By contributing writer, Stephani
Surprisingly, my kids don’t love vegetables. Shocking, right? I don’t know what’s not to love about creamed spinach except the creamed and spinach part, but that’s the way it goes. I’m sure my kids aren’t unique like that.
When my oldest was three years old, I struggled with getting him to branch out of his granola and yogurt diet. Sure, it was plain yogurt and homemade granola, but his plate needed some color. Of course, he vehemently disagreed as only a toddler can, so we wound up talking about his diet at a well child check-up.
His doctor gave me the best advice I’ve ever received about healthy eating. It changed the way I shopped, the way I planned meals, and the way I approached feeding my picky eaters and even myself.
Now my kids eat better. They pile lettuce and carrots on their plates, dip them in hummus, suck down green smoothies, and munch on kale chips. Of course they’ll just as soon eat a cupcake. But then again, so will I.
Ultimately, however, we made progress.
Here’s the mind-blowing sentence that changed our lives on that fateful doctor’s visit:
“If vegetables are what you serve, they’re gonna eat vegetables.”
Logical, right? Serve good food, and you and your family will learn to eat good food. But I know from experience that this advice is stinkin’ hard to follow.
We would rather eat pizza, tacos, and hot dogs. We really would. However, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that formula doesn’t equal a happy, healthy life. So I followed the doctor’s orders.
It started rocky. The transition from eating whatever you like to learning to like other things is difficult for anyone, including children. I worried whether he was eating enough. I tried multiple methods, but stuck to the same concept – if we serve mostly vegetables, he’ll learn to eat them.
Here are the ones that worked for us:
Use some sneaky chef methods to make favorites a little healthier. I employed this sparingly. The goal is to expand our kids’ palates, not keep them the same. But in the meantime, if we can healthify macaroni and cheese, why not?
The 3 Bites Rule
Usually, my kids need to eat at least three bites of everything on their plate unless it’s something they consistently don’t like – then they take one bite. This works better with older children than with toddlers.
Serve the meat and veggies first and bring out bread and other favorites that fill you up quickly but are less nutritious later in the meal.
Salads Every Day
For the most part, lunch is an assortment of vegetables, healthy dips (we love you, hummus) topped off with some bread or fruit. This helps me know they at least got one good meal loaded with plants.
Instead of making a plate for my children, I let them fill it how they wish, using what I place on the table. My kids love having this freedom and independence, and they’re more likely to eat something if they put it on their plate.
I should note that eating healthier like this doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. We use about $250 for our family of four, and we basically follow a fusion of the Paleo and Mediterranean diets. It takes some planning and strategy, but it’s very doable.
Now I’m not saying these methods will work for everyone, and I do encourage you to watch your kids carefully if they consistently refuse to eat something that might be allergy-related.
However, I am saying there’s hope. Kids can learn to enjoy healthy food.
And then you’ll visit Grandma’s house and all your hard work will fly out the window. But that’s okay, you can regroup later. Just don’t start with creamed spinach.
How do you get your kids to enjoy healthy eating?
I’d love to hear all your tips and tricks in the comments!