Monday, May 7, 2012

12 Tips to Get Your Kids Eating Healthy

If you think making a dietary change was hard for you, how do you think it can be for a kid?  Think twice as hard or more!  When Addison was starting to feed herself, I thought 'Freedom'!  No longer do I have to shovel mashed peas into her mouth.  No more do I have to take 30-40 minutes out of my busy life to sit there while she's fed.  Life doesn't stop when you have babies and making time to accomplish all of the day's routine activities like eating and bathing takes time!  Time I wasn't about to waste if I didn't have to!  To avoid making messes when she was spoon fed I would offer her the foods that she loved and made cute faces.  Apples.  Sweet Potatoes.  Plums.  No peas or green beans for her.  Fast forward several months and there was Addison in her walker munching on baby cookies that dissolved in her mouth.  Then, she graduated to teething biscuits.  Then to cookies or crackers or anything else I could find to keep her quiet and happy.  Big Mistake.  What was supposed to 'babysit' her while I did laundry and took care of my daily obligations soon became a bad habit and I believe is fully responsible for her becoming a picky eater.

My neighbor, a friend and mom told me when her baby was spoon fed she only fed him green food.  Peas, green beans, pureed broccoli, etc.  He now will eat dry lettuce or raw kale.  No ugly faces.  No turning his nose up at it.  He loves his veggies.  Needless to say, I am implementing a similar plan for Jonah.  However, since I was not so stringent with Addison, I have found it necessary to implement many creative ideas to get her to eat healthier without forcing vegetables down her throat.  Below are 12 Tips I use.  Hopefully you may find a couple of them useful in your own homes. 

  1. Keep Fruits, Veggies and Healthy Snack Options at Eye Level.  We keep a bowl on our island of fresh fruits like bananas.  Addison is 5 and can obviously open the fridge herself now.  In the lower drawers that she can reach we keep stocked with apples, plums, pears, strawberries, etc.  She can open and close the drawer on her own.  We also like to keep non-dairy yogurt and similar options at eye level in the fridge.  In addition, we rearranged the pantry to keep options that aren't as healthy out of reach.  Healthier options are at eye level for her such as granola bars or dried fruits. 
  2. Give Kids Choices.  For dinner, ask "What vegetable would you like served with dinner tonight?  Broccoli or Peas?".  This gives kids a sense of ownership, in a way.  They chose the vegetable.  They are more likely to eat it, or at least try it.  When I am packing Addison's lunch I ask her "Would you rather have yogurt or a fruit strip (dried fruit leather) in your lunch today?"...."or would you like to have an apple or a banana as your lunch snack?".  If your child gets to pick between 2 or 3 options, they are definitely more likely to eat it.
  3. Lead by Example.  It can take 12-19 times of putting a new food on a toddler or young child's plate before they will willingly try it.  Be persistent.  Put steamed carrots on their plate twice a week for several weeks.  Let them see you eating it and enjoying it.  They will usually come around eventually.
  4. Only Present 1 New Food at a Time.  Stepping outside of a kids comfort zone can be a disconcerting and intimidating experience for young children.  When introducing these new foods, make sure they are on a plate of familiar foods. 
  5. Make Trying New Foods a Rule.  At our house, Addison is required to at least try it.  She needs to eat at least a couple of bites of the new food.  At 5 years old, its the rule.  If she refuses, I will spoon feed her like a baby which she HATES.  I have only had to do this twice and she will cheerfully try new foods to avoid that minor embarrassment again.  Note* I am not humiliating her.  I do not advocate 'forcefeeding' toddlers, etc. 
  6. Do Not Ban Sweets and Treats Entirely.  Kids will be kids.  They will get to pick from the 'treasure box' at school, they will see their friends eating chemical laden junk on a regular basis once they are in school.  I do not permit Addison to eat that junk, but I do offer her non-dairy ice cream, non-dairy dark chocolate, etc.  These make great treats and work phenomenally as bribery for the previous tip (#5).  Addison is required to at least try the new foods but if she finishes her plate, she gets dessert.  Repeat: IF and ONLY IF she FINISHES her plate and makes it look licked clean, she gets dessert.  This works almost every single night.  I have no problem with bribery to a certain extent.  Her 'treat' is still a healthier version of the average kids treat, so bribe I will!
  7. Get Kids Involved in Cooking!  This is a big one.  At least once a week plan a meal that kids can participate in making.  A good option is having them help stir or dump in ingredients.  An even better option is creating family meals that are Serve Yourself oriented, or Bar Style, as in Salad Bar, Taco Bar, Baked Potato Bar.  For example, if I were to have a Baked Potato Bar, I would put individual ingredients in separate bowls.  Fak'n Bac'n Bits, Non-Dairy sour cream, chopped steamed broccoli, chopped green onions, chives, non-dairy butter, steamed peas, vegan cheese, etc.  I would group the bowls together veggie and non-veggie.  Addison can choose as many from the non-veg assortment, like sour cream and cheese but I would require her to choose at least 2 veg options.  For a salad bar, put out bowls of raw sunflower seeds, raw nuts, grated carrots, tomato slices, cucumber slices, etc.  Require they choose a minimum of the veg options.  This lets them choose which vegetable they get to eat and again, gives them a sense of control over their meals.  Another great idea is Wraps.  Provide rice, beans, lettuce and an assortment of other veg and non veg items and give each family member a large size whole wheat or GF tortilla. 
  8. Play with Your Food!  Really!  Carve Mount Rushmore into your mashed sweet potatoes.  Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes in toast.  Use banana slices with raisins as eyes on a waffle.  Use an avocado wedge for the mouth.  Be creative.  Kids love it and are more apt to try foods that are 'fun'.  Messy at times?  Yes.  Worth it?  Definitely!
  9. If You Don't Buy It, You Can't Eat It!  Plain and simple.  If it's junk, don't even buy it.  It will only tempt you and your family to eat it if its in the house.  Leave it on the shelf at the store.  If you have a coupon calling your name to buy some crap, leave the coupon on the shelf with the item for the next customer.  Just don't buy junk. 
  10. 2 Words: Smoothies & Popsicles.  Kids love both.  Both offer a great opportunity to get yummy nutritious food into their bellies.  Try a virgin pina colada with fresh or frozen chunks of pineapple, banana, coconut oil for healthy fats and water or non-dairy beverage and whip it up in a blender.  Yum!  This is also a great time to hide chia seeds, maca powder, bee pollen, etc for an extra nutritional boost without them knowing. 
  11. Play Hide But Don't Seek with their Food.  When they are not looking, make healthy hidden additions to their meals.  Throw some pee pollen onto a PB&J sandwich.  Sprinkle some nori flakes onto a sandwich.  Put chia seeds in their drinks or pudding.  Mash avocado and mix with peanut butter and spread on toast.  I put E3Live into Addison smoothies sometimes and just tell her its food coloring.  Its an added boost and she's none the wiser. 
  12. Seasoning.  The same concept as allowing kids to make or prepare their own food, let your child season their food.  This does not mean allow them to dump boatloads of salt onto their spaghetti.  Provide healthier seasoning options and adjust the dial on top to only allow a small amount to shake out as kids like to Shake Shake Shake it up!  I use Dulse powder or Kelp powder as Addison's options.  She may tell me that she hates a food.  I'll ask her if seasoning would help and almost every time she will say Yes and sprinkle some of the magic Dulse Dust on her meal and eat it all up.  Its like putting a band-aid on a scrape.  Its all in their little heads, but it works.


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