Let’s get right down to the question that baffles most of us, “How can we get our kiddos to embrace, even love healthy eating and more…a healthy lifestyle?” Since the day our first one was born, my husband and I decided that we would do our best to make sure they learned to love the things that are good for them. But if we are all going to be honest, even with the best of intentions, we can sometimes fall short. For most of my friends and I, time is usually one of the biggest factors that get in the way of our plans. Here are ten of the things I’ve learned along the way for raising healthy eaters:
- Plan, Plan, Plan! – This doesn’t have to take too long but it will completely transform your week and avoid unnecessary frustration when asked, “What’s for dinner?” Take a few minutes, 10 or 15, and write what you want your dinners for the week to be. If you dare, plan breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. IT MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE! This will save you time and frustration for the rest of the week. Think about your schedule and plan easy meals/snacks for your tough days. If you usually have a day when you order out, think about where you will order from and make sure it includes something healthy too!
- Include your family in your planning and create excitement! – This may seem like a bad idea, you will have to be the judge of this with your own family and find the right way to do it. We love the kitchen in our home and don’t mind talking about food. Including the family will ensure that the menu for the week will be a hit! I like to ask the kids what were some of their favorites during the week and what they would like to eat again. Then I ask them if there is a fruit or veggie we haven’t had in a while that they would like me to buy. Surprise, surprise…my daughter said Brussel sprouts and was adamant about buying cabbage! Go figure! Two things I don’t even like! (Note: Since I first wrote this, we brought Brussel sprouts and they loved them so much that they asked if we would make them some the next for a snack! Good Lord, I’ve gone to healthy eating kid heaven! So we did and they ate from them throughout the afternoon as a snack! That’s what I call “AWESOME SAUCE!)
- Shop Ahead – This is the key here! Take some time over the weekend and shop for your planned meals and snacks. No use in planning if you don’t have what you need! I’ve been guilty of this way to many times before…so I’m speaking (not proudly) from experience. Shopping ahead will save your time and ensure your planning time was well spent.
- Get rid of the Junk but Replace, Replace, Replace – What is your backup plan? What will be the substitute for the junk food that is no longer available? Things like vanilla yogurt with fruit can really be a yummy and satisfying dessert. Experiment with different things and find a few trusty go to desserts that everyone can enjoy. This can take some time but don’t give up, you’ll be surprised at what fruits and other healthy snacks are kid approved! Replacing junk food with healthy yummy choices will ensure healthy snacking and for me…it helps be not get HANGRY (Moody when I’m hungry! Seriously here!) Some examples are:
- vanilla yogurt with fruit
- a fruit filled banana canoe with a dab of ice cream or yogurt (no need to completely exclude some kid favorites like ice cream…just teach them about moderation by using it along with other healthy things)
- banana dipped in dark chocolate and nuts
- Relentlessly Celebrate Every Small Victory – We make a big deal out of every small victory. If the little ones try something new, we celebrate. We celebrate even more when they actually like it! For example, we were pleasantly surprised when the kids LOVED the carambola fruit, often referred to as starfruit with is rich in potassium, antioxidants, and vitamin C. They have stayed on the lookout since to get some more…no luck yet but we’ll keep the search going. Celebrations encourage more of what you want to see in your kids!
- Model it for them! Let them “catch” you eating the great stuff! This one is sometimes very challenging for me but I make a great effort to do so. My husband on the other hand is AMAZING at this. He eats raw peppers as a snack and all other sorts of things. There is nothing he won’t try and I feel lucky to have him around to give us all the courage to try something new. I honestly can say I fear trying new things most times but after almost twelve years of marriage, I am now a veggie eating mommy (still working on fruits but will put almost any fruit into a healthy smoothie and that counts for something). Modeling encourages them to follow your lead.
- Place the healthy stuff where they can SEE and REACH it. – This is a MUST for us. I’ve begun to put out bowls full of fruit on the counter. They can reach the bananas, apples, pears, and oranges. I also use the cupcake tray for fruits, veggies, and other healthy snacks such as cheese. I fill the cupcake tray with as many colors as possible and place little “tools” for them to grab it. It’s not necessary but it makes it fun! This has been one of my best ideas yet! If it is where they can see it and reach it….they will go for it! Try to add one or two new things in the tray for them to try. Get creative. Here are some of the things I’ve placed in them: strawberries, tangerines, apple slices, peanut butter for dipping, cheese, lima beans, peas, carrots, broccoli, pineapple, pears, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, nuts, cashews, and more! The choices are endless! I would love to see pictures of your trays when you try this! Email me your ideas!
- Plan your snacks and meals for your days out. – This may seem as too much of a hassle but it doesn’t need to be. Think about it when you are out grocery shopping and buy a few healthy options that are easy to grab on the go. Fruits are always easy to throw in a lunch bag, as well as dried fruits, water bottles, and with a few more minutes at hand…simple healthy turkey sandwiches etc. It saves us the headache later when we are in the middle of running errands and they are all hungry, including yourself, and you won’t feel forced to buy fast food on the go. It’s also much better on the wallet! When we take trips to the local children’s museum, we pack our lunch and make a family picnic of it, which makes for great times and memories. The girls help me make turkey meatballs (infused with healthy spinach which you can’t even taste) and help me pack our picnic basket. They are currently 4 and 6 years old and as soon as baby boy is ready (he is 2 years old now), he will be helping also.
- Include a fruit or veggie at breakfast and lunch too. – I don’t know about you but for me, doing this didn’t come naturally. I often thought of a fruit as a snack and a veggie at dinner. This was a small start and I’m not ashamed of small beginnings but we’ve come a long way. I now make sure to include either a fruit and/or veggie at breakfast and lunch as well. We include spinach in our omelets, have half a banana with our lunch etc. There are many choices, we just have to think about it constantly until it becomes part of our routine. Thinking outside of box will help you reach your healthy eating goals with your family.
- Read and learn about the benefits of healthy eating as a family! – Here is my plug for reading! Reading about healthy eating (and healthy habits overall) has done wonders for my children. I find both fiction and nonfiction books that talk about healthy eating and incorporate it into our story time to build in some time to discuss it as a family. An example of this is the book: TheBerenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food. Reading with and for your kids has many benefits but incorporating something great to talk about…well that’s just a bonus!
The earlier you start the better but don’t be discouraged if they have developed some bad habits! Take courage and don’t give up!
What other family activities can you use to promote healthy eating in your family? What are your go to ideas for ensuring healthy eating habits? I would love to hear and learn from you! Please comment below and/or email me your ideas and pictures.