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Anyone else feel like mealtimes are losing battles at your house? Some days it requires all the patience I have, leaving what feels like none for the rest of the day. My one-year-old thinks it’s fun to throw food on the ground and he literally gags to the point of throwing up if he doesn’t like a food. Yes, gags. Is that normal?!
And, unless French fries are a vegetable, we’re not doing so well in the veggie department either. Me, a health coach. Me, a health and fitness nut. These sorts of things don’t happen to me. My kids were going to love all their fruits and vegetables because they know what’s good for them! Let me eat that humble pie and let you all know that I’m right there in the trenches with you. MEAL TIME IS HARD. There, I said it. Getting your kids to eat, let alone eat nutritiously, is hard work. But, there are methods. Tried and true methods that have helped many moms, and today I’m here to share some of those methods along with some easy, kid-friendly meal ideas that might even sneak in a few veggies!
They say sometimes kids have to be exposed to new foods 15, 20, or even more times before they start to like it. Kids can be tough little buggers when it comes to eating. So, what’s a mom to do about this? Just as our tastes develop over time, our kids’ will do the same. But, for many of us, it will take a lot of patience, hard work, and persistence. The following 6 steps will help you start getting your kids more interested in expanding their palates.
6 Steps to Getting Your Kids to Eat
Be a Good Role Model
You are their best example. If you won’t eat it, you better believe they won’t!
Make Meal Time a Positive Experience
If your child won’t eat a particular food, provide another similar option or let them try the food in a different way (such as dipped in a sauce). When dinner becomes a hostile situation, kids will fight back even more. It’s so hard when all you want them to do is JUST TRY IT for crying out loud. Take a few deep breaths, look for opportunities to negotiate, and if they aren’t interested, try tomorrow.
If kids get to choose what ingredients to include or what fruit/vegetable they will have that night, they will be more likely to clean their plate. Let them pick their toppings, their seasonings, their dips, etc.
Teach children what food can do for them. Explain sources of protein and what protein does for our bodies. Teach them in their language.
Sneak the Healthy Stuff
There are lots of ways to sneak in the healthy stuff into foods kids already love! Pasta sauces with pureed vegetables (included in the recipe handout), smoothies with spinach, or healthy dipping sauces just to name a few.
Get Them Involved
Kids are more likely to eat a dish if they played a role in making it. They often have a sense of ownership over their dish and might even convince any other hesitant children to at least take a bite. The more involved your kids can be, the more likely they are to be open to trying new things. Let them pick foods at the grocery store, be in charge of pouring, stirring, cutting (if old enough), cooking, seasoning, or anything else they like to do.
How do we help involve kids in mealtime? Even though there may be some initial hesitation, the truth is, kids like to take ownership over jobs they’ve done. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride. No matter what age your kids are there are many ways for them to help in the kitchen. Assign children to the following jobs by having them draw popsicle sticks (can get at any craft store, or maybe your local pediatrician’s office) for each task needed for the menu. Making it a fun game where they draw new jobs each time brings excitement and helps them practice new skills.
Meal prep tasks for kids:
- Get out all pots, pans, spoons, or other utensils needed to make the dish
- Get out all food ingredients & seasonings to make the dish
- Be in charge of cutting, chopping, dicing, etc (for an older kid or mom)
- Be in charge of pouring the ingredients
- Be in charge of stirring all ingredients
- Set the table
Older children can pick 2-3 jobs while younger children help with one. I’ll let you decide if you want to assign clean up jobs too, but that’s not the subject of this post. Good luck!
Now remember, following these methods don’t just magically change your children’s taste buds. It takes time. The key is to take a systematic approach. The general rule is this: Always make sure your child’s meal has at least one food item they already like on their plate. Then slowly incorporate 1-2 new food items each time. Sometimes it takes a lot of practice and patience before kids come around.
Now that you have some good ideas to get your kids to eat, you need some new foods to try! I know it’s a constant battle to know what to cook, so I’ve done the work for you! I have created a handout that includes 5 kid-friendly meals for you to start with. These recipes include healthier versions of some kid-favorites including chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. They are all kid-tested and have received two thumbs up! Try these out with your kids tonight!
Elizabeth Dall is a wellness coach by day and a mom by day and night. She received her masters degree from the University of Utah in Exercise physiology and wellness coaching in 2012. Throughout her career in the field of corporate wellness she has helped hundreds of women reach their health and wellness goals. With a growing family of her own, Elizabeth uses her expertise and real-life experiences to help mothers and women find a healthier balance at home. Her current projects include easy meal planning for busy moms and helping women develop greater self-compassion for their bodies while also building a better relationship with food. You can check her out at www.fueledfit.com.