As a mom who cooks for a living, I often feel an added pressure to make sure my kids are eating well. Through my work, I’m exposed to so much research on the benefits of a healthy diet for my children. It seems like every day there is a new article on the dangers of certain foods or the benefits of others. Deciding what type of approach to take when feeding your children amidst so much information can be daunting.
My oldest son is seven years old, so I’ve had some time to mess around with food philosophies. But when it comes down to it, I continue to return to my original attitude on feeding my kids a well-balanced diet: I want my children to learn how to eat the foods we adults eat. Why? For practical reasons, preparing a separate meal for my kids every night isn’t my thing. It makes me feel like a short order cook, and creates so much extra mess and cleanup. Secondly, I don’t like sneaking ingredients into recipes. I think it sends a mixed message to my kids that regular food isn’t ok. And most importantly, I truly believe our kids will eat what we eat if given the opportunity. And to me, that means they’ll be getting the most well-balanced diet possible.
If yours is a house full of different food requests and you’ve found yourself making separate meals for everyone, this idea may sound impossible. Getting your family to eat the same meal every night takes time, but with a few small changes each week it might even be possible in your home! Here are my favorite tips for encouraging healthy eating habits:
- Find five healthy foods your kids like to eat and run with it! My younger son is more finicky than my older, but he took to a few veggies like Brussels Sprouts, green beans, and beets. So over the years, I’ve found lots of ways to make the healthy foods he does like. If you can find 5-10 healthy ingredients your whole family agrees on, things get a lot easier.
- Take your kids to the store or the farmer’s market and let them get involved. By giving them some control over the choices and allowing them to pick some produce, fish, and meat, they become much more willing to try what you’re making for dinner.
- Let them choose what’s for dinner. Now that my kids are old enough, I let them flip through my website for ideas or even go through some of my favorite cookbooks to choose a few recipes. They love it when I make what they requested, and if it’s a hit they know I’ll make it over and over for them. Offer 3-4 things on a plate, and don’t sweat it if they don’t eat it all!
- Only offer healthy choices at dinner. This may sound impossible, but if you’re stuck on chicken fingers and white pasta for dinner, offering them some green beans next to their regular order is probably not incentive enough to get them to try them. But if you take away all of the bad stuff and offer 3-4 healthy choices on their plate, chances are they’ll try at least one of them. And if they’re really stuck on certain foods, I just try to make healthier versions to get them started. (See my website for quick, healthy versions of Chicken Fingers, Mac ‘n Cheese, and more.)
- Now here’s the hard part…try to stay calm if they don’t like all of it! When they like something new, I really compliment them for trying it, but I also try to not make a big deal out of it when they don’t like something.
Every child is different and reacts differently to new foods. Some might be on board right away, and others might take weeks to try new things. But each time you have a success, write it down so you can try it again. As your children begin to broaden their palettes, you’ll be surprised at how they begin to get what they need from their diet.
Amanda Haas is a cookbook author, teacher, cooking video host, and founder of www.onefamilyonemeal.com, a free website that offers simple family-friendly recipes, meal plans, and customizable shopping and budgeting tools.