It can be frustrating trying to get kids to eat healthy food, right? Most of us have been there. We serve them nutritious food, but they just pick over it and play with it, but refuse to eat it. We worry about them not eating, so we begin to reason that as long as we get something in them, any kind of food, it will be alright. Wrong! That’s taking the easy way out, and good parenting is not about taking the easy way out. It’s about doing what’s best for our children, even when it’s hard, and even when they don’t like it.
Our kids aren’t going to like every choice we make for them, but that doesn’t mean we give in and let them do whatever they want. Do you let your children choose when to go to bed? Do you let them choose how much television to watch? Do you let them choose whether or not to go to school? Of course not. All these decisions are ones we take seriously to ensure the well-being of our children. What they eat should be no different. Just as they need guidance in other areas, our children need guidance when it comes to proper nutrition. Be the parent by setting the example.
Did you know in most countries in the world, the children eat whatever adults eat, and there’s no such thing as a kiddie menu or children’s food? Shocking! In some countries, it’s due to poverty and having limited choices, but in others it’s because parents want their children to be more cultured, and part of that is training them to have a sophisticated palate. One does not do this with fish sticks and French fries or chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. Don’t despair if your child has a limited diet from the kiddie menu. Below I have some tips to help you help your child expand their palate and improve their health today and maintain it in the years to come.
#1 Only have healthy choices available at home.
Let’s face it, we all like fast, easy food, but usually that means unhealthy snack foods. Children and adults who are accustomed to eating high fat and/or high sugar chips and cookies are rarely going to choose an apple or orange over cookies and chips. That’s why it’s so important to remove the unhealthy food from your home. Make things such as chips and cookies only occasional foods that you must go out to get. They should not be part of your pantry staples. Make your fast and easy go-to snacks be fruits or sliced vegetables with hummus or black bean dip or the like. Get input from your children. Tell them you’re going shopping and want to know what their favorite fruit or veggie snack is. Make them part to the decision making because just like adults, they like to feel in control. Here’s the rule though: all the choices you are giving them are good ones. In other words, they’re choosing between fruits and vegetables, not between fruit and chocolate cream-filled snack cakes.
#2 Eat Dinner Together as a Family.
At dinner, everyone should eat the same meal at home. Sit down together to ONE meal that’s prepared for all. In restaurants, the children should be expected to eat from the regular menu. Make mealtime a time of true family interaction – no cell phones, iPads, or television. In addition to the pleasure of delicious, nutritious food, make a habit of enjoying being together as a family at mealtimes. Let it be a time to catch up with everyone. Praise them for trying healthy food, but also praise them for other things that are going well in their lives. Look for the good, and you will find it, and it will become a habit. Make mealtimes something you and your children look forward to with joy.
#3 Be patient, persistent, and encouraging with yourself and your family.
Don’t try to implement dietary changes all at once and know that you will most likely meet with resistance. Remember though, that when resistance meets persistence, persistence more often wins. Many of us don’t like change, and we don’t always like a food the first time we try it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t develop a taste for it. Think of our ancestors that had to move from place to place. Food sources were different, and if people didn’t adapt, they would die. We adapt to what’s available, and over time, our taste preferences can change. It’s all about exposure.
Children like a narrower range of foods than adults because they haven’t been exposed to as much. That’s where parenting comes in. It’s our job to expose them to different foods and encourage them to try them again and again. Be willing to let them see you try new foods, and continue to encourage them to do the same. When our children were young, my husband learned to like broccoli, and I learned to like corn, simply because we were modeling the behavior for our children. We were willing to do what we were asking them to do, and we’re all healthier as a result. We asked them to try just a bite at each meal, and we did the same.
Never force feed or expect your child to eat an entire serving of a new or undesired food. Rather encourage them to continue to try small amounts of new and different foods, and as stated above, don’t give up easily. Hang in there, Mom and Dad. Some children will take longer than others to be willing to try new things. Some will say they don’t like a food they haven’t tried. There have been studies to help weary parents like you and I get our kiddos to eat their veggies.
Dr Lucy Cooke, Senior Research Psychologist at the Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College London, developed a program called “Tiny Tastes” based on research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The research was a randomized controlled trial involving 450 children that used a new method of taste exposure which greatly increased the proportion of children willing to try new foods and continue incorporating them into their diets. Toddlers showed a whopping 61% increase in their liking of a specific vegetable, and the amount of the vegetable they ate tripled. After tasting a new vegetable at least ten times, children liked it more and were willing to eat more of it. Ten times?! Have you tried that many times? Most people haven’t. It seems too daunting, and they feel like mean parents and give up. Take heart, being a good parent sometimes means being unpopular and doing things your kids don’t like, but in the end, it will work out.
Below is an outline of the Tiny Tastes Program
- Parent helps child choose which disliked vegetable child will try
- Because child is involved in choosing, it is less stressful
- Child agrees to eat a pea-sized amount – licking it counts – each day for 10-14 days
- Provides consistent exposure to disliked food for many days, therefore, it removes the stress surrounding mealtime
- A sticker is awarded for each success
- 100% of kids in school-based programs participated when stickers were awarded – kids love stickers!
For program to work, rewards must be earned and cannot be food
If you or someone you know is struggling to get children to eat a healthier diet, these tips can help. Remember, it’s our job as parents to lead the way and to do so by example. Let’s ring in 2019 by clearing the junk food out of the house, making a dinner menu and healthy shopping list with family input, be willing to be patient, and incorporating tips from the “Tiny Tastes” program into our behavior patterns when it comes to helping our children make healthier food choices.
The foods your children put into their bodies today determine their health outcomes in the future. Help them develop healthy habits now, so they don’t have to break destructive habits after their health has been harmed. We truly are what we eat. What we eat is either building us up or tearing us down. When it comes to our children’s health, we must commit to change because the way we’re eating now is making us fat and sick. We must challenge mind and body because change first happens in the mind before we can incorporate it into the body. We must create a new paradigm because the old ways of thinking have brought us to unprecedented levels of disease and obesity, even in our children. When we are willing to do these things, we can conquer ANYTHING! Have a wonderful week.