Is it a struggle getting your children to eat better? You’re not alone. At some point, most parents have experienced the all-too-real challenge of a child who won’t cooperate during meal times.
“I’m allergic to [insert whatever meal you just spent an hour preparing here]!”
“I don’t like it.”
“I don’t like these noodles.” [Said to spirals instead of macaroni noodles]
“It’s spicy.” [Marinara]
All of these classic hits and more are heard every day by millions of parents like you as your (starving) children challenge the limits of your authority, exploit your weaknesses, and desperately find ways to consume as much sugar as possible.
My kids have tried every excuse in the book to avoid healthy food, but here are some strategies that worked for me.
Eat Well — 7 Tips for Parents
- Be organized. Children need to eat every three to four hours: three meals, two snacks, and lots of water. If you plan for these, your child’s diet will be much more balanced and you’ll rely less on fast food.
- Be consistent. Kids notice when parents don’t enforce the rules. Whether it’s their dessert, snack/drink limits, screen time, or brushing their teeth (hey!), inconsistency encourages children to push for what they want because they’ve seen you fold like a lawn chair before and think they can win again now.
- Don’t become a short-order cook. Did you think you would get all the points for making pancakes and eggs over easy, only to be told they only eat scrambled eggs? You’re the grown-up — you decide what’s for dinner.
- Dip it. If your kids won’t eat vegetables, experiment with condiments and dips. Vegetables go down easier with peanut butter, salad dressing, hummus, or salsa.
- Get kids cooking. If your children become involved in preparing meals, they’ll be more interested in eating what they’ve created. If they’re old enough, allow them to cut up vegetables and mix them into a salad. Food preparation is a vital skill to learn, so start them early!
- Give them the illusion of choice. A favorite parenting tactic of mine is to give children some of the control they so desire by allowing them to make a choice between two or three acceptable options. “Would you like carrots or celery for your snack?”
- Be a role model. If you are eating erratically or constantly choosing junk food, children will learn that it’s normal behavior. Keep the “Do as I say and not as I do” lectures to a minimum and only when it’s truly necessary.
The Importance of Planning
It says something about how fortunate we are to have such an availability of convenient food options that it’s becoming a problem. In busy families, parents are finishing their work day, kids are finishing their activities, and everyone is wondering what to do about dinner that night. Meals of convenience can become part of a routine that slowly deteriorates the health and nutritional discipline of the family.
Instead, families should plan out their meals at the beginning of the week so that they can cook and eat together. Training your kids to become consistent, healthy eaters isn’t always easy, but it’s important to not let their health (and yours) deteriorate out of convenience.