Do your kids eat healthy foods without meltdowns or drama? It’s absolutely possible!! Here are 3 (almost) foolproof tips to make it happen.
[Hello readers! I’m super grateful today to share this guest post from Katie Kimball of Kids Cook Real Food, an online cooking class for kids. Her advice for getting kids to eat healthy is solid, and her approach closely mirrors my own. It can be done, and without a ton of drama – for real. Read on!]
Kids eat healthy food and vegetables all the time, no problem, right?
I don’t even know if I can get away with that sarcasm for 2 seconds. 😉 Yes, some children love their veggies, and some children never complain at the table. But a lot of us don’t have some children – we have OUR children, the ones who make parenting the job that makes us into better people (because it’s hard work!).
As with all parenting, I feel that peace at the dinner table is a combination of 3 good habits (in the adults):
- Being smarter than your kids.
- Deciding on guidelines that are doable and also best for the kids.
- Being more stubborn than your kids.
When it comes to eating, there are plenty of bad habits we accidentally fall into as parents.
All over the world, moms are telling me they struggle with mealtimes. There are kids leaving the table before they’re finished, avoiding the vegetables or picking them out of the meal, changing their minds about what they like from one day to the next, reacting rudely to foods they don’t like, and some kids have very narrow palates, only tolerating a handful of foods to actually go into their mouths.
But most parents really do want their kids to eat good food, to grow up to be independent and healthy as adults, and to be polite at the table.
The pressure is real!
Healthy Eating for Kids: Mission Possible
What are you to do if you’ve gotten a bad habit like making “kid-food” for the kids, or if you just want your kids to have better eating habits and you don’t know where to start?
Let’s play their game – but we’ll be smarter and more stubborn than them.
My 3 tips for you today are:
- Prepare the Space
- Lead with Your Ace
- Follow Suit
This is a “card game” that we can WIN if we do it right.
1. Prepare the Space – How Snacktime Impacts a Healthy Dinner
My kids love to make their own trail mix as a snack, but you have to be careful – it gets filling!
A good dinner begins at snacktime!
I’ve seen it time and time again with parents who attend my free presentation on bringing peace to mealtimes: appropriate snacking makes a HUGE difference in what their kids will eat at dinner!
I strongly recommend that you create a buffer zone between a snack and the next meal of at least 90 minutes, preferably 2 hours.
That means if your child gets home from school at 4:00p and dinner is usually 5:30p, they don’t get an afternoon snack. It will almost certainly sabotage dinner!
We also recommend no seconds on snacks – snacks are meant to satisfy your hunger pangs, not make you “full” like a meal should. A snack portion must be smaller than a meal by at least half.
That time buffer also needs to happen on the other side of a meal. If a child chooses to eat practically nothing at dinner (I see heads nodding all over – we’ve all experienced this!), they often might wander into the kitchen half an hour or an hour later with puppy-dog eyes and a sorrowful, “I’m hungry…Mom?”
If they are fed, they learn quite quickly that eating dinner is optional – there will always be food coming soon.
Kids are pretty savvy too!
We have to be more savvy and more stubborn. My line in that instance after dinner is, “I’m sorry about that – let’s get ready for bed so you can get to breakfast quicker! Breakfast is going to taste amazing….”
Prepare the space for your kids to be hungry for dinner – have good snack habits!
2. Lead With Your Ace – Serve Vegetables First for Kids!
Once the kids are hungry, you’ve prepared the space for success. So what do you feed them first?
Vegetables, of course!
When the hungry vultures start coming around while I’m finishing up dinner, I’ll put out our requisite bowl of raw veggies and some ranch dip that typically the kids have made themselves (did you know that the vitamins in veggies need a fat to be properly assimilated by the body? Always serve a good dip!).
The kids are allowed to graze on this “appetizer” as much as they want – it’s a great feeling to see veggies going down the hatch! The key is to make sure the vegetables are the only choice available. No grabbing a string cheese from the fridge (that breaks the very-important snacking rule), no snitching a roll from the bread basket (those are for dinner), and no other shenanigans. Be stubborn, mamas!
More tips needed? I’ve got a full hour presentation that I do LIVE for you – check the times HERE to join us for the 7 strategies making a huge difference at dinner tables all over the world! Kids eating salad!!!
If you’re really working on getting your kids’ tongues to accept veggies, once or twice a week begin dinner with what call a “starter soup” – that’s going to be the trump card for your game!
3. Follow Suit – Try a Blended Soup
Blended soups are amazing for picky eaters if they’re served in the right way. You see, there aren’t any vegetables to pick out, because they’re all blended up!
The rules on serving a starter soup:
- It starts the meal – and there’s nothing else on the table at all.
- Announce that this is the first course, and the rest of the meal will follow in about 10 minutes.
- Have a very positive attitude.
- If they kids beg for other food, just repeat the same exact sentence over and over. They’ll get the picture after somewhere between two and 9,879 times. 😉
- Have fun with the soup – we make swirls with sour cream* or pats of butter for eyes and a nose. We sprinkle dill on or grate Parmesan for hair or beards.
- Offer straws. This is the magic button that makes the meal just different enough that even some kids who won’t touch soup will have to try slurping their food through the straw! (Snip it shorter so it doesn’t fly out of the bowl all the time.)
* We pipe sour cream onto the soup using a sandwich bag with one tip snipped off – a sort of DIY piping bag that takes about 10 seconds to put together.
When the rest of the meal is served, at least you know you’ve done your best to get some vegetables in your child first. As I watch my kids eat, I have a hunch that like begets like – the more veggies they eat, the more veggies they eat!
What in the world does that mean?
When we have a lot of vegetables on the table and they eat those first, they’ll tend to go back for more on their own accord (this after many years of being more stubborn than them, lest you think I just lucked out with kids who were born loving kale!). I truly think that the more veggies kids eat, the more used to them they get and the more they like and even crave vegetables. When we serve a lot of grain-based dishes, they just don’t go for seconds on the veggies.
We also get our kids really involved with food, which research shows (and experience confirms) helps them be more likely to try new things.
Want to see and hear more? Join me for a live online event (totally free!) where I go into these tips and add a BUNCH more. Parents say it’s totally “encouraging” and they want to “try everything possible!”
Tips on Healthy Eating for Kids on the News!
If you can’t view the video above, click healthy eating tips for kids to view it on YouTube.
For more help with picky eaters:
- Some ways to SURPRISE your picky eater into being “cured”
- Sensory Processing Disorder: when picky eating might be more serious (and how to choose only healthy food anyway)
- Wellness Mama lists her food rules to cure picky eating
- Try serving your kids Bulletproof Milk in the afternoon to help ward off the “hangry” meltdowns before dinner.
Katie Kimball is a Michigan mom who is passionate about helping kids eat healthy! She has shared her journey to real food and natural living for 9 years at Kitchen Stewardship, a blog that helps families stay healthy without going crazy. Along with her 4 children, she created the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse to help other parents teach their kids to cook, so that they too can get a little break (and raise healthy children who can eat their vegetables). The course serves over 6,000 families from 6 continents and over 10,000 kids are learning to cook!