(AND STOP THE ARGUING TODAY!)
Parents, you know the struggle is real. Getting your child to eat foods other than chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, pizza, and hot dogs can be one of the most frustrating parts of your day. The cycle of feeding your family is tiring and never-ending, and when they don't want to eat what we prepare, it can be so discouraging.
I'll be honest, I'm often tempted to just prepare the things they will eat; but I force myself to continue to fight that battle every single day.
I think to myself, "Why Ang? Why do that to yourself? You have SO MANY other things to think about, care about, and an endless amount of work between homeschooling, house cleaning, and the obvious, engaging in life with your kids, and not to mention you're seven months pregnant!"
I know, I know...but hear me out!
One day, they will get it. I’ll wake up and they will have this appreciation for health and wellness! They will be faced with hard choices on what they put in their mouths when they are hungry or bored and when they are sad and wanting comfort.
Maybe, just maybe, I will be the voice in their head to help them become healthy adults who want to take care of themselves.
Our bodies are meant to be nourished by foods, not abused by food. Sure, we take a multivitamin each day but I know that my children are healthier when they get their nutrients straight from the source that God intended.
So as I continue this journey, I know I’m not alone. You are out there, struggling with the same daily battles, and I’m here to help you. Over the years, I have discovered five easy tips to help my kids and your kids eat healthy and love the foods they are eating!
So let's get started!
1. NO SNACKING 45 MINUTES BEFORE A MEAL
I found this awesome tip from Jordan Page (Check her out at FunCheapOrFree.com, she's amazing!) She tells her kids “the kitchen is closed until dinner time!” and my kids get such a kick out of this. Now anytime I tell them to get a snack now or wait until lunch, they ask, "is the kitchen closing?!?" Yes sir, it is! My 3-year-old gets a little worried. He used to think it’s the end of the world, but he’s come to terms with it now.
It takes time getting them into the habit of a snack at an earlier time so they aren't coming in the kitchen just before mealtime searching for food. Another benefit of doing this is to teach them that you aren’t always hanging out in the kitchen, ready to serve them. I don’t know about you, but I found myself constantly fixing them food! If it wasn’t a meal, it was snacks, and then five minutes later, a drink.
I was often being interrupted with food needs. Telling them the kitchen is closed has really helped a ton. Keep your eye out for a later post where I show you how to help them become more independent in getting their own snacks and food! It’s a game changer! For now, make sure they are not eating anything at LEAST 45 minutes before a meal.
Then when it's time to eat, they are nice and hungry and more likely to eat the food on their plate.
2. LET THEM COOK WITH YOU
Kids LOVE to cook! I started cooking with my kids since they were old enough to hold a spatula. Yes it gets messy and yes it takes longer but it creates so many opportunities to connect with them, make memories, and teach them to appreciate and understand the process.
I’m not saying it is always easy. Cooking with all of them can get a bit CRAY CRAY! When my husband is home and can entertain our youngest, it is WAY easier.
They are pretty eager to help (and sample, of course). My oldest gets more responsibility than my 3 and 1 year old. She’s a strong-willed child and a natural leader. So giving her responsibility is key to interacting with her. She NEEDS to feel like she is contributing to the process, not just following instructions. When we cook, I let her make decisions and create her own way (within boundaries, of course). She's only six, but she can use the stove top to cook things and knives to cut up veggies. She’s a bit over-confident, so I have to watch her at times and remind her of a few guidelines. She knows she isn’t allowed to use the stove unless an adult is awake and present.
Mikey (3), has been cracking eggs successfully (without pieces of shells falling in! (mom brag)) since he was two. He feels so proud to be able to do it. I usually have him crack the eggs into a separate bowl as a “just in case,” so I can pick out shells easier if I need to. My 21-month-old mainly just wants to eat whatever is being made; but he does love to stir and dump ingredients in. He is obsessed with eating though, so giving him something to snack on while we are cooking is key.
Get your kids involved with meal prepping! Let them chop up veggies for salads or cooking throughout the week. Try having them use a butter knife; it works great. Not only does this help me with all the food prep work for the week, but it keeps their little hands busy while I take on other tasks.
When it's almost time to eat, have your child set the table. A long time ago, I worked in a restaurant and we learned how to fold cloth napkins the fancy way.
It makes the table look so elegant and I love doing this at home. I taught my daughter how to do it and she picked it up really fast! Give them responsibilities. Having them fill their own plates with the food themselves allows them to interact with the food before actually eating it. Do your kids like their food separated? We buy these really fun plates that have dividers. I’ll link them here! They come in so many fun colors and my kids just love them.
Cooking together has a ton of benefits. It includes them in the process, and helps develop an understanding and appreciation for the food that is made for them.
3. MAKE IT A FUN EXPERIENCE
Who doesn’t love games?! This tip has been a game-changer for us. Make it fun!!! When they sense the stress in your voice it makes them feel more stressed and they just lock down even more. As much as I want to rush through the mealtime process and get to the next thing (because don’t we all have a million things to do), it will only cause you to take two steps back in progress. These games are not JUST for the kids, but for you as a parent to keep things light so that you don't lose your cool on a daily basis.
We don't do a lot of screen time but one thing that has been so helpful for us is to watch kids’ cooking shows with them. It has helped develop their excitement for cooking and creativity.
