I'm a dad, husband, and Christian first. The rest are just life's add-ons: an educator & organizational development professional.
Many if not all parents have trouble making their child eat healthy foods. Unfortunately, shoving a handful of vegetable in their mouths is not an option. Believe me, you’ll get into trouble. But come to think of it, when we were young our parents probably had a difficult time feeding us healthy food as well. Whether, they shoved a handful of peas into your mouth or not, I will never know. But there are less invasive strategies that you can employ to ensure that your child eats healthier. So how do you make your child eat healthier? Let’s explore some parenting tips on healthy eating.
Healthy eating habits
Like many other behaviors, eating also requires establishing good habits. The basic premise here is to start the habit early on in the child’s life. After all, there is no better time to start eating healthy than now.
1. Start early
This means providing your child with healthy choices as early as possible. For example, giving your child breast milk instead of formula is always a better move. And if you can’t breastfeed your child for whatever reason, you can express milk then store it. Yes, you can store milk for a later date. Here are some tips on storing breast milk for later use. Another example is to mash your own fruits and vegetables instead of buying the commercially available ones. Often, these are loaded with preservatives or some other additives.
One reason why kids do not like to eat vegetables is its taste and texture. However, I grew up in a family who likes eating animal innards. Just imagine pig guts chopped and boiled in vinegar and pig’s blood. Sounds crazy right? This dish called dinuguaan is a favorite among many Filipinos. The point is this is an acquired taste. But I learned to love it early on in my life. Having our kids taste different foods earlier in life makes a huge difference. I recall a student of mine enjoying the taste of bitter gourd while the rest of the glass grimaced at the sight of it. Starting our kids early on with the healthy foods will help them enjoy it later on in life.
You might wonder if it is too late for your child to acquire the habit (and taste) for healthy food. The truth is, we continue exploring different tastes and textures of food throughout our lives. It is never too late to introduce healthy foods to them.
2. Serve it consistently
Here’s a little secret…I was never a big fan of Malunggay (Moringa Oleifera) but when I got married my wife served it like there was no other food in the world. She cooked it in so many different ways that boggled my mind. This leafy treat is now one of my favorites. I really can’t conclusively say whether my enjoyment of this vegetable is from actual desensitization or downright fear of my wife. But the bottom line is I am eating it. Serving something constantly will help your child be familiar with it. And familiarity is essential for your child to enjoy it.
Of course there is a myriad of choices when it comes to healthy foods. From fruits and vegetables to organic products you have an assortment of choices for your child. What is important is to constantly serve healthy dishes. Include fruits and vegetables in every meal. Have a healthy drink or shake instead of sodas. Cook fresh ingredients instead of just opening a can (often filled with preservatives). Pack healthier meals instead of junk foods. The basic idea is to let your child experience healthy foods all the time. Parents have to understand that healthy food is not devoid of fun and appealing flavors.
Creativity in serving and preparing healthy food
How many times you salivated just by looking at a gorgeous food in magazines or billboards? Time is spent by food stylist to take a drab burger and turn it into an appetizing meal. A lot of creative work is done here and people spend a lot just to get the ideal shot. Believe it or not, it works. Simply put, if you take time to be creative and present the food in ways that appeal to your child, then you can get a similar effect. But this time it is with healthy food choices.
1. Dips and sauces
Using dips and sauces can turn an ordinary (and often times unappealing) vegetables into the newest healthy food craze for kids. Let’s face it; some vegetables just do not have that taste that kids love. Adding dips and sauces can add that zing that kids want. Plus, the act of dipping is fun for kids. Watch out for the mess afterwards though. But the little work is worth it when your child eats healthier. Of course making your dips and sauces can be healthier than getting the ones off the shelf from the grocery. Experiment of different flavors like cheese or even chocolate dips can be more enticing to kids.
2. Change your food preparation strategies
More than just the choice of baking versus frying, using healthier methods of cooking can make a huge difference. For example, kids love fried stuff (and I know a few adults who do too). Instead of frying, you can explore alternative methods like baking or even using an air fryer. It can have the same visual appeal minus the additional unhealthy load.
Eating healthy does not always have to be changing what you eat (although most actually is). But it should also include a change in the way you prepare your dishes. Using less or no oil can be better. Also, steaming foods is healthier than deep frying. In addition, it is a lot better to use fresh ingredients than preserved ones.
