Kids don’t have it all figured out. They think they do, but they don’t, especially when it comes to healthy eating.
What kinds of things do your kids like to eat?
If you’re anything like the average American parent, your answer probably includes:
- Macaroni and cheese
- Chicken nuggets
- French fries
- Potato chips
- String cheese
Am I right?
If you’re lucky, there might be a few fruits and veggies trailing at the bottom of the list somewhere…
How about things like
- Pumpkin seeds
Any of those on there?
If so, congratulations! You’re either doing a great job as a parent, super blessed, or maybe both.
Kids don’t naturally like to eat healthily. They don’t understand why they should have to. Everything at a young age is centered on what they want and don’t like, not what they need and don’t need.
It’s your job as a parent to make sure they get to bed on time (because they would love to stay up all night, am I right?), it’s your job to make sure they get outside and play (rather than watching TV all day), and it’s your job to teach them how and why they should eat healthy food.
Today, I will give some pointers to the conversations you can have with your children about a healthy diet.
A well-balanced diet
Many children are told that sugar is bad, vegetables are good, and that’s that.
While I understand trying to simplify concepts, this isn’t accurate. It’s not typically what is practiced in the average household, even if it’s said like that.
The way I like to explain healthy eating for children is:
We all like and dislike some foods, and that’s okay. But sometimes the foods we like are good for us, and sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes the foods we dislike aren’t so good for us, but sometimes they are.
It’s important to eat lots of different foods. Meat, vegetables, fruit, milk, nuts, etc. are all good for us.
When there’s a food that we REALLY like but it’s not that good for us, that’s called a treat. We only eat treats for special occasions like Christmas and birthdays.
Model healthy eating
If you’re a regular on Mom but not a Mom, you know that I repeat this mantra tirelessly:
Model the behavior you want to see in your children.
Healthy eating starts with you, mama. And you know one of the most important things kids can see you eat?
Something you don’t like, but you know it is good for you.
That way, you can answer honestly when they complain, “I don’t like this!” Tell them about how you are eating something you don’t like, either. Explain why you are eating it anyway. Talk about ways to make it taste better (adding sauce or spices, cooking it a different way, mixing it in with something…etc.)
Talk about ingredients
My younger brother just turned 20, and he still likes to have a run-down of all the ingredients that go into a dish before he eats it.
I know a popular method of getting children to eat healthily is to hide the vegetables in their food, so they don’t realize they’re in there. Unfortunately, this is only a short-term solution. It doesn’t teach healthy eating in the long run because they don’t know what they are eating.
Instead, let children help with meal prep and cooking. Take them grocery shopping. Talk about the different foods they are eating and how they help the body function (carbs give energy, protein helps build muscle, fruits, and vegetables provide fiber and nutrients the body needs…etc.).
Kids are afraid of the unknown. Make healthy foods familiar to them, and they will be twice as likely to try them. Give a name to every ingredient you cook with.
Bonus: This will help kids immensely when they start cooking their food. They will know which ingredients belong together and how to make a variety of dishes.
Answer questions honestly
Honesty builds trust. Trust is a firm platform that provides kids the security to try new things.
If your child asks whether or not there is spinach in his pasta, tell him.
If your child asks how eating his seafood will help him grow big and strong, answer as best as possible. Use google if you need to! It’s great for you to learn about what you’re eating as well.
(no shame, I google stuff all the time when kids ask me questions)
If your kid asks why too much sugar is bad for you, talk about cavities and obesity and diabetes. No need to be scared of giving children information. It will help them make the right decisions both now and in the future.
Build up their trust and knowledge now so that they can make educated decisions about their health.
Isn’t that better than following them around the house, begging them to take one more bite of their broccoli?
Talk about tastes and textures
When you introduce children to a new food, avoiding biasing them by saying things like “This is yummy, try it!” or, worse, “You probably won’t like this, but you need to eat some anyway.”
Your kids look up to you and often take on the feelings you convey even if they aren’t their feelings. They can be especially biased towards the negative.
Instead, let children decide for themselves whether they like or dislike a food. Then talk about it!
You might be surprised by what they like.
When they try new food, talk about tastes and textures. What they like or don’t like. This will give you insight.
For instance, if they try zucchini for the first time and complain that it’s bland, try spicing it up next time, or making zucchini bread.
If they try spinach and complain that it’s mushy, try putting fresh spinach leaves in a salad or sandwich.
Taste and texture conversations help kids get in touch with their likes and dislikes. Patterns will probably emerge, and you can navigate around preferences without sacrificing health (chicken nuggets every day does not count as healthy).
Eating out vs. Eating in
How many of your kids would rather eat Chick-Fil-A than a nice homemade roast chicken? Yeah, me too. If we’re honest.
It’s important to talk to them about why eating at home is healthier than eating out regularly (for your body and wallet).
I’m 25, and my peers are surprised that I know how to make biscuits from scratch. Biscuits. Fifty years ago, every woman knew how to make biscuits.
Many people go out to eat daily, which is linked to obesity (Source: USDA). Encourage your children to view eating out as a treat rather than a habit. Consider eating at home more as a family, if you don’t already.
Try out restaurant favorites in your kitchen and see if you can make healthier versions that are just as delicious. Get kids in on the process so that they learn how to make the foods they like.
It’s up to you as parents to get the ball rolling and start conversations about healthy eating at home. Equip your children to start healthy eating habits young so that they can continue to make smart choices as they grow up.