Do you remember the Easy-Bake Oven? This pink countertop masterpiece was a gift from my mom on my 6th birthday. As I ripped open the chocolate cake mix and stirred it together with a matching small pink spatula, my eyes lit up at the wonder of this gooey batter turning into a dessert. When the timer went off and we used the small pizza paddle-looking tool to pull out the cake I thought, "This is it. This is what I want to do forever." My mom's gift not only provided a sweet treat but it spurred my love of cooking. While the Easy-Bake Oven cake wasn't the healthiest option, my mom and I went on to take Asian cooking classes together and by high school I was making dinners loaded with vegetables and lean proteins for my parents every night.
Cooking with my mom led me on the path to become the associate food editor at EatingWell magazine. I now spend a good portion of my job creating healthy recipes in the EatingWell Test Kitchen. Though I don't have children of my own yet (sorry, Mom!), everyone else in the kitchen does, so I've certainly heard my fair share of struggles and successes when it comes to getting them to eat healthy.
To celebrate Kids Eat Right Month
, hosted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, we're sharing tips from our experts who write about healthy eating all day every day—and then go home to their families to put their words into practice. These brilliant moms have real, honest answers for how they manage to get their kids to eat and try tons of fruits and veggies—and when it just doesn't happen, what to do. I learned a lot and hope you will too.
Carolyn Malcoun, Senior Food Editor
Kid: Lila, 4
1. "No Yucking My Yum"
"When I used to teach kids' classes for Share Our Strength's Cooking Matters program, I loved introducing them to 'weird' fruits and veggies like kohlrabi and starfruit. I had 2 simple rules: The first was, everyone had to take one bite of everything. (I called it the 'No Thank You Bite.') The second rule was 'No Yucking My Yum.' That meant that you weren't allowed to diss anything, because other people probably liked it. Both are in effect at my house. In fact, my daughter, Lila, likes to repeat back to me 'No Yucking My Yum'—just the other day she said that when I criticized her combination of strawberry and mint toothpastes."
2. Have Tools to Keep Them in the Kitchen
"Since Lila was born, she's pretty much lived in the kitchen with me. Since she turned 1, she stands in her learning tower, a piece of furniture that lifts her up to counter height. When she was really little, I would just give her tidbits of food to eat while I cooked. Sometimes she'd color. Now, she mixes up pancake batter and cuts up mangoes and cucumbers. The cutting thing is a little new. I used to let her use a table knife, but I got her some serrated plastic knives for her birthday this year that she loves to use. She also loves making veggie noodles with our spiralizer."
3. Don't Be a Short-Order Cook
"When we got pregnant, my husband and I swore that we'd never be the people who made their kid a separate meal. So she eats what we eat. Although we just instituted a new rule that once a week she can opt for a PB&J, but ONLY if she's taken a bite of everything on her plate first. And if I've made a mélange of roasted veggies or a stir-fry, she has to take a bite of each veggie. She's only gone for the PB&J option once, fingers crossed."
Nicci Micco, Director of Content, Meredith Content Licensing
Kids: Julian, 8, and Kai, 6
4. Give Them Options
"I like to serve meals with lots of options so everyone can still feel like they're picking what they want. Rice bowls are a great option because the kids can load up on the healthy toppings they like. One of my kids is a total (not really!) carnivore; the other leans more to veggie choices, like me, so beans are more his thing. They both like different kinds of veggies. Also, the rice bowls work when I'm in one of my 'vegan' phases and my husband, Jon, is not participating!"
5. Have a 5 p.m. Strategy
"Crudite platter to the rescue!!! My kids are SUPER hungry when we get home at the end of a long day. They'll eat whatever they can grab most quickly at that time, so before they can hit the pantry for less-healthy snacks like crackers (which they'll eat to excess), I try to put out raw veggies and hummus. I go for things that require no prep, like snap peas or cukes (which are super-easy to cut), because I have to be quick to beat their preferred carb-fueled rush."
6. Just Keep Putting Healthy Food Out
"Eventually, they seem to come around. My 8-year-old eats all kinds of things but never liked salad until, literally, about two weeks ago. Now he hogs the bowl. He might hate lettuce in a month or maybe he'll move on to broccoli. Either way, I'll just keep doing what I'm doing. Making salads for the whole family every night is a must. Not interested? More for me!"
Michelle Edelbaum, Digital Director
Kids: Grayson, 7, and Lane, 4
7. Let Them Have a Say
"When I take my boys to the grocery store or farmers' market, I have them pick out a fruit or veggie—which also helps keep them from running around like crazy when we shop! Sometimes I make it a challenge, like pick a food we've never tried before or find something blue. I also let the boys pick out the fruit and veggie I pack in their lunch so they get to be in control of what they're eating, but they're also getting something healthy."
8. Cook with Them
"My kids love to help cook—pancakes, smoothies, frozen fruit pops, eggs, even tacos. They love kitchen 'chores,' too, like peeling veggies, using a whisk, cracking eggs, measuring ingredients, even chopping. It can be hard to have the time and energy (and patience) to cook with your kids after you've worked all day, but they are so proud of what they make, it's worth it. Plus, hopefully in a few years they can handle dinner!"
9. Give Them an Explanation
"We talk a LOT about good food choices, how much healthy food you should eat and how you can make space for treats. My boys love sugar and candy, so it is important that they get their treats; I try to teach them about moderation and how to pay attention to how they feel after they've eaten certain foods."
Penelope Wall, Senior Digital Editor
Kids: Amelia, 4, and Angus, 2
10. Plant a Garden
"My daughter gets so excited about picking her own food and eating it right from the plant. We don't have space for a big garden, but I've been growing green beans, cherry tomatoes and herbs in pots, and the best is when something is ripe and ready to pick. She loves to grab a sprig of mint or a basil leaf on our way to school. (I love her minty kisses!) This summer, we discovered a black raspberry bush full of ripe berries on the side of our driveway and it was quite the adventure to have our own little urban foraging session. Most of the berries ended up in our bellies before we made it back to the house."
11. Cook the Books
"I like to read through food magazines and cookbooks with my daughter and have her mark stuff that looks good. Pinterest
are great for inspiration too. Last night Amelia saw a picture of EatingWell's Mediterranean Tuna Antipasto Salad
on my computer screen and she said, 'That looks so pretty! How can we make it?'"
12. Counting Bites
"I don't insist that my kids finish their plate, but I do encourage them to at least try a bite of everything before they decide they don't like it. When there is something for dinner that my daughter doesn't love, we decide together how many bites she should have before she's done and then count them out (3 bites of chicken, 4 pieces of salad, etc.). This is great for toddlers who are learning to count.
"None of these tricks work for my son. He is the world's worst eater! But I always offer the veggies at dinner and put them in his lunchbox. I'll never give up hope that one day he'll eat a giant bite of salad and light up at the deliciousness."