Ok, the truth is, I rarely make peas, so my kids just don’t have the opportunity to throw them. Shame! But, with two toddlers, I do have some tricks to get them to eat healthy foods, and I’m pretty sure these will work for you too.
Let’s backtrack a bit. I was parenting an adorable, rambunctious toddler and expecting my daughter in the heat of summer. This was apparently my thing—the ninth month in July or August. I was hot, tired and just waiting to get her out.
As you can imagine, with all that, I had pretty much reached my limit. Add to the mix the mom-shamers, and even the friends that were not yet parents, with all their great advice. I was plain prengry—yup, I just made up a word for being pregnant-angry—prengry. Everyone has advice about everything, but I always find it particularly ironic when others offer nutrition advice to me, since I am, after all (though I openly admit there is always room to learn), a health coach.
At this time, my almost-two-year-old son started to become pickier about the food he actually ate. When I mentioned it to my friends, I was given advice like “you feed him too healthily” or “you don’t offer him enough options”, and I was like, Really? He also doesn’t eat regular store-bought pizza, and my house is like a restaurant daily! I just wanted to vent—I wasn’t looking for advice, but thanks anyway, Marissa!
It got to a point that my son was eating a bit of snack and then dinner every three days. It was time for me to figure it out on my own. Some of these things happened by chance, but others were deliberate. They worked then with my son, and now that my daughter has hit this stage, I am using them again—and once again, they are working! Now, I don’t go around offering unsolicited advice to everyone, because I didn’t appreciate it when it was given to me. But for those that are asking or searching for tips, I figure it would be a crime to keep it all to myself.
Disclaimer: there is no magic; you can’t wave your wand and get them to eat whatever you want them to. These methods may take some time to work, but they do! And I am only sharing the ones which worked for me.
Don’t stop serving something just because they don’t eat it right away. Keep putting it out there.
Get the Kids in the Kitchen and Make It Fun
This tip is super simple and works. Every. Time. Let them help prepare the food. Let them drag a chair to the sink to wash fruit. Get a kid-safe knife, and let them help cut the veggies. Fruits and veggies naturally have a variety of beautiful colors, and your children will have a great time building rainbow kabobs. You can also use fun cookie cutters to shape the fruit and veggies you serve.
I noticed that even if we are making something that I don’t think they will eat, like a smoothie with spinach in it, they enjoy it (if it tastes good, that is) because they made it. My kids love making healthy pancakes, cookies, smoothies and salads. Children, like most regular human beings, are proud of their accomplishments. When they do something “big”, like help make the salad, they are proud and willing to enjoy the food they made. It is a win-win—it saves you time, and they actually eat. All you need to do is add seasoning.
Make Healthy Food Delicious
Seriously, don’t serve plain cucumber, tomato, peas or kale. Just don’t, especially not the peas—they are gross. Plain, that is. My kids don’t throw peas because I NEVER serve plain peas. If I don’t serve them, they can’t throw them. You feel me? Do I ever serve peas at all? Sure, in a salad or a meat sauce—mixed in, seasoned and oh-so-good. The same thing goes for kale. Even many adults dislike kale, because it is tough and has a slightly bitter flavor. That is why it is so important to make it right. We like it best as chips—they are easy to make and delicious. (Check out my Instagram page for the recipe!)
Serve Healthy Food Daily
You know what they say about real estate: location, Location, LOCATION. Well, I have a similar saying about healthy food: exposure, Exposure, EXPOSURE. Don’t stop serving something just because they don’t eat it right away. Keep putting it out there. If they throw it off their plates, don’t put it there—put it on a serving tray. Offer it to them, and enjoy some yourself. When they are repeatedly exposed to it, they become accustomed to it and will (one day) start to eat and enjoy it.
Eat with Your Kids
Ever notice that your kids want to eat whatever you are eating…right off of your plate? Let them see you eating well.
This was a biggy for me. When my son stopped eating, I really didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t just the veggies—the truth is, if he was in the mood, he would eat veggies, but sometimes, he wouldn’t eat much at all. For days at a time.
As I mentioned, this was toward the end of my pregnancy, and I was starting to get tired and hungry for dinner earlier in the day. One evening, I sat down to eat dinner at around 4:30 with him. Never in my right mind did I think I would eat dinner so early, but I was hungry, so I ate. And my son ate, too. I didn’t pick up on this right away, but I soon started to notice a pattern. The days I ate dinner with him, he ate, so I started doing it more.
When my daughter started getting picky, I began doing this again. I also noticed that when I show them I am enjoying the food, they are more likely to eat a serving of a new dish, rather than licking it and then proclaiming it disgusting. You don’t need to eat a full meal if you are not ready to, but most of us could use a nutritious snack at that time anyway.
Transform the Veggies
If all the previous tips don’t work, it is time to play a game of “Transform the Veggies”, which really isn’t just for veggies. On the days my children just refuse everything and only want ice cream, we don’t serve food in its regular form. Rather, we change it into the fun things they are requesting to eat. We make healthier versions of popular treats by transforming cauliflower (or other veggies) and nut butter, mixed with berries, bananas and dates for sweetness, into ice cream and muffins. I get them involved, and they always enjoy the results.
Talk About It
Our kids are smart. They are our “mini-mes”, not some other species out there. I call mine my baby adults because they understand as much as we allow them to. We often talk about feeding our body with all sorts of foods so that we can have energy to do everything we want. My children know that they need chicken, eggs and potatoes for energy to play. It is also ok to eat cake and ice cream, but we should try to eat a bit of each food type so we can feel good.
Lastly, there is one thing we all need to try our best to stop saying:
Eating disorders are at an all-time high, and the majority of them stem from bad relationships with food.
Try Not to Say…
Practice not using the phrases “If you eat ____, then you can have ____” or “You can have the cookie after you eat your broccoli.” These types of phrases imply that things like cookies are only allowed if the other food is eaten. Children love to do the things that we tell them not to—especially if that involves treats.
We also don’t want to create closet-eaters or eating disorders. Eating disorders are at an all-time high, and the majority of them stem from bad relationships with food. Food relationships start the second our children begin eating and have a lot to do with the way parents present food and talk about it. But it’s never too late to change the ending of your story. Our parents didn’t know this, but we do. It is time to heal our own relationships with food to make sure we don’t pass the negativity on to our kids.
Use a bit of strategic planning, let your kids have fun with food and make healthy food delicious. I got my kids to eat healthy food and love it! By implementing the tips above, you will also be well on your way!