Tips on Helping Your Kids to Eat, Part 2

What a week! I’m not a post-something-every-single-day kind of girl. And weeks like these remind me why. I’m exhausted! But I had so much fun sharing these recipes with you and experiences I’ve had with my kids.

This week I wanted to include a part two of the Tips on Helping Your Kids to Eat post I wrote a year ago. Since then I’ve discovered a few more things that have helped our children foster a healthy relationship with food. I didn’t want this to be a “what’s healthy and what isn’t” post, so you won’t get any health-related rants this time. I know you’re probably disappointed. :)

Again I wanted to say that I’m not a child psychologist nor do I claim to be an expert on getting kids to eat. My kids do eat really well for their ages, and I wanted to share a few more things that have helped our family.

Change of Attitude

Kids are like sponges. They’re constantly absorbing and learning from their environment and the people with whom they come in contact . . . mostly mom & dad. Just as parents try to set a good example in speech and behaviors, they should also set a good example at the dinner table.

A picky parent who’s vocal about his/her dislikes when it comes to food can hardly expect to have anything but a picky eater. That’s not to say that some kids aren’t just inherently picky, but I do believe that a child’s environment can either discourage or encourage pickiness. Try to be positive about dinner time and excited about what’s on the table!

Another thing that has helped us is being honest with our kids about why they need to eat healthy food. Simply saying, “because it’s good for you” will only go so far. Kids are smart. Tell them that eating vegetables and other healthy foods will make them feel good and keep their bodies strong and healthy.

You don’t have to go into the benefits of individual vitamins and minerals, but help them see the relationship between what they eat and how they feel. One night I told my Rapunzel-obsessed daughter that her vegetables would make her hair grow long and pretty. (They do!) She ate everything.

Stop the Power Struggle

I read once in an article about feeding children (I forget the source. Maybe Simple Mom?) that parents should be responsible for when the child eats and what food is available to them. The children should be responsible for how much of that food they eat. Forcing children to eat everything on their plate, especially if they resist, can turn mealtimes into the most dreaded time of the day. The more frustrated you get and insistent on them eating, the more they’re going to resist.

We do have one rule at our house that if there’s something new on their plate they haven’t tried before (which is often the case since their mother is a food blogger), they have to eat at least one bite. If they don’t like it, they can spit it out. That seems to work well with my kids, especially if I offer to let them spit it out on MY plate. And more often than not, they end up liking it!

Incorporate Fruit and/or Vegetables into Every. Single. Meal.

I often mention how I add chopped fresh spinach in my kids’ food (mostly at lunch) and I’ve gotten comments both online and in person about how I do that and how I get my kids to eat it.

The biggest reason why it works for us is because I started when they were very young. I found that they didn’t mind the addition of spinach, so I kept doing it. Your kids might not dig spinach, but find a vegetable they like. Shredded carrots, peas, or minced broccoli/cauliflower would also be good if your child likes those vegetables. (Corn has very little nutritional value, so try to find something other than that.)

I use this technique mostly for lunches, and have added spinach to grilled sandwiches, quesadillas, burritos, and soups. It works better with things that are warm, like sandwiches and such, that have a little cheese because it “glues” everything together and they’re less likely to pick it apart. I’m not as concerned with adding extra vegetables during dinner because I try to choose meals that already have a lot of vegetables. If you want to boost the amount of vegetables at dinner time, they can easily be “hidden” in taco meat, soups, and pasta sauce.

Texture is important. I’m not into pureeing vegetables and truly hiding vegetables from my kids. If I chop the vegetables up extra small so the texture of their food is more consistent, they’re more likely to eat it.

A few more tips that I’ve found helpful:
1. Consider everything they’ve eaten all day long during the negotiations and bribes at dinner time. Most days my kids eat almost nonstop from the time they wake up until lunchtime, then they eat a relatively light dinner.

2. Let them help with meal preparation. My girls LOVE to help me in the kitchen, and I find they’re more willing to eat something they’ve helped prepare.

3. Don’t let them snack at least an hour before dinner. This one should be a no-brainer, but it’s awfully hard not to hand my kids something to snack on while I’m making dinner and they’re begging for a bite of something.
4. If the child is being especially difficult about a food, place it on their plate and tell them they don’t have to eat it, but it has to stay on their plate. Then leave it at that. After a while they may get curious and taste it. Or not. It works sometimes with us.
5. If you must bribe them with a treat (something we rarely do unless we’re at a party or somewhere where treats are all over the room), make them really earn it. Letting them eat two bites of dinner in exchange for a piece of cake isn’t a good trade off. The amount they ate at dinner should be more than the amount in the treat. Don’t be afraid to withhold the treat!

Make Snacks Healthier

Do your kids eat more during snack time than they do at meal times? If so, then make sure their snacks are something you wouldn’t mind them eating as a whole meal — like carrot sticks and hummus instead of a package of fruit snacks. Yes, snacks that don’t come out of a plastic bag or a box DO take more of your time, so if you make something from scratch, make a lot so it will last you a few days. Involve your children when you make them and you’ll have a fun activity to do together!