I have two kids, an 11 year old daughter and a 2 year old son. My daughter, C, would live on chicken and corn if I’d let her. My son, B, would live on raisins and applesauce if I’d let him. Getting these kids to TRY something has always been a struggle. C hates anything with the texture of mashed potatoes. B doesn’t have texture issues. With him, it all has to do with timing. You absolutely HAVE to catch him at exactly the right time in order to get any food in him. If you offer him ANYTHING, even stuff he LOVES, after or before his ideal “window” you might as well just give it to the chickens. C is a picker. She very closely examines any and all food you serve you to make sure there isn’t any onion or tomato or other unapproved food hiding in meal. Can I tell you how frustrating it is to have a child dig through EVERYTHING you try to feed her to find a tiny speck of something she doesn’t like? Ha, well, since you are here, I’m sure you ALREADY know!
As much as I LOVE to cook and feed people, I do not operate my kitchen like a restaurant. I’m not a short order cook. I’m a mom. A busy mom. (like there’s such a thing as a not busy mom!) And there is not much I like less than arguing with the kids over FOOD. I’m not a parental expert by any means. This article is not to serve as a parenting advice, even though there are some places it will seem like it is. That’s mostly why it has taken me so long to finally do this post. I’m a foodie. I’m a hippie. I’m a fitness junkie. I am NOT a parenting expert nor do I want to be. But we as parents do have to feed the minions. So here are some tips and advice to encourage your child(ren) to enjoy and fall in love with real, whole food. No, this won’t work for EVERY kid. But it is meant to serve as a starting point. A simple guide. Do what works for you and your family. Trial and error is part of the process. You cannot expect your kids to gobble up whatever you place in front of them. Do you not have foods you don’t like? Of course you do. Even if it’s a very short list, everyone has things they don’t like to eat. Period. So don’t expect your kids to like everything either! They key is to keep calm, don’t push, don’t give up and LEAD BY EXAMPLE. If you can do that, you’ve got this!
1) Baby Steps — If you are just starting to make the conversion from SAD (standard american diet) to full on clean eating and whole foods, you cannot expect your kids to immediately jump on board and quit eating junk just because YOU want to. Actually, this goes for spouses too. Now, of course, if you are in control of the grocery shopping and cooking, you COULD totally cut everyone off. But be warned, that WILL BACKFIRE. And it’s not fair. So don’t do that! Make some small, nearly unnoticeable, changes.
- Store bought white flour tortillas -> store-bought whole wheat tortillas (with as few ingredients as you can get) -> homemade whole wheat/whole grain tortillas
- Store bought sugar cereals -> store bought granola (with only simple, whole ingredients) -> homemade granola
- Store bought sugar filled kids yogurts -> plain, greek yogurt with fruits and flavoring you add at home -> homemade yogurt with all the fixings
- Store bought “eggos” -> store-bought whole grain, organic or clean, frozen waffles -> homemade waffles (totally freezer friendly)
- Switch out your usual chips or popcorn for a healthier version before attempting to make your own. Never, ever buy microwave popcorn. It is way too easy to make at home.
- For some things you make have to just stop buying it for a while before introducing your own homemade version. Like, that horrible blue box of “macaroni and cheese” (and the orange/purple box from the “organic” brand). Stop buying it for a month or two. Then present your own homemade version (great place to sneak in some cauliflower by the way) and watch them gobble it up because they have been “deprived” of it for so long.
2) No rewards — Stop rewarding yourself and your kids with food. Seriously. You are humans. Not dogs. This is a horrible habit. I don’t care if you think a chocolate chip for going potty isn’t a big deal. It is a big deal. Maybe not NOW, but in the future. Think about it, you are giving your kid a food treat for doing a trick. The ONLY exception for this rule is a food treat for eating food. As in, “if you will try just one bite of this broccoli, you can have that piece of cheese you want.”
3) Timing — You are more likely to get a kid to eat or try something new (or that they have previously dismissed) when they are hungry. I know, I know. Huge “duh!” here right?! Also, try starting a meal off with something you know they love. Your kid loves cheese. So, before serving them a meal of questionable items, give them a piece of cheese. When the cheese has been gobbled up, offer them the meal. When they ask for more cheese, tell them they absolutely can have more cheese AFTER they eat/try the rest of their food.
