Instilling healthy eating habits in children can be an intimidating task. We have all seen or heard about those fussy eaters who have dreadful eating habits. Typically, picky eaters will only ingest a small variety of foods and eat them over and over, never trying anything new.
As your baby grows they will start solid foods, ideally after their first tooth comes through and NOT prior to then. For many children, the introduction of foods is around 6-8 months of age. The beginning of solid food is a new process for you and the baby, but with a few tips and tricks you can get your little ones to choose to eat healthy foods. This is the real victory for mom and dad!
It is recommended that children eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, I like to educate parents to do twice more veggies than fruit when beginning, no need for the excessive sugars. If we want them to eat their veggies long-term than we need to make them the foundation of their intake and fruit a small treat, like dessert. I suggest in the early start of food introduction (6-12 months) to fill the plate with 2/3 veggies and 1/3 fruit. This can be a task as most would rather fill it with chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes, or mac and cheese. The introduction of gluten containing foods is not recommended until your doctor has tested your child at age 2. In my practice experience, I have found gluten to be a common food sensitivity (75-80% of children) and has been found to be a culprit in food allergies, constipation, inattention, poor behavior and sleep.
Introducing things like broccoli, green beans or brussels sprouts will help your child grow; however, providing these veggies is only half of the battle. We can provide as many healthy foods to them as we want but it does nothing if they won’t eat it. In this article we will discuss strategies that can help you be the best parent you can be when it comes to food. Don’t fill your kids up with starches and carbohydrates- this is junk food to their bodies; instead follow some tips below for a more balanced, healthy and happy child.
Make a schedule and stick to it
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks. Children need to eat every 3 to 4 hours. Sticking to the same sort of schedule everyday will help create natural balance of hunger and fullness throughout the day. Obviously, if they are just not hungry, don’t force them. It is important for them to learn to listen to their hunger cues and be able to distinguish the difference between being hungry or boredom.
Parents serve the meals, but kids are responsible for eating them
Having the family sit down at a table for dinner has many advantages and could be a blog post on its own. But serving fruits and vegetables at the table and seeing YOU eat them can increase the likelihood of trying them. This also goes for siblings, many of your younger kids will do what their older sibling does (good or bad J). I always tell parents, leave the house for date night to cheat on your healthy diet, do not keep bad, unhealthy foods or habits present in the home. Kids are smart!!
Don’t take special orders
I love to tell the kids, “this is not burger king, you don’t get it your way.” J Although, we admit, it would much easier and it’s tempting to prepare a separate meal when a child is acting up, don’t do it. This can create an endless bad habit. Your child is less likely to try new foods when they know you will give them what they want if they put up a fight. What’s on the menu for dinner is for everyone, prepare one meal and serve it family style.
Allowing your child to graze or sip on juice between scheduled meals decreases hunger when it comes to mealtime and chances of them trying new foods. Stick to water between snack and mealtimes; when giving juice always water it down at least 50%. Again, it is all about hydration and diminishment of unhealthy sugars.
Introduce new foods slowly
Allow children to explore foods, especially new ones, at their own pace. Forcing anything upon them will only backfire. Placing a plate FULL of veggies in front of your child may be intimidating, instead have them try a few bites of yours. If they say they don’t like it, prepare it a different way next time. It can take up to 12 times for a child to accept a new food! Resist the urge to give up. I also suggest parents leave out new snack foods on the table, allow them to explore without pressure.
Serve “new” foods with “favorites”
It has been shown to increase the likelihood of them trying the new foods. Serve veggies with their favorite dips: salsa, guacamole, hummus etc. Or try baking zucchini with marinara sauce.
Sneak up on them
Children are likely to have nutrient deficiencies when they refuse to eat their fruits and veggies which leads to larger health problems. Ideally we want our kids to be open to trying new veggies. If they flat out refuse, don’t give up. It is up to you to get creative in the kitchen. Sneak veggie “puree” into pasta sauce or casseroles. Puree roasted butternut squash or carrots to add to your marinara for spaghetti night. Make “monster” smoothies by blending frozen fruit, coconut milk, and spinach or kale. Ever heard of black bean brownies?
Have fun! Make the meals fun
Ask what they want for dinner, when they make the decision they are more likely to enjoy the meal. If they request something “unhealthy” ask google for substitutes or healthier ways to cook their favorites. Make “mini” versions of popular dishes, this is always a hit. Get creative and make a smiley face with their veggies!
Make it a competition
Who can make the best looking pizza?
Have “DIY” night
Cook baked potatoes and lay out all of the toppings. Kids love being creative, make dinner fun and have them use whatever fillings they want! Same thing can work for tacos, pizza, turkey burgers, the options are endless.
Now, here is a quick guide to make sure they are getting their 5 servings:
One serving size = one of the following:
½ cup cooked veggies or canned fruit
1 cup raw veggies or fruit (2 cups of raw leafy greens = 1 serving)
1 medium (fist-sized) whole fruit