Most kids would be perfectly happy to eat ice cream for every meal. Unfortunately, as the responsible adult in their lives, it’s up to you to ensure that they don’t have the chance.
Here are 15 tricks you can use to make healthy choices seem almost as appetizing as all-you-can-eat ice cream:
1. Prevent fruits from going brown
Sometimes, one reason that kids won’t eat certain foods is that they simply look unappetizing. When you cut certain fruits (like apples, pears, and bananas), they turn brown after a while because of the exposure to oxygen. You can imagine how gross this probably looks to a child.
But, you can prevent this by soaking them in lemon juice (or even orange juice). That’ll make the fruits last longer and increase the chances that your child will eat them.
2. Substitute unhealthy foods for healthier ones
If your kids like anything that’s dipped in sugar, that can be a problem. White table sugar can cause a huge spike in blood sugar and eventually lead to diseases like diabetes.
You don’t need to deprive your child of all things sweet, though. Simply substitute table sugar for raw honey or pure maple syrup (both of which have many health benefits). You can also substitute ice cream with frozen yogurt and so on. Your kids probably won’t be able to tell the difference!
3. Turn it into a game
Children love playing games, so it makes sense to turn the things they dread into a game that they’ll enjoy.
You’re probably wondering how you can turn eating healthy food into a game. Well, you can use the innovative Dinner Winner Kids Plate (or something similar). It’s a plate shaped like a board game so your kids will think that they’re winning a game by eating all of their food.
4. Use cookie cutters
You’ve probably seen edible floral arrangements before. They make those fruits look even more appetizing, don’t they?
Kids definitely think so. So, you should use heart- or star-shaped cookie cutters (or whatever other fun shapes you can find) on fruits such as watermelon, pineapple, and cantaloupe and serve it to your kids. You can even do this with vegetables by making veggie nuggets or bites (an especially smart way to get them to eat healthy because they can’t pick anything out).
5. Try dips
A good dip can turn any bland or disgusting-tasting food into something that your kids will actually beg for. Carrots, celery, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes are all vegetables that kids like to refuse—but they all taste great dipped in ranch salad dressing.
You can also try making other healthy dips such as hummus or yogurt-based ones. Dipping fruits such as strawberries, apples, and even banana slices into honey or peanut butter can also work wonders.
6. Get creative
Kids love seeing fun patterns or shapes in their food. Besides using cookie cutters, you can arrange the food on their plate to look like something they’re fond of (like an animal, flower or a silly face). You can also create sandwiches that resemble sushi pieces (complete with carrot sticks and cucumber matchsticks) and let your kids eat them with chopsticks.
Get as creative as you can with their food—they won’t be able to resist!
7. Cater to their wants
When kids are growing up, there are a lot of things that they want to be—taller, faster, stronger and so on. Their diet can help them achieve their goals (to a certain extent, of course).
If your child is interested in playing basketball, for example, and wants to grow taller, you should use this as an opportunity to get them to eat healthier. Let them know of the relevant benefits of certain foods and beverages, like cheese, milk, and green vