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Healthy Eating for Kids Made Easy

by Tiffany in Healthy Eating

picky kid tips

Getting children to eat more nutritious and healthy foods is usually a BIG concern for moms nowadays. There are just too many unhealthy options bombarding them at the grocery store, at restaurants and eateries, and in the school cafeterias. Moms have to work double time it seems to make sure healthy foods don’t completely disappear from the menu. This becomes especially important when we take a look at some of the health problems facing young kids today that are increasingly being associated with poor nutrition such as juvenile diabetes, obesity, and attention deficit disorders. Kids as young as two years old have been found that already have plaque build-up in their arteries.

What can you do though when your kids just don’t prefer the healthier foods and vegetables in particular? If they want a candy bar instead of fresh fruit what do you do? Giving up and letting them eat whatever they want is not an option. It is time to get creative and here are some ideas.

Be a Sneaky Chef – The easiest way to overcome an aversion to healthy foods is to hide them inside other foods so that your kids either do not know they are there or they don’t care. This subject was debated a lot last year with the release of The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious, two books that provide information about creating vegetable purees and then inserting them within other foods. The idea behind this is that kids will still get the nutritional benefit of their vegetables while still enjoying the “taste” of their favorite foods. The purees can be used in making macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, pizza, and even brownies.

There are some parents though that feel sneaking the veggies into the meal does not effectively teach kids the importance of eating healthfully. Other parents have decided the benefits circumvent this reasoning. Personally I do not see why healthy eating education cannot include teaching children to disguise the healthy foods they find unappealing inside the foods they do like, perhaps creating a life long habit. Be up from and honest about what you are doing and problem solved. I use this approach all the time when I add greens or seaweed to their fruit smoothies and Popsicles, sprinkle ground flax on their food, or otherwise disguise the stuff they don’t particularly care to eat on its own.

Get Kids Involved – One of the best ways to make certain that kids are enthusiastic about their meal is to have them participate in making it. When they help out with meal preparation and cooking they feel a great sense of accomplishment and that in itself makes the meal more appealing. Even younger kids can help out by measuring or mixing ingredients, finding recipes inside magazines or cookbooks, and setting the table. Even toddlers can help when you use a Learning Tower. The excitement of making the food can only be surpassed by the excitement of actually trying it.

Growing the food makes it all the more appealing as well. It allows them to see first hand how food grows and makes its way to our dinner plate. Even if you have to use containers on a small apartment patio your kids can still grow their own food, perhaps grape tomatoes or strawberries. Kids are much more likely to try and enjoy foods that they grow themselves. If you don’t have a garden or even if you do…you can’t possibly grow everything. Look for Pick Your Own farms in your area where you can wander the farm and pick your own fruits and veggies. My kids absolutely love visiting nearby farms and coming home with baskets of goodies.

Presentation is Everything – My number one tip for parents to get their kids to eat healthier is to make it fun and exciting. This is why I love bento boxes, lunch trays, and other inventive ways to make the meal more fun. If you want them to enjoy nutritious foods then market them just as hard as the junk food companies do! Present the food in fun ways, dress up the table like you are having a party, and flex your creative muscles. Doing this does require a lot of effort but the payoff is worth it.

My oldest son’s classmates have often expressed jealousy when they see his lunches…the beautiful boxes, the cloth napkins, the food arranged in cute ways like the fruity rainbow lunch a made last year (below) or hard boiled eggs shaped like fish. Even veggies wrapped in nori (seaweed) become an object of desire because they are unique and special. One of his teachers even sent home a note asking how much I would charge to make her lunches. ;)

rainbow bento

Another thing we do at home is eat by candlelight at least once a week. We turn off the lights, light a few candles and have a “romantic” dinner together. The kids love it and what’s on the menu is not much of an issue. Another idea would be to take the meal outside. Eat at a patio or picnic table or even a blanket on the front lawn. It is way less messy (no crumbs to clean up) and kids have a blast. You might also decide to load up a nice picnic basket and take your meal to a local park.

Don’t Buy the Bad Stuff – Are you being your kids dealer? Are you bringing the bad stuff into the house? I am amazed when I hear moms complain about how their kids eat nothing but macaroni and cheese, potato chips, and soda and then find it is mom buying the stuff for them. Seriously, it is like buying drugs for them and complaining when they use them. You don’t HAVE to buy unhealthy foods if you don’t want to. Just stop already.

Give Them Time – It can take many repeated exposures to certain foods before kids feel comfortable trying them. The key is not to pressure them and make the dinner hour one of tension. Pressuring kids to eat things they don’t want to can work against our ultimate goal. Just keep serving up the healthy foods with each meal and let children get used to seeing them on their plates and their parents plates and they may come to accept them in time. Also, remember that children mimic the actions of their parents so the next time the salad is passed to you realize that a big “I LOVE salad” can go along way. Next time you need a snack, explain how these nuts or these goji berries will make you feel much more energized and happy than a handful of potato chips. Set the example and the kids will follow.

