How to Get Your Kids Excited About Eating Healthy
Set them up for good eating habits with these tips.
Encouraging your child to eat healthy and nutritious foods will pay off down the road; the food preferences your little one develops early in life can have lasting effects as she grows up. But getting a picky eater to embrace veggies, fruits, and other wholesome foods isn’t always a picnic. Put an end to the food fights with these clever ways to get kids get excited about healthy eating.
1. Slice and dice. When you cut fruit into slices, kids may eat more of it simply because it’s easier to munch on, according to one study. Before packing an apple or pear in your child’s school lunch, slice it up, then reshape it and wrap it with plastic wrap and a rubber band to keep it from getting brown by lunchtime (no time? Some supermarkets sell pre-cut apple slices). Try cutting cucumbers, carrots, and bell peppers into shapes like stars or dinosaurs using a sturdy metal cutters to make their lunch a little more fun—and to make them more likely to eat their veggies. One study that investigated the food preferences of children ages 9 to 12 found that the kids preferred having their vegetables cut into shapes.
2. Grow a garden. Nothing gets kids as psyched about healthy eating as plucking a tomato or herbs that they grew and popping it into their mouth (and it’ll taste amazing since it’s super-fresh). Start with easy-to-grow veggies like sugar snap peas, lettuce, and carrots. If you don’t have space at home for a full garden, experiment with some of these foods you can grow in your kitchen.
3. Involve your child in planning and shopping. When kids feel like they have a say in their diet, they get more excited about what they eat. Make a list with your child of some healthy foods they like and a few new ones to try. For inspiration, walk through the produce aisle at the supermarket and encourage them to pick out foods that look interesting, or go through some kid-friendly recipes to find dishes that seem fun to make and eat. When it comes time to pack their school lunches, set up a lunch prep station so they can choose from the healthy options you give them.
4. Encourage kids to get busy in the kitchen. Young kids often want to try doing adult tasks. Even though it might take longer to make school lunch or prep family dinner with a little helper, carve out extra time so your child can develop his food prep skills, like stirring, mixing, and, if your child is old enough, chopping (carefully!). If your child is game, sign him up for a kids’ cooking class: Recent research shows that cooking classes can lead to kids eating more fruits and vegetables.
5. Watch cooking shows and recipe videos together. There’s nothing like a little competition to make things fun. Find a cooking show that features the best kid chefs around—as you both root for your favorite pint-sized cooks from week to week, you might find your little one getting inspired to try more interesting foods. Many shows’ websites post recipes and suggestions for how to adapt the challenges for a home kitchen, so you can try your hand at them together.
6. Practice what you preach. Score one for the do-as-I-do school of parenting: When parents model good nutrition and a positive attitude, they’re more successful at getting kids to follow suit than if they try to control their child’s diet, according to a study. When you’re at the store, express your love for those juicy green grapes, ripe jewel-toned pomegranates, and sweet-smelling mangoes. You can also encourage better nutrition with a multivitamin. If your pediatrician okays a multivitamin for your child, take your own daily Centrum at the same time they take their children’s multi, so your little one sees that it’s a good habit they share with you.
7. Be patient. When introducing a new food, don’t assume that one or two rejections means your child will hate it forever. Each time you offer your child a new food, she becomes more familiar with it, which may make her more willing to try it. Just be sure not to force the issue or make it stressful, and don’t bribe kids to eat their veggies: It can backfire and make them dislike the food even more.
Find more great health and wellness stories at EatingWell.com/Strive.