LaTricia Morris is a Certified Integrative Wellness Counselor, the Founder of See Kids Thrive (www.SeeKidsThrive.com), and the Author and Illustrator of the upcoming See Kids Thrive series of children’s books, including The Good, The Bad & The Broccoli and It Came from the Cupboard (to be released 2016), as well as many others. She is an avid health advocate and committed educator, diligently seeking to serve families like yours, to help you maximize your life potential and realize your greatest dreams.
10 Keys To Helping Kids Eat Healthy
Many health experts have taken to cautioning parents steeply, regarding the so-called potential hazards of causing eating disorders in their children by feeding them foods they don’t want to eat. A deep sense of fear compels countless parents to simply provide the child the foods they demand without placing any dietary demands on the child whatsoever. Yet, we have to stop and consider the reality of this situation and the greater consequences resulting from allowing a child to eat a diet consisting of little more than meat, cheese and pasta.
Developmental delays, diabetes, obesity, childhood cancer, and a horrifying list of so much more all can come as the result of consuming the Standard American Diet. Such eating tends to fail dramatically at providing children with the nutritional building blocks they need to support growth and development.
If that’s not enough, many of these foods are loaded with bad salts, fats and sugars, as well as dyes, preservatives and conditioners that can accumulate and wreak havoc on the system.
We know our kids need to be eating better but how do we get there? While I could go on for days on such a topic, I’d like to look at 10 Key Tips that I know will absolutely transform how you and your children approach healthy eating.
1. Lead By Example
I really can’t think of anything at the present that I would say screams any louder to a child than hypocrisy. You won’t likely get very far insisting that they eat their veggies while you skip them altogether. They need you to set the pace and pave the way.
This is important on so many levels. If you lack the motivation to do it for yourself, focus your attention on doing it for them. As they see your efforts and results, they’ll be more likely to play ball when dinner hits the table.
2. Make It A Team Effort Amongst Kids And Parents (And Grandparents, Too, For That Matter)
Little is so annoyingly counterproductive as working so hard to get the family eating better only to have the other parent or grandparents sabotaging your efforts by treating the kiddos to junk every chance they get. Help them understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and kindly ask for their support, knowing that they, like you, just want what’s best for the kids.
3. Watch Your Mouth
It’s incredible and terrifying to watch how quickly our declarations over our children can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Even if you think you’re just “speaking the truth” or “stating the obvious,” refrain from confirming a child’s disdain for a certain food or group of foods.
Also, be sure you don’t assume that they won’t like something because you don’t. I can’t tell you how often I hear, “He’ll NEVER eat that…” This becomes an excuse to not even try. If a child has tried it three times and still doesn’t care for it, tell them “Okay, we’ll try it a different way next time.”
Keep in mind, it can take trying a food upwards to 10 times before a child officially “accepts” the new addition. If they’ve tried it a dozen times and still don’t like it, just tell them maybe they’ll learn to like it as they get a little bigger and keep working to find what works for them now.
Be mindful of how the conversation is evolving and intentionally redirect where needed to help them shape a positive attitude around food. Speak life over them and their efforts to eat and live more vibrantly.
4. Help Them Sculpt Their Identity
It has been proven that children are substantially more likely to engage in activities they believe to be congruent with their identity. Use this to your advantage by working with them to help them identify with themselves as healthy individuals. If you do nothing more than plate it, you’re less likely to receive the cooperation you desire.
Take it to another level. Maintain an ongoing dialogue with them at the store, over snacks, in the kitchen… wherever, whenever. Don’t demand that they eat these foods “just because you said so.” Help them understand why they should want to.
Healthy is not just how they eat. It’s who they are and you’re here to help them learn which foods line up with that “lifestyle choice.” You’re not a food tyrant or the enemy; you’re a supporter. As you help them see that, you’re likely to see a dramatic difference in how they view and respond to your efforts; especially when you help them understand that poor eating results in poor health and that is not the kind of life they want to live. That’s no way for anyone to live, especially not your kids!
5. Stop The War At The Grocery Store
The simple fact is, particularly when it comes to young children, if you don’t buy it, they can’t eat it. It’s important to start any grocery trip with a list and a set of ground rules. Stick to your list, only making exceptions for healthy add-ons you may have forgotten to add and never cater to a kid begging or throwing a fit in the store! (Seriously, it only perpetuates the nightmare). If they’re picking a little extra, you pick the section/options from which they can choose. They get the power of choice and you get the peace of mind about what they’re eating.
6. Put An End To The Snack-O-Tage
Snack time continues to be a persistent source of sabotage for parents nationwide. Snack-time can be a great opportunity to re-rev through the day while scooping up that nutritional bonus to compliment a healthy eating plan. However, for most, snack time sustains nothing more than the ongoing struggle with trying to get the kids eating healthy meals.
