrition, and immunity!* Additionally, this plant-based superfood powder fills nutritional gaps in your child’s diet with a flavor they’ll actually enjoy.
- Whole Earth & Sea Fermented Organic Greens: Chocolate, tropical, or unflavored, you can complement your child’s healthy diet — and their ‘sweet tooth’ — with this nutritious superfood powder. Its amazing nutrients consist of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and medicinal mushrooms that are powerful and gentle on the stomach. Bonus: it’s vegan-friendly!
- Solgar Whey To Go Protein Powder: Replace your child’s after school snack with a yummy protein powder! This one is great for fulfilling chocolate (or vanilla) cravings so they can feel full, while it also provides impressive benefits from whey protein — which includes healthy energy levels, muscle growth, and weight management.*
Tip #6: Let your kids add seasonings and ‘extras’ they enjoy
Let your kids modify their meals as they like. You season your dish with salt and pepper to taste, maybe a touch of red pepper flakes and a hint of lime juice to make it jussssst right. Why shouldn’t your kids get to make adjustments to their food, too?
One of my children won’t eat mashed sweet potatoes unless he can put ‘Everything But the Bagel’ seasoning on it. Conventional? No. But it’s no big deal and he loves it.
If your kids aren’t thrilled about what’s served for dinner, hit the spice drawer. A little garlic powder, a dash of paprika, or a hint of nutmeg coil can completely change your toddler’s mind about the food that’s in front of them! Here are some of my favorite flavor-filled seasonings to try with your kids:
- Everything But The Bagel Seasoning: This is a staple in our household. It’s fun to sprinkle on any dish and it’s flavorful enough that it can make almost anything taste kid-friendly!
- Citrus Does The Trick: Add lemon zest, some lime juice, or a hint of orange to your dish. Kids love fruit, so adding a hint of citrus flavor can totally transform food and make it so much more appealing to your children.
- Turmeric Is A Multitasking Spice: Sprinkle it onto cooked veggies or add it to your curry. Turmeric adds a gorgeous color your kids will ooh and ahh over, it adds a tasty flavor and it’s seriously beneficial for their health.
- Cinnamon Adds The Perfect Amount Of Spice: Instead of sprinkling sugar on top of your little one’s oatmeal or adding it to their pancakes, reach for cinnamon instead. It has this amazing ability to make any dish seem like a dessert when it’s not actually adding any sweet flavor! You can also use ginger, cloves, or nutmeg for a similar effect.
Tip #7: Serve new foods with old favorites
One thing I like to do in my household is to pair a new food with a familiar, family favorite. This way, they get to try a little bit of something new, but they know that there’s other food they love to eat on the table, too.
If you serve an entire meal that’s full of foods your family hasn’t had before, it might be overwhelming and a little stressful for your kiddos. They like routine and knowing what to expect — a meal full of new foods is not that.
I often ask my kids to take one bite of the new veggie and then I don’t push it further. If they choose to eat more than one bite, I’m thrilled. But if they don’t, it’s ok. They tasted it and it’s all about encouraging kids to try new things. Turning it into a battle can often just make them more resistant next time I ask them to try a new food.
We’re Here to Support You!
The best way to help develop healthy eating habits for kids is to teach your little ones about nutrition, to be patient and understanding, and to offer them lots of healthy options to choose from. I know it can be frustrating as a parent to watch your picky kids refuse to eat the foods you know their bodies need, so I hope these tips will help your family at mealtime!
If you have more questions about your wellness for kids, you can contact me here. I’m happy to chat with you about children’s health, to offer more mom tips, and to discuss supplement options you can add to your kids’ diets.