A love for healthy whole foods is a great blessing we can give our children. But like so much in life, developing a love for good foods is learned.
I wrote this list with my munchkins in mind, but I have a confession to make. My children have actually helped me be a better eater. Their willingness to try new foods has challenged me. Before I had children, I didn’t like olives, dark chocolate, seven grain cereal and many other foods. They love these foods and I’ve finally developed a taste for them.
We’re still learning, but here are some things that have helped my children (and, ahem, me!) be better eaters.
10 Ways to Encourage Healthier Eating
- Apply the Green Eggs & Ham Rule— don’t say you don’t like a new food unless you’ve tried it. Obvious, I know. But it’s amazing how many times I’ve heard a child vehemently declare they don’t like a food… only to have them love it once they’ve tried it. Try new foods with an open mind (unless, of course, they’re dyed with half a cup of green food coloring!)
- Offer Healthy Foods When They’re Hungry- There’s nothing quite like hunger to make a food taste good. Feed salads and vegetables first at meals. It is the easiest way to help kids learn to love them. If your kids complain about being hungry mid-afternoon, offer them healthy choices, not junk food. If they’re really hungry, they’ll learn to appreciate them. (Here are 11 of my favorite healthy snacks.)
- Keep trying– If your first attempt at trying to get your kids to eat homemade yogurt is disastrous, next time make it into a parfait or blend it into a fruit smoothy. Once you’ve found something they like, talk about it. The goal isn’t just to sneak healthy foods into the diet. The goal is to encourage them to consciously appreciate good foods.
- Buy vegetables and fruits in season- if all they’ve tried is a mealy tomato picked green that’s been sitting for weeks before it gets to your grocery cart, it’s not much of a surprise if they don’t like tomatoes. Buy ripe food or, better yet, grow it yourself with the children (if you don’t have a brown thumb!) It’s much easier to develop a taste for ripe, fresh food! Plus, food in season is generally cheapest anyway!
- Make the Servings Small-it’s much better (waste-wise and psychologically) to have your child ask for more than to force them to finish food* they don’t like or have to throw it away. Serve a bite or two at first. If they don’t like it, you can drop it or try again later. If they love it, yay! Give them seconds.
- Incorporate Their (Healthy) Favorites – Everyone’s tastebuds are different. Rose absolutely loves seven grain cereal and oatmeal. Will downs bowl after bowl of honey-sweetened homemade yogurt. Meg eats more eggs than me. All three are good choices, so I serve them regularly for breakfast. (Here are a few other of our favorite healthy breakfasts.)
- Learn to Love Flavor, Not Just Sugar/Salt- Creation is full of so many flavors. Sadly though, flavor tends to be masked by loads of sugar (or salt). Gradually cut back on the sweeteners in recipes and focus on appreciating the flavor. Get to the point where you add just enough to enhance the flavor of a dish, not drown it.
- Discuss the Health Benefits- talking about why something is good for you and what exactly it helps your body do, not only helps educate your child, but encourages them to take an active part in choosing healthy foods. When I taught Rose, then four, about the importance of protein, she asked “is this good protein” about practically everything, and regularly requested foods that were “good protein.”
- Model Gratitude- maybe your grocery budget doesn’t allow you to buy all the foods you want. Maybe the selection where you live isn’t great. If there’s food on the table, that’s cause for gratitude!
- Don’t be Too Strict- When Rose asked “are cookies good protein?” I had to share the sad truth that they don’t have much protein and aren’t really good for us. Her face fell. But, food and taste have been given to us by a good God. We ate the cookies anyway and celebrated His goodness to us.
*To force your child to finish his food, or not? The debate rages. Since sometimes the first sign of a food allergy is a child refusing to eat it, I’ve become more sensitive when my generally-good-eater children don’t want to finish.
How to you encourage your children to be good eaters?