How to help your child eat well

I could have named this post “How to get your child to eat”, but we can’t force feed our children. As I’ve heard a few times now, our job as parents is to provide the what, when and where of eating and our child’s job is to choose how much to eat (written in Healthwise). So, to help us with our half of the responsibility, here are some tips to try with your kids:

  • Elevate their status. Let them eat dinner off a “big kid” plate with “big kid” silverware.
  • Give them a say. We’ve all experienced the meltdowns that ensue because we handed our children the wrong colored cup, right? Try a plastic cup with a straw. Ask them what color straw they want. Engage your child & let them make this super innocuous decision on their own.
  • Don’t cut up their food. Give them a whole apple, a whole pear, a half avocado still in its peel, an ear of corn. Give them any necessary utensils and sit back and watch. Obviously, please watch your child extra carefully with this one!
  • Try a different vehicle. Nicely separated items from each food group look like too much work for your child? Try meatloaf loaded with veggies (my secret ingredient: raisins), a bread baked with lentils and carrots. Our daughter will eat a “quesadilla” (really, it’s more like a burrito, but we don’t dare argue), with just about anything inside.
  • Trouble with fruits and veggies? Blend them in smoothie form and have a drinkable treat or mix with yogurt or cottage cheese. Don’t forget to let your kids drop the ingredients into the blender too.
  • Relate to their experiences. If nothing else works, read Green Eggs & Ham and try again. “Just try it, you might like it!”. Great trick a friend taught me and I promise it worked for us on a few separate occasions.
  • Try a different form of the food. Instead of cubed chicken or pork, try shredding it. Instead of warm thawed peas, try giving your child a handful of frozen peas. Instead of scrambled eggs, try an omelet. Sometimes changing the texture, rather than the ingredient, is all you need to do.
  • Don’t rule out reverse psychology.  Hide something so it’s barely in sight and talk about it. “Hmm, that sauce looks great. I’m not sure if you’d like it though, honey…” or “Oh man, this is the *last* piece of X, should I eat it??”
  • White lies.  “Here, try this creamed cauliflower, err hummus”. Then correct yourself once your child approves. Use this tactic sparingly to avoid your child’s skeptical glares. Thanks to a friend for the inspiration for this one. You know who you are, Laura.
  • Ask your child a question that has a right answer. ”Do you want red beans or black beans?” It’s ok if you have to change a recipe to accommodate your child’s decision.
  • Is your child obsessed with milk? Put a few drops in their soup and let them stir it in. Hopefully this new form of consuming milk allows them to eat a few spoonfuls before drinking what sometimes feels like half a carton of milk in one sitting.
  • Dips, dips, dips. Hummus, pesto, sour cream, leftover frozen baby purees that haven’t gone bad yet.
  • Let your kids add the toppers. Teach them how to dump a small cup filled with dried fruit and granola into their oatmeal.
  • Watch what you hoard. Don’t buy anything unhealthy you don’t want your child to pester you about. If it’s not in the house, you can’t give in. “Sorry sweetie, we don’t have twinkies in the house” is way easier than trying to hide that box your kid just spotted. This works great for spouses too.

In all the above cases, the goal is not to be sneaky for the sake of being sneaky. Talk to your kids about what it is they are eating and what it tastes like to them. “Is it sweet? Is it hot, cold or warm?” Of course, wait until they’ve already taken a bite and approve!

I also believe in eating the same things as a family (once your child is capable, of course). This may mean adjusting your dinners – my husband was not so thrilled when I told him our chili would no longer have hot peppers in it.

Need some more ideas? Check out how these 9 moms got their kids to eat.

How do you help your children eat well?


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