As a parent and a children’s dentist in Flower Mound, moms and dads frequently ask me for advice for getting their kids to eat healthy. It sounds simple, but every parent is familiar with picky eaters. After my own trial and error and talking to many parents at our practice, here are the most important lessons I’ve learned to help kids eat better.
Children thrive under regular schedules, even if they don’t realize it. An important component of the structure of their lives includes a consistent eating schedule. Regular routines for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any accompanying snacks help keep kids from being cranky and prevents the expectation of fast food.
2. Plan Dinner
Nothing throws a wrench in the eating routine like not having a plan for dinner. Knowing the menu at least a few days in advance and making sure that you have the ingredients and time needed to prepare it will reduce the number of take-out orders or FFY (fend-for-yourself) nights. If you know you’re short on time, keep some healthy soups or chili prepared ahead of time in the freezer — you’ll just need to heat them up. If you’re really in a pinch, an Instant Pot can be a lifesaver.
3. Don’t Be a Short-Order Cook
Avoid getting into a habit of cooking one meal for the adults and another for children. If kids know that you’ll cave when they don’t want to eat their vegetables, they are far more likely to hold out for that grilled cheese sandwich. It can also set a poor example if you look at it from their perspective. If you make yourself what you want to eat because you don’t want to eat the kids’ food, why can’t you just make them what they want to eat?
4. The “Dip-It Delivery System”
Children are a lot like adults when it comes to vegetables. Broccoli and carrots may not seem enticing at first, but even those who don’t eat them regularly will dive in if there’s some ranch dressing to dip them in. Choose dips or condiments that don’t use high fructose corn syrup and you could be on your way.
5. Get Help in the Kitchen
When kids become a part of the process of choosing and preparing meals, they are more invested in eating what’s on their plates. Let your children give you a hand where they are able, whether it’s helping with food selection, cutting veggies, or just pushing the button on the food processor, and they’ll be more likely to give new foods a chance.
6. Allow Treats on Occasion
It’s very difficult to completely insulate children from the existence of unhealthy foods. Just remember that candy and other junk foods are “sometimes” foods. A “treat” isn’t really a treat if it happens every day. Rather than trying to enforce a rigid zero-tolerance policy, an occasional treat shows them moderation.
7. Be a Role Model
Do you practice what you preach? It sends a confusing message to a child when they are told about the importance of healthy eating but see their parents following different guidelines. They not only spot the hypocrisy, but they’ll also think that unhealthy eating is normal. Set a good example and your children will follow.
Nutrition Matters, Especially for Picky Eaters
It’s easy for a parent to begin compromising now and then and, before you know it, it seems like your child is the one in charge. Even if you feel like you’ve lost control, it’s not too late to change. Be disciplined as you make improvements and be consistent. There will be an adjustment period as your children get used to the new routine, but it will happen.
It’s always the right time to care about the health of your child. If you have questions about the oral health of your child or it’s just time to get their teeth professionally cleaned, give our Flower Mound pediatric dental practice a call to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Debra Duffy