Feeding kids healthy food was so simple when it only came pureed in tiny jars, wasn’t it? But from the time kids graduate to table food until the day they graduate from high school, it feels like it’s you against the world when it comes to their nutrition. Why? Because it is.
Statistics show that only about 2% of children in the U.S. eat a healthy diet. That means that about 98% of children eat unhealthy meals every day! From frozen and fried school lunches to aisles and aisles of sugary, processed breakfast cereal, we may feel like we have no choice but to feed them what is offered—and let the chips fall where they may (Get it? Chips?).
I, for one, refuse to let my children become a sad health statistic. I may be competing against the power of corn-dogs and French fries, but I’m not going down without a fight. Here are a few things I do at home to wage the war against junk food, so my children learn to love healthy, wholesome food instead:
- Be an example. My husband and I are committed to eating well and exercising daily. It is our family culture—our lifestyle. My kids see this every single day, so we’re praying some of it will stick.
- Think 80/20: I do not make my kids eat perfectly 100% of the time. But I do make them eat something healthy—usually a fruit or veggie—with every meal and snack. This helps everyone (me) relax when we are at a restaurant or a birthday party and only fried and sugary foods are available.
- Educate: We read labels, we discuss ingredients, we talk nutrition. All. The. Time.I want them to understand what hydrogenated oils, aspartame and processed snacks will do their bodies. I want them to pay attention to how certain foods make them feel. When it comes time to leave the Cooper nest, I want my kids to understand how to prepare a delicious, healthy meal, not run to the nearest fast food place and order all those things Mom wouldn’t let them have as kids.
- Keep Offering It: Did you know it may take 10 to 15 exposures to a new food before a child will like it? Often when offering a new healthy food to the kids, I will say, “You don’t have to eat it. Just keep it on your plate.” Sometimes I will ask them to taste it. Sometimes I will offer a small financial incentive to the one who eats it all.
- Give them a Choice: For nearly every dinner, I try to offer three different fruit and/or veggie options, and tell the children to pick two. That way, they feel like they have a choice, they are eating what they like, and they are constantly exposed to more options—thus expanding their taste preferences for healthy food.
- But Don’t Give them a Choice: I’m always baffled when parents tell me their kids don’t like fruits and veggies, but their pantries are stocked with Pop Tarts and potato chips. This almost sounds too obvious, but if you don’t serve junk at home, your kids can’t eat it.
- Make Side-dishes Simple: I don’t serve fancy vegetable dishes. A big-ole plate of fresh produce or a tossed salad is my normal go-to. I cut everything up ahead of time and have it ready to go in Ziplocs or Tupperware. If you don’t have time to do the cutting, spend the extra money and buy pre-cut. It’s totally worth it.
- Modify Meals: I will not make a separate meal for each picky eater. However, neither will I force my kids to eat something I know they don’t like. That-right-there is breeding ground for a food rebellion. So I will, on occasion, modify a meal or substitute a dish for the kids if my husband and I want something more suitable to an adult palate. You know, chicken instead of fish. Cucumbers instead of grilled asparagus.
image credit: Rachel Matthews