This isn't a kid one - but we watch "Beat Bobby Flay". Anyone else a fan?? Bobby Flay is this incredibly talented chef with the ability to build layers of flavor in his dishes that makes it difficult for others to beat him in a competition. In the show, when it is time for judging, they say, "Judges, please try your first plate." Then, the judges critique the dish and then they tell them to try the second plate, then vote. My kids think this is super fun to do at the dinner table.
The kids are the judges. I make both dishes but they get to vote on which one is their favorite! I usually make one dish be a new food, one that is going to be a stretch for them to try. The other dish is still new to them but maybe a little more desirable.
Maybe sometimes both dishes can be a stretch for them, or they can be just new dishes you found on Pinterest to try! Do it however you’d like, and by all means, switch it up so they can’t predict what you will do each time. Our daughter usually tells me it has nice texture but could use more salt. She told me just last night that the pickles added a nice crunch to the dish. 😊
Mikey just makes a gross face and complains while he eats it but I don’t dare talk because he will just keep eating if I don’t look at him or say anything. Hah!
You should try this game! It's so much fun!! Download and use THIS voting card, and THESE and THESE judge printouts for your next "Beat Bobby Flay Game"!
We have tons of FUN with it. If the dish is particularly difficult for them to test out, I will entice them with a dessert afterwards. Mikey has even asked to try a new dish just so he could get a dessert that night. I don’t always want to encourage with sweets though. Offering them an extra book you can read them at bedtime, a board game after dinner, or a sticker chart can do wonders!
Do your kids sit there and meltdown because they don’t want to put the food in their mouth? Try some of these ideas!
Sing songs and change the lyrics like "Pop Goes the Weasel", but instead say "crunch goes the carrot" or "snap goes the cucumber." I like to make their plates visually appealing as well. In their guacamole cups I will often create a face out of carrots, peppers, raisins for eyes. You can find so many creative ways to make food fun for kids. I know I have little kids but this doesn't get old for older kids either. Your older kid may not admit that they enjoy the games or visually appealing food plates but they do! If they don't take to the games, keep trying to find ways to make it fun for them.
My husband taught our kids to hold their nose while they eat something they don’t like. Honestly, I thought this would backfire on us when we first tried it. I was WRONG! There are times when I’ll see them holding their nose and finishing their veggies. It helps the taste be less strong. Who knew? They liked that one.
Are your kids competitive? Make it a competition. We used to race to see who could finish first but then I always worried about them choking. So instead, have them beat their own score. Make a chart and clock the amount they ate. Next time, they have to beat it. When they hit their goal you all can celebrate.
When they still refuse I give them a number goal. They have to eat ten more bites. Usually the negotiations begin. Again, your goal here is to WIN. Win by getting that new food in their mouth without letting your anger get the best of you. It will only make things worse. Win by giving in a little; let them talk you down to a couple less bites of food. Do a countdown while the finish their bites of food. "Four-three-two-one, woohoo!!!!!"
Make each night of the week a theme. There are some nights where we are home and others we come home right at dinner time or after. So plan your nights accordingly. For us, Tuesdays are Travel Food Tuesday. We try foods from other parts of the world. I'll make a dish that is from another country; Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Thai, etc. Wednesday's are What's New Wednesdays, so we try a new dish on Wednesdays.
4. EDUCATE THEM
This may be the homeschool mom in me, but I want my kids to understand the WHY! Why they should eat healthy and why a balanced diet matters. I don't want them to just force that food down just because they are told to. We are setting up their success for the future. So it's our job to educate them on the food groups and teach them how each food nourishes our bodies. We also talk about how each food is grown, by tree, on a bush, or in the ground.
Each meal should have the 5 food groups. Protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit, and dairy (or alternative). Talk about it, quiz them. We love divided plates for this reason. It helps them see the different groups.
Check out THIS ACTIVITY for kids I created. They can match the foods and descriptions to the correct category to which they belong. You can choose a select few to do at a time so you don’t overwhelm them, or do them all! Do this activity before mealtime or as a boredom buster until they can remember the info!
5. IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT!
If today didn’t go well, tomorrow just might. Keep your head up. Count even the small successes a win. Did you know it can take at least ten tries with a new food before your child will start liking it? So don't give up. Keep offering it. Give them two choices of veggies for that night. If I tell my kids, eat all of your broccoli right now, they would probably flip out - thinking it was the worst day in the world. However, if I say, “Broccoli or green beans tonight, which one do you choose?” they will gladly choose out of the two options.
My 3-year-old will often say, "I don't want to eat this, Mom." If I don't respond, sometimes he will start eating it. He says this even about his favorite foods and once his first bite goes down, he gobbles it up. What's with that? Is he just trying to be in control? Quite possibly. Usually once that food finally gets in his mouth, he eats more than the amount we negotiated.
Other times, when I know it will be a battle, I offer a sauce or start a game. You can hide those veggies in meals by chopping then up small. I often use my food processor to help hide those veggies in sauces. I think it's a great way to introduce the flavor but not the texture, and call it a win. My daughter will only eat large chunks of onion willingly one way: sweet pickled onions made lovingly by her Grandpa.
The important thing here to remember is to keep it light. Cheer when they eat something new; root for them. This is a marathon event for the rest of their childhood, so try and enjoy the ride.
Are there any tips that have helped your kids try new foods? Be sure to leave comments below and tell us what has worked for your family!
P.S. We've got an awesome webinar coming soon! Make sure you're registered for it HERE. You'll learn all about what's causing your child's ADHD, ODD, OCD, Sensory problems, Autism, or any other neurobehavioral disorder they have! We're excited to see you there!