- 4) First Impressions — As with most everything, first impressions are insanely important! If you force feed your kid a piece of broccoli, chances are super high they will NEVER eat broccoli. So, if you want your kid to love zucchini, try introducing zucchini to them in a cake or bread you know they won’t refuse. TELL THEM THERE IS ZUCCHINI IN IT either while they are eating it or after. This is important. They NEED to know what they are eating if you want them to eat zucchini later. Give them the zucchini bread/cake a few times, always being sure to tell them it’s zucchini. Next step, bread the zucchini, pan fry it and serve it with a dipping sauce. What kid doesn’t like to dip?! And again, TELL them what they are eating. Do this the next few times you serve them zucchini. Then saute some zucchini by itself and serve it to them. Changes are, they will want to at least try it because they already think they like it!!
- zucchini –> cake/bread –> breaded/fritters –> plain
- sweet potatoes/butternut squash –> candied/brownies –> fries –> whole baked
- carrots –> cake/muffins –> candied –> raw/steamed
- broccoli –> brownies –> smothered in cheese/as a casserole –> raw/steamed
- spinach –> green eggs/smoothie –> salad/sautéed
- asparagus –> wrapped in bacon –> sautéed/raw/steamed/roasted
- pumpkin/acorn squash –> brownies/muffin –> as a substitute for mashed/whipped sweet potatoes
- cauliflower –> in/as mac n cheese/hash/half & half mashed potatoes –> as a substitute for mashed potatoes
5) Get them in the kitchen — Let them help you prepare and cook. Even toddlers can help you whip up some pancakes or muffins. BUT they must understand that this is a privilege. If they participate in preparing food, they must at least try what they made!
6) Trash it — get rid of and stop buying the stuff you don’t want them eating. No hiding it for yourself! You are leading by example. Yes, you COULD hide in the closet and scarf down a candy bar. But we don’t condone that behavior in my house. Seriously, once you find 4 empty bags of chocolate chips in your kids room, you will regret it!
7) Choices — Instead of serving up something new or previously dismissed and expecting them to like it this time, give them two or three options. When you cook a meal, ask them if they would rather have carrots or sweet potatoes. Brussels sprouts or broccoli. Broccoli or asparagus. At snack time, do the same thing. Apple or banana. Celery with peanut butter or carrots with ranch.
8) Patience — Did you automatically devour every new thing your parents plopped on your plate? No, probably not. Did you always love broccoli or was it something you decided you liked later into your childhood or even as an adult. I hate Brussels sprouts as a kid and now they are my FAVORITE green veggie. I loved broccoli as a kid and now I’d rather not eat it unless its raw. You must continue to offer them foods they have previously deemed unfit. BUT NEVER EXPECT THEM TO LOVE IT! And remember your taste buds do change quite a bit as you grow up. Not liking it now doesn’t mean they will NEVER like it.
9) Don’t shock the system — When you are making a brand new dish or trying out a new food altogether, be sure to include an option you KNOW they like. So, instead of just handing them a bowl of that new soup recipe you found, give them a small bowl of the soup along with their favorite veggie.
10) Shopping — take them to the market or grocery store and let them pick out a new item they are willing to try. Farmers markets are the best place to try this in my opinion because then the seller can talk to your child about the item and answer any question they may have.
11) Grow it! — Make a small yard or pot/porch garden. Let them help you plant the seeds and care for the plants as they grow. You would be surprised what you can get your kids to eat when they’ve helped to grow it. Think about it, they help you plant a seed, care for it, watch it grow. That whole time their anticipation grows along with the plant. Once there is produce to harvest they will be very excited!
12) One bite! — Set a strict one bite rule. NO SPITTING OUT FOOD THEY DO NOT LIKE!! This is VERY important. That is a nasty habit you do not want to endorse. Allow them to wash the taste out with their drink. But never allow spitting out food. It’s just bad manners. Think about it this way. If you are a guest in someone’s home and your child dislikes something they’ve taken a bite of, do you really want the embarrassment that will come along with them spitting out a bite of food at your friend’s dinner table?! Remind your child that not liking something is totally ok but that the one bite will not harm them in any way, just because it tastes bad doesn’t mean they can’t swallow it!
