Done With Diligence

6 Tips to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy Foods

Got a picky eater on your hands?  How can you help them overcome these challenges? Here are 6 tips for helping your kids learn to eat healthy foods…without any arguing! 

So much of how children respond to new foods depends upon how the parent presents it and what the parent allows. That probably comes as good news to some of you, and bad news to others. But, simply consider how these tips might apply for your family, and I think you’ll be encouraged!

Tip 1: Don’t buy anything you don’t want them to eat.

Picky eaters often have a handful of “approved” foods, or familiar foods, that they are happy eating. When you introduce something new that’s not on the “approved” list, you’ll likely be met with lots of opposition. Your homemade granola bars just can’t compete with their usual cheese crackers. But what if you simply don’t buy cheese crackers this week? Instead, you let them know that you’ve made something yummy for them to try. When there are only healthy choices available in the pantry, it makes it much easier for a picky eater to make a good choice! And, bonus…if there REALLY are no cheese crackers in the house, Mom can’t cave in! Being intentional in what you allow into your grocery cart is the first step to holding everyone accountable for making changes.

Tip 2: Encourage them to see if they like it YET. 

Picky eaters often label themselves. For example, they’ll decide that OTHERS may like green beans, but I am someone who does NOT like green beans. If we don’t work to prevent that self-labeling, they’ll wear that badge all the way into adulthood! Instead, set an expectation that most older kids and adults like ____.  So, let’s try it and see if you are big enough to like it YET.  If you don’t like it today, then we will just try again later, when you’re a little older. 

This approach works wonders!  Reframing the idea of “I don’t like green beans,” to “I don’t like green beans YET, but I probably will when I’m older,”  changes the game completely. Now it’s become a rite of passage, a goal, something to aspire to achieve.  And we are working to get you there TOGETHER! In the meantime, let them see Mom, Dad, and older siblings enjoying green beans at mealtime. Even picky eaters have the desire to grow up, mature, and do what others do. You can be sure they’ll take note, and you can be their biggest cheerleader as you are waiting for the big day to come!

Tip 3: Talk about how the food industry manipulates us.  

This tip may not work well for young picky eaters, but if you still have a picky eater at age 5 or 6, it may be time to talk about manipulation. Big name companies hire food scientists to carefully manipulate ingredients like sugar, salt, and fat to make their products more addictive and stimulating to the brain.  A useful resource on this topic comes from Pulitzer prize author Michael Moss.  His book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, names specific companies and products.  He even explains he term “bliss point”. Major food companies hire food technicians to determine the perfect amount of sugar and salt in everything from chips to soda to keep us coming back for more. There is absolutely no consideration for nutritional content, only future sales.

Katie Couric has also produced a documentary addressing the problems in our food industry called Fed Up, and it’s available for free on Amazon Prime. We watched it together as a family (we love a good documentary!). Among other notable tidbits, I was surprised to learn that school lunchrooms can now count pizza as a vegetable. Say what?!

Feeding You Lies by Vani Hari is another fascinating read on this topic. She explains why we can find “flavors” added to most any processed food’s ingredient label. Simply put, by the time the food is run through heavy manufacturing machinery, packed with preservatives, shipped around the world, and has waited patiently in the store’s stockroom or shelves for you to eat it, there’s no remaining flavor to enjoy. That means they need to chemically create flavors to make these processed products taste like real food again. These lab-made flavors are further formulated to trick your brain into craving more and more. So, by hijacking your taste buds, they can make you forget you aren’t eating real food, eat more than you should, and ultimately buy more of their product again next time. Big win for the food industry, but a big loss for your health!

Bottom line: Kids don’t like being tricked, so once you point out what these food companies are up to, they’ll pay attention. And they’ll be better for it!

Tip 4: Talk about how nutritious foods help the body.

Picky eaters need to understand WHY we need to eat healthy foods. I mean, if nutrition didn’t matter, I would eat more than my fair share of Reeses Cups, ya know?

My boys love to read about war, play war, watch war documentaries…anything war!  So we’ve used the analogy of the nutritious foods being the “good soldiers.”  Good soldiers can help your body fight “the enemy” (inflammation, disease, viruses, etc.).  What if it’s time for a battle and your body doesn’t have any good soldiers around? Then it’s not ready to fight!  You’re more likely to lose! And what if you give your body “bad soldiers” (junk foods) just before a battle?  Then there is even more of the enemy for your body to fight, oh no! 

While, it’s a silly analogy, it really has helped to simplify a much more complex concept so that they can understand the basics. Even picky eaters want to WIN the challenge, so setting it up in this framework helps to make mealtime more about winning the nutritional battle and less about the types of food on your plate. And, again, Mom is on their team, trying to help them WIN the war!

Tip 5: Teach them strategies for trying new foods.

Picky eaters need strategies to help them try new foods. One good strategy is incoroprating sauces/dips that they like. Maybe you don’t love broccoli, but you do love ranch.  If broccoli is served, ask if you can try dipping it in ranch dressing.  In the beginning, they may only eat it with ranch, but later, they may learn they don’t need the ranch after all. Cheese and ketchup can also help make lots of foods more appealing. And don’t worry if the cheese to veggie ratio is a little overboard in the beginning.  Cauliflower swimming in cheese is still a win if they eat it willingly! And down the road, they likely won’t need quite so much cheese. Another great strategy is alternating bites. Take a bite of something that’s not your favorite, immediately followed by something you enjoy. This strategy means you don’t get stuck eating one thing on your plate. Keep going, one bite at a time!

6 cups of different sauces

Tip 6: Make a no snacks rule.  

At our house, you don’t have to clean your plate at mealtime, but if you don’t eat what’s served, no snacks.  You can’t have ANYTHING else to eat until our next meal.  I’ll just stick the child’s unfinished plate in the fridge in case they are hungry before dinner is ready.  And you know what?  When a picky eater gets hungry, and there are no other options, that meal starts to look a lot more appealing! The same meal they didn’t want earlier, may just hit the spot a few hours later.

But, on the other hand, if they claim to be full after 2 bites of vegetable soup, then an hour later are allowed to snack on goldfish crackers, bad habits are being created. Picky eaters will learn that if they’ll just hold out a little bit, they can skip over the unappealing food and get what they really want instead. Teaching our kids to answer their bodies’ hunger cues by eating nutrient-dense, real food is actually a gift. 

Picky Eaters Can Change!

little girl eating bite of salad

Picky eaters definitely present some challenges. As a parent, we know that helping them overcome their pickiness will serve them well in the long run, but nobody is saying it will be easy to get there. It will take diligent work.  So, don’t feel like you need to implement all 6 of these tips at once. Pick an easy one and start there. And maybe all 6 aren’t a good fit for your family and your goals. Take what works for you! We all know the old saying, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.” If you aren’t getting anywhere with your picky eater, the WORST thing you can do is to keep doing what you’ve been doing! So, start today. In no time, you’ll see little wins start happening. Even if it takes some time, creating a shift in your kids’ eating habits will be worth it! And they’ll be so much healthier and happier for it!

Need Some Ideas for Healthy, Kid-Approved Recipes?

If you’re looking for some kid-approved recipes to try with your picky eater, be sure to hop over to my Nourish Them with Diligence page. You’ll find easy-to-follow recipes that have been tried and tested! And if you can’t decide on which one to try first, may I suggest my Anytime Cookies recipe? I haven’t met a kid who didn’t like them yet!


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