What about you? Any healthy eating and picky eater tips to share?

  • andiscandis

    My tip is to start with the good stuff right off the bat. Babies don’t know what food is “supposed” to taste like. Get them used to the “less tasty” before they experience sugary/salty/fatty things.
    The moms at my play group are amazed when they see my 14 month old scarfing cooked but cold broccoli instead of crackers as a snack. One mom mentioned that she was going to try to get her son to eat broccoli (for the first time) by making him “broccoli bites” (battered and fried). It made my head hurt.

  • andiscandis

    There was a post on here a while ago (and I’m too lazy to try finding it) about reusable lunch bags/sandwich wraps, etc. I just remembered that my sister-in-law actually makes these things to sell:

    The kids love ’em.

  • I totally agree with andiscandis’ comment… starting early makes this so much easier. And, like you mentioned in your post, presentation can make a huge difference. I would second your recommendation to not give up as well. When making a change, kids may balk at first… or at second, or at third… but don’t give up! It is so worth it to hear your kids say “Yay! we’re having kale tonight!”

  • Excellent tip! I totally agree!

  • Zembeauty

    We must use whatever method possible to guide our children as well as the adult world about a greener environment. You are right on target.

  • chrissi

    It’s amazing to me that parents complain about what their kids are eating and yet…still make it for them…seriously, if you don’t want them to eat crap, don’t make it an option for them!

  • MommyofTwins

    Two nights ago, my picky daughter didn’t want the pasta we were having for dinner. So what did she eat instead? Beets.

    We don’t bring sugary stuff in the house. “Dessert” at lunch time is a fruit smoothie using frozen fruit and milk. We have cheddar bunnies and bunny grahams from annies but they don’t have much sugar/sodium. The girls also know they get x amount and thats it.

  • Kim

    I have the Learning Tower. I got it for my daughter at 18 mos right before Holiday baking began. Its the best. She feels like she is involved and is learning so much. Its sturdy and easy to put together. Its worth every penny. She uses it constantly. She sits on it and snacks or plays with her toys. She can do crafts at the counter with the other kids. I love love love it.

  • Kim

    Start early. Heres what happened last night, perfect example. My 21 mo. old was eating salad and fruit, dipping in a homemade dressing. My 8 yr old ate a fruit salad, not dare touching the romaine or dressing. My 13 yr old was begging for a Big Mac. The longer they eat bad food the harder it is to reverse it. I started making my own bread. 21 mos old will eat whole wheat, 8 yr old light wheat and my 13 yr old white only. I started the change too late. Its going to be a long road to reversing their bad eating habits. I started smoothies a few wks ago and my 13 yr old lost 8 lbs by having 1 as lunch.

  • Beccijo

    I add purees like carrot and/or zucchini in all my ground meat recipes. They never know and they love them….off to heck out the learning tower.

  • Kitty

    I love this article, especially about the parents complaining about how their kids eat crap when they bring it into the house…nuff said.

    I would like to add though that some kids need extra help. My son was born with reflux disease, it took us over a year to figure out that he was allergic to dairy and soy. As a baby I started him off on all vegetables, wanting to ‘start right’, he didn’t get fruit baby food. I gave him chunks of bananas, apples, bits of carrot and broccoli when he could handle the. All was going well, until we started having to take some of his favorite foods from him because of his allergies. We pretty much went downhill from there. Him being a toddler wanting to start asserting some control over his environment and us just trying to figure out what he can eat made things significantly worse. When your child doesn’t eat for a week and is losing weight you will compromise eating veges for them just eating period.

    Now he is older and much more under control. He still has reflux but now his diet is atrocious. He won’t touch a veg or peice of fruit and he’s almost four. We eat dinner as a family and even if he won’t eat he has to sit there. However, he throws a fit and screams the entire time which makes eating dinner a nightmare for our older kids who are all teens and already don’t want to be with the family.

    So, even if you start off right, there can be problems that come up that ruin all your hard work.

  • Jessica

    My brother had so many allergies. When traveling in Europe when he was about four he was sick of hamburgers & fries by the time we got home because he couldn’t eat, or refused to eat so many other foods. At one point when he was older we used to joke that he was ‘allergic’ to green, he wouldn’t eat his veggies. Now, he is mostly vegetarian, eats salads with no dressing, and is overall healthy. Just keep it up and he might warm to the good stuff!

  • I am a mom and owner of
    My goal in starting this company was to make sugar-free, healthy desserts for kids and moms who crave sweet things.

    We use birch tree sweetener (aka xylitol) which does not raise blood sugar and is healthy for teeth and bones. Agave nectar, also very low-glycemic ad rich in minerals and vitamins.

    This way there is no reason why kids have to have sugar when there are so many nice substitutes out there that are so much healtherier.

  • AJ

    I love this quote, “Are you being your kids dealer?”

  • maria

    Make sure the healthy foods you feed your children are organic! So important they are more susceptible to chemicals and toxins in this important stage of their lives when they are growing !