13) No pressure. EVER — No forcing them to eat anything. No scare tactics. No pressure. Never, ever upset your child over a food!! This will cause food issues later down the line. Remember that time your parents made you sit at the dinner table until bedtime or until you ate that (now cold) broccoli soup you absolutely hated? I bet that broccoli soup still makes you gag, 25 years later. Don’t do that to your kid. Sure, this is one of those things that everyone says “my parent made me sit there until my dinner was gone and I turned out ok”. But what if you didn’t? What if you DO have issues with certain foods because of the way they were presented as a child?
Be firm with the one bite rule, be consistent. But do not ever be pushy or forceful. You are just hurting your case!
14) One at a time — This goes for “normal” eaters as well, but is especially crucial for difficult or extra picky kids or those who have sensory issues. Never, ever, serve more than one new thing at a time. And ALWAYS serve a new item along side a favorite.
15) Older kids — If your child is old enough to hold a “real” conversation with another adult besides you, they are old enough for this. Talk to them about food! Talk to them about nutrition and the importance of eating a variety of foods and trying new things. Tell them WHY it’s important. Watch the documentary Food, Inc with them. Discuss why cutting out processed food is beneficial to them for optimal health and explain how great they will feel! Educate your kids (and yourself!) on proper nutrition. Generally, kids would rather do the right thing and be healthy.
16) Be realistic — This change will never happen instantly or overnight. It won’t be easy. It won’t be fast. We’ve been a mostly clean eating household for FIVE YEARS and my oldest is still resistant to trying things. It really does take at least a dozen exposures to a food for a child to truly like or hate it. And this will change as they get older. Just because they used to adore lima beans doesn’t mean they will always love lima beans. Taste buds change. But don’t ever give up! Consistency is key to making anything and everything work. (I know this from experience with my own health and my businesses). If you can add just a few foods to their approved list a year, you have accomplished something!
17) Be creative — Tell them a story. “Did you know there was once a (favorite animal) that could eat 100 pieces of (item they are opposed to trying). Do you think you could do that?” Be excited about it! Arrange their food on their plate to make a picture. Give them a super tiny helping, like a single grain of rice, an almost microscopic piece of broccoli or a tiny shred of spinach. Laugh about how tiny and silly it is. Make it fun. Make it a game.
18) Texture — Consider your child may completely HATE a certain texture. My oldest hates mushy and hasn’t touched mashed potatoes in YEARS. I don’t care what I do or add to them (cheese, bacon, god awful amounts of butter) she will not eat them and they do actually make her gag. Pay attention to the textures of foods that your child is ok with and ones they hate. Use this to your advantage. Try changing up cooking methods or even serving raw. You can pretty much roast, steam, saute, fry, bake, or boil any veggie. And each method produces a different texture. Experiment to find what your child will approve of!
19) Last resort — Ok, I call this one a last resort. But it’s really not IF you do it right. Hiding veggies. I’m all about hiding veggies in anything from brownies to muffins to smoothies. BUT, you HAVE to tell your child what is in there!!! Seriously. What if your kid goes their entire life thinking they’ve never once had spinach when in fact they’ve drank spinach their whole like in smoothies. That’s not good. Don’t do that to your kid! While most parental bloggers will tell you that you should tell your kid before or while they are consuming whatever it is you’ve hidden something in, I’m more of a tell them when they are almost done or after they’ve finished kind of girl. Because if I told my oldest every single time that what I served her had cauliflower hidden in it somewhere, she would never even try it. Because she thinks she hates cauliflower. When in reality she thinks the homemade mac n cheese I make is the best stuff ever and it’s base is in fact pureed cauliflower. She knows this. And still swears she hates cauliflower. Some battles are never won. I don’t push it. But I do always tell her after. But this is also a one of those things that you just have to do what works for you and your kids. Now, I do have a rule with hiding veggies, other than being honest. I think that only about half of the veggies you give your child should be hidden. Again, just a personal preference. We also abide by the 80/20 rule, whereas 80% of our diet is totally clean and organic and I let the other 20% slide. Seriously though, if anyone has an issue with that, they can come take the chocolate chips from both of my kids. I dare you, lol!
I’m sure this will be one the posts I will update the most. As I learn new tricks I will pass them on. If hiding veggies is something you would want try, stay tuned for the follow-up post with LOADS of hidden veggie recipes! I will also link in recipes where appropriate above. Expect to have all of that up over the weekend. I just wanted to go ahead and get this portion up.
Have any suggestions to add? Please feel free to leave a comment below!
note: smoothie recipes will be up tomorrow morning at 830