Firstly, we have a terrible tendency with confusing “snack” time with “treat” time. Secondly, we have a terrible tendency to abuse snack time by catering to mindless munching, eating just to fill time, remedy boredom or keep the kids quiet while we take that uber important phone call.
Make sure snacking isn’t dulling their appetite and giving them just the advantage they need to withstand your attempts to get them to eat those green beans. Designate a snack time and keep portions within reason. Snack time shouldn’t go over a couple hundred calories and should only be from healthy sources.
7. Keep Calm and Stay In Control
If I had a dime for every time I saw or heard of a parent crushing under the pressure of a belligerent child at the dinner table I would have me one big, fat pile’o’dimes! Seriously, I get it. It’s after 6’o’clock. It’s been a crazy day and the last thing anybody wants to hear is junior pitching a fit over dinner. I mean, is that really fair to everybody else who just wants to enjoy their food in peace and quiet? Really?
Here’s the problem. Avoiding the situation by catering to the child’s cravings is not stopping the battle – it’s perpetuating the war where you’re always surrendering and everybody loses. Make it clear that you won’t be entertaining any arguments. Don’t get riled with them. Just stay calm. This may seem simple (or impossible on some days) but it is absolutely essential to drastically shifting the situation in your favor.
A child knowing in advance that you’re not going to budge is key in preventing the ongoing food wars that rage in so many households. When they know the bad behavior won’t get them anywhere but in trouble, they’ll knock it off and be more cooperative. Remaining consistent and persistent is crucial!
8. Let Them Pick From What You Choose
Giving kids some choice in the matter is another way to win them over. This does not mean they get to pick whatever they want. However, by giving them options and letting them make the choice, they see that their opinion is heard, valued and respected. My kids have long been at a place where I can say, “what kind of vegetable do we want with lunch?” And they pretty well know what they’re options are and what they aren’t.
You may also provide smaller portions of a couple different vegetable offerings and allow them to choose which they’d prefer to have more of when they’ve finished them. Understand that an important part of healthy eating is self-regulation so don’t try to force them to clean their plates. Just be careful that you don’t fall into their trap of being full after one bite of carrots but hungry for cookies by the time the table is cleared.
9. Get Them Involved
One of the most effective ways to get kids eating better is getting them involved. Let them help pick recipes to try for the week. Let them help with the shopping, using the time to open up a dialogue about the possible health benefits of certain foods. Ask them questions like “what do you think it will look like inside? What do you think it’d smell like if I cut it open?”
Get them in the kitchen and let them help with rinsing, scooping, and stirring the food. A child is MUCH more likely to willfully try foods they’ve helped to prepare.
Forget keeping it all neat and tidy and make it fun.
- Set up a Build-a-Beast workshop with different fruits or veggies.
- Use cookie cutters to turn ordinary foods into edible arts and crafts. Sandwiches can be cut out like stars, shields, hearts, you name it.
- Help them make fun associations. “Pink smoothies are a perfect match for a princess.” “You know, I bet it’s the greens that keep the Hulk so big and strong…I mean, look at him!”
There are many ways to entertain kids with and/or over mealtime. As they see that healthy eating can be fun, they’ll be much more cooperative in eating the foods being prepared.
We have to understand that our quest to help them grow and thrive doesn’t stop at getting them to eat their broccoli. We are called to “train them up.” Teaching them how to do it on their own is critical to ensuring their lifelong success.
Getting kids involved in the kitchen has the added bonus of setting the stage for a ton of invaluable memories. Total win-win.
10. Bring Life To The Table
Speak Life Every Chance You Get! You may wonder what on earth this has to do with getting kids to eat better. Well, a lot actually.
Equally important to eating a well-balanced diet, a joyful environment is critical to the growth and development of a child. The table is not the place to discuss failures or shortcomings, or to get into an argument. Keep the atmosphere calm and positive, applauding their progress and spurring them on to becoming the absolute greatest versions of themselves.
Shut off the TV. Set aside the electronics. Be sure to take the time out to enjoy genuine interaction with the kids over mealtime. We all have so many distractions and seldom see the very precious things those distractions are robbing us of – years we’ll never get back.
As children grow to appreciate the table as a place where they can gather and enjoy the gift of family, the focus will become less about the food and more about the deeper connection and nourishment they’re receiving.
WOW, LaTricia! I was nodding my head “yes” the whole time I read that. There were so many things that you eloquently put into words that I completely agree with, but hadn’t really connected all the dots. I am SO thankful you were so generous to share this inspiring article with me and my readers. It was so encouraging to me and I am excited to watch you impact countless families with your mission at SeeKidsThrive.com. Blessings to you, my friend!