As a parent, it can be challenging to get your young children to love healthy foods.
It happens to the best of us; your child turns three and will only eat mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and pizza.
Are you tired of cooking balanced, nutritious meals for your toddler only to end up throwing them out or eating them yourself? (We all do it!). Here are some tips and strategies for getting your kids to love healthy foods because developing healthy eating habits early in life is essential for a lifetime of good health.
Introduce your child to a variety of healthy foods early on in their life. Offer a variety of fruits and vegetables, spices, herbs, and roots, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats at each meal. Research shows that children who are exposed to a variety of foods during infancy and toddlerhood are more likely to eat a diverse range of foods as they grow older. (1) Even if they don’t eat it right away, they’re at least being exposed to it and might warm up to it over time.
Lead by Example
Children learn by example, and parents play a crucial role in shaping their children's eating habits. Just as we should lead by example in the way we treat others or exemplify a good work ethic, leading by example when it comes to our health is just as important. Model healthy eating habits by eating a variety of healthy diverse foods with different flavors and origins. Children are more likely to try new foods when they see their parents eating them.
Make Healthy Foods Fun
Presentation is key when it comes to getting your children excited about healthy foods. Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes out of fruits and vegetables or create a colorful and attractive plate of food. Your child will love the beautiful bold colors that fruits and vegetables provide! You can also involve your child in the preparation process by letting them help you in the kitchen.
It can take multiple exposures to a food before a child will accept it. Don’t be discouraged, this is the norm. Offer new foods multiple times, even if your child initially rejects them. Encourage your child to try new foods, join them. Once they pick up that broccoli on their own, and dare we say enjoy it!, your patience will have paid off.
Offer Healthy Snacks
Snacking can be a great opportunity to offer your child healthy foods. Offer fruits, vegetables, whole-grain crackers, and hummus as healthy snack options. Avoid offering sugary snacks and drinks, which can lead to unhealthy eating habits. Baby food pouches are an excellent option for a healthy snack for your baby or toddler especially Kekoa pouches with no added sugar.
Involve Your Child in Meal Planning
Involve your child in meal planning by letting them choose a new recipe to try or decide on the menu for the week. This can help your child feel more invested in healthy eating habits and more willing to try new foods. Toddlers love to be in control of their own decisions. The more involved in the process they are, the better. Try a new vegetable or fruit every week. Find one at the market or farmer’s market that no one in your family has even heard of and learn how to cook and consume it! Make it a family affair!
Offer Healthy Drinks
In addition to healthy snacks, it's important to offer your child healthy drinks. Water is the best option, but you can also offer unsweetened milk, 100% fruit juice, and herbal tea. Watering down juice drinks is a good alternative too.
Keep Healthy Foods on Hand
Out of sight, out of mind. Keep the unhealthy food out, and stock your pantry and refrigerator with healthy foods, so they're always on hand when your child is hungry. Keep cut-up fruits and vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, and pre-portioned snacks like nuts and seeds on hand for easy snacking. This makes it easier to reach for the healthy foods rather than foods that offer no nutritional value.
Make Healthy Foods the Norm
Make healthy eating habits the norm in your household by consistently offering healthy foods and limiting sugary and processed foods. This can help your child develop a preference for healthy foods and set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. This is where leading by example comes in and truly matters.
Don't give up if your child initially rejects a new food. Keep offering it and try different preparations or flavor combinations to make it more appealing. Encourage your child to take small bites and praise them for trying new foods. Most importantly, don’t put pressure on it. Serve the healthiest option with the same approach as any other food option.
Developing healthy eating habits early in life is essential for a lifetime of good health. By starting early, leading by example, making healthy foods fun, being patient, offering healthy snacks, and involving your child in meal planning, you can get your kids to love healthy foods.