Fewer Food Fights: 6 Tips to Get Kids to Eat Healthy
As every parent knows, feeding kids healthy foods can be a challenge. In the summertime, things can get even trickier with hot dog carts, ice cream trucks and sugary treats at every turn. Add to that finicky kiddie taste buds that are almost magnetically drawn to junk foods and parents face an uphill battle several times a day.
As a parent and now a grandparent believe me, I feel your pain, but we all know it’s our duty to try to feed those little growing bodies as many nutrients as we can, no matter how finicky, stubborn or uninterested in real good food they may be. Granted, those taste buds seem to have a mind of their own. As grown-ups we have to use our minds to guide our little ones towards healthier choices at mealtime. Where to start? Here are a few ideas that have worked in our house – perhaps they can be helpful in yours:
1) Control the crap.
Few of us, or our little angels, are perfect – sometimes we just have to cave in and say yes to the occasional not-great food choice. It’s a delicate dance and trust me, I’ve done it a thousand times myself. But one tactic I encourage everyone to implement is a simple one: control the volume of crappy foods in your pantry. If the crap isn’t in the house, the kids can’t eat it (and you can’t either)! If the choice is between a sweet juicy apple or nothing, which one will your kid say yes to? Exactly!
2) Repeat after me: you are not a short order chef.
This is a tough one but commit to making one meal for all. Don’t ask kids what they want to eat, as the answer will more likely be “ice cream!” than spinach, with things going downhill from there. Stick with the “one for all” technique or, in a pinch, offer two very simple, healthy choices so the kids have some control over their dining decisions, but not total control over your kitchen. Don’t be seduced by those sweet little faces begging for mac & cheese night after night – stay strong! Get comfortable with the idea of no custom orders, except maybe on birthdays and national holidays!
3) Take the kids to the source – and get a little dirty.
How to connect kids with their food in a positive, playful way? Plunk them down in your own veggie patch and let them play in the dirt, while you pull up the weeds and tend the garden. The benefits of gardening and growing at least some of your own produce are endless, but for kids in particular, gardening is also a non-stop lesson in the earth sciences, with dirt, bugs, critters, good bacteria and the life cycle taking center stage. Growing your own shows kids this amazing process up close, connecting them with the earth in an experiential way that’s far more memorable than ripping the top off a box of crackers. I believe that by encouraging our kids to have a personal relationship with Mother Earth early in the game, they’ll be more conscious of nature down the line, and feel a sense of responsibility for protecting her – so start sowing those seeds early.
4) Take the kids for a shopping experience, instead of a sprint through the supermarket.
If growing your own isn’t an option, then a weekly trip to the farmers market with the kids can be the next best thing. There, they will be able to experience the sights, smells and tastes of fresh, seasonal local fruits and veggies. They’ll also have the opportunity to experience a sense of community and to meet the people who grow their food. Better still, there will be little if any junk food on offer, automatically reducing the incidence of food-related wars of will. Score one for parents!
5) Get the kids involved in the kitchen.
For the young ones, as in those too young to wield a knife, picking items from the garden, grabbing items from the fridge, rinsing, shucking, mixing, stirring and combining ingredients are fun and simple tasks to manage. For older ones, managing spices, hand-shredding or even light-chopping duties (depending on their dexterity) are meaningful ways for them to experience and contribute to meals coming together.
6) Educate creatively and check out Yummiloo, a wonderful healthy eating app for kids!
With the advent of the I-Phone and I-Pad, we all know that education can be entertaining and fun. A case in point: the absolutely wonderful Yummiloo Rainbow Power app – an award-winning app that uses entertaining stories, games and fruit and veggie-centric characters to teach preschoolers about healthy eating. A hit with my grandkids and thousands of others, its creators have just launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring the app to life on television. Called “Yummiloo,” it’s a food adventure animated TV show, designed to expose preschoolers to healthy eating through irresistible characters, stories and games – and if it’s anything like the app, I know it’s going to be magical – so check it out and lend your support before the campaign ends on June 6. Let’s get kids excited about eating real food!
For more ideas on how to create a vibrant diet, life and gut microbiome, check out Kathie Swift’s new book The Swift Diet: 4 Weeks to Mend the Belly, Lose the Weight and Get Rid of the Bloat.