3. Shakes and smoothies
Another technique that works well with my daughter is giving her healthy smoothies and shakes. Part of her meals is a smoothie made of vegetables and fruits. We add fresh pineapple juice to give it some sweet taste. Left over vegetables the night before are turned into smoothies or shakes the next day. Nothing goes to waste! We introduced her to this healthy drink slowly. At first we just gave her less than a cup then gradually added more. Now, she is the one who asks for it.
An important mental note is in order here. Make sure you blend vegetables without the salad dressing.
4. Healthy plate ala carte
Another way to ensure that you child eats properly is to serve the food already in his/her plate. This ensures that your child already has all the essentials of the healthy plate. Moreover, you can ensure that the right portions are given.
Follow the healthy plate recommendations of the right proportions of food items. Of course make sure you provide the appropriate amount that your child can consume. This may take a little more preparation compared to just serving everything in a huge bowl where everyone serves himself. However, this strategy ensures that your child has what he or she needs to eat.
Healthy mindset on healthy foods for kids
Parents employ a myriad of strategies to make their children eat healthy foods. These can range from coercion to physical tactics. Surely, you do not want your child to hate you just because you want them to eat healthier. Here are some mindset tips to make kids eat healthier.
1. Do not label
I often hear parents teach their children about healthy foods by pointing out that one is good and the other is bad. Perhaps this is the easiest way for them to distinguish what they should eat or what they should avoid. Although this can be helpful, I try not to label foods whether they are bad or good. Instead it would be a better idea to tell the children how these foods affect their bodies. For example you can tell your child that eating too much sweets can cause cavities or even make their cough worse. Likewise, you can tell your child that milk can make their bones stronger so they can climb the monkey bars better. I believe that children should know how the foods will affect them rather than just labeling them good or bad.
Furthermore, labeling your child as being good or bad because of their food choices is unfair and inappropriate. They are kids and their judgment skews towards what attracts them regardless. Instead of labeling them good or bad, try focusing on the behaviors that they exhibit. For example: you’ve been eating too much sweets today. Do you think that is healthy?
How our children see themselves affects not just the way they eat but the way they grow up. Labels take away the focus on the behaviors and choices that they should consciously make.
2. Praise your child for their healthy choices
This tip is closely related to the previous one and it involves praising the child. Consciously choosing what is healthy for them merits your attention and praise. Every time the child makes the right choices – in food and in life, we have to acknowledge it and give them credit. I am pretty sure there will be numerous times when their choices are way off and these are the times when we guide them back to what is right. We often witness these events and pounce on them like predators. Let’s try to watch out for the praisable moments (it’s not a real word, but it should be).
3. Involve everyone
Although eating healthy is a personal choice we often deny our kids this privilege. If this is the case, then you’d better own up to this lifestyle. You should also eat healthy. In a family like ours where eating is a social event, eating healthy should be a family endeavor.
Here’s the reality especially with children who go to school: we can never really be sure if they are eating healthy there. I know that my daughter sometimes exchange food with her classmates. And even though we pack her healthy foods exchanging snacks with her classmates defeats our objective of her eating properly. Parents need the help of other parents and the school to advocate healthy eating. When more people are involved we can make it easier for our children to choose the right foods to eat.
4. Surround them with good choices
Surround your child with healthy choices. If this means removing those that are not, then do it. I know some of us still sneak in some chips high in salt or that bar of chocolate that is always one bite too many. But if you want your child to eat healthier, then be the first one to show them how. As a responsible parent we are the first people who should show them what is beneficial to them.
Having your child eat healthy foods is a huge endeavor. And it is not easy. We can simply hope that one day they will make the right choice or we can act now and ensure good health and good habits. Surely these tips and strategies may work for some and may not for others. What is important is that parents try their best to help their children eat healthy foods.
JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on August 28, 2017:
What children are accustomed to eating early on in life will have a profound effect later on. Having them eat healthy will do wonders. It is just a matter of starting them early.
Patty Florence from Illinois on August 08, 2017:
I do think that if children are brought up eating healthy, then when they grow up, they will be better able to stick with those types of meals.
JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on August 03, 2017:
Hello Karen Hellier, Nice of you to drop by and share your views. Indeed breastfeeding is a great way to start the child in healthy eating. Unfortunately many moms fail to do this.
JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on August 03, 2017:
Hi there Deman Jasper, I think you are right. "help" makes more sense than "make".
Karen Hellier from Georgia on August 03, 2017:
This is a great hub filled with wonderful tips for parents. I used some of these tips when I ran a home daycare when my own children were little. And breastfeeding was probably the best thing I ever did for my own children health-wise.