Zoe Clark, journalist, freelance stylist, blogger, and mother, is with us today sharing her tips on how to get kids to eat healthy food. Keep up with Zoe Clark by following her on twitter @ZoeFClark.
Do you know what every parent’s worst nightmare looks like? No, it has nothing to do with their mini versions getting kidnapped, abducted by aliens, or going missing during airport layovers. A parent’s biggest terror begins at mealtime, when their little angels seem to grow devil’s horns out of nowhere and launch a tantrum at the sight of broccoli and lettuce.
Alas, the woebegone parents are quick to forget they, too, used to go into the sulk mode back when they were kids and their loving next-of-kin tried to cajole them into eating greens. If your mom seems pleased as punch to see you and your offspring toiling over the dining table and doesn’t want to share her tricks on how to efficiently coax a child into eating veggies (payback time, baby), you may want to check out these sly strategies and implement them as part of everyday family mealtime drill.
1. No Food Police, Please
Be realistic now: you hated your parent’s food policing, and odds are your mini edition will, too. Instead of forcing your child to stay at the table until they’ve eaten all the green goodness from the plate, try amiably prompting your bundle of joy to try different veggies during the meal, and provide a variety to tempt their inner epicure’s curiosity. Also, stock the pantry with organic fruit and homemade munchies instead of commercial candies rich in sugar and artificial ingredients: that way, your child will always have access to yummy and healthy bites whenever they feel like snacking.
2. No Nagging, Just Praise
Don’t be a drill sergeant over dinner: be your kid’s cheerleader, and give them a reassuring smile every time they reach for healthy foods. By nagging about the perils of junk food and imposing a ban on candies, you’ll achieve just the opposite of what you’re trying to do: reverse psychology is every kid’s forte. Still, don’t use rewards when aiming to foster healthy eating habits in a child: incentives may be the oldest trick in a parent’s book, but rewarding a kid for eating superfoods will lay down shaky dietary cornerstones that will go to bits as soon as the prize is withdrawn.
3. Get the Kids to Help Out
Kids learn by copying grownups, so if you’re dodging broccoli at lunchtime, don’t go wondering whom your tiny version picked it up from. Eat your greens like a good parent, and include your child in meal preparation to give them a sense of control and impact. Still, be careful with the kitchen tasks you’re entrusting your child with: kids love to fiddle around range, oven, fridge and other kitchen appliances, but they’ll be much safer (and far more useful) passing salt, spices, and groceries from the pantry or reading out instructions from the cookbook.
4. Make Food a Pack of Fun
Another thing kids love are games, so be a sly parent and gamify nutrition to unobtrusively coax them into eating healthy and enjoying it. Games featuring food are also a great way to teach the child the ABC of nutritional values and meal preparation: for instance, you can prompt your kid to give thumbs up for each healthy treat you pick up, and to frown or show thumbs down for unhealthy dietary ingredients you take. Another way to add a pinch of fun to family dinners is to decorate the platter to mimic your kid’s favorite animals or cartoon characters: it worked for many parents out there, and there’s no reason it won’t work for you.
5. Keep Healthy Food Comin’
Remember that chicken soup your mom used to make every other day? You probably never eat it now that you’re a grown-up – and neither will your child if you keep serving them the same old menu for weeks on end. Kids love to pick and choose their food and try new flavors. So, diversify the healthy food you offer to keep the little ones up for second helpings. By adding new healthy recipes to the cookbook every week, you’ll be exposing your child to new gustatory experiences while at the same time keeping them on their toes, well-nourished, and interested in nutrition.
Your kid will always go for chocolate over cauliflower if given the option; that’s why your role as their parent is to teach them that both foods are okay, but that the latter is better for their long-term health. Pick up the cues listed above and use them to set your kids’ nutrition on the right and healthy track: your peace of mind and bonus points for good parenting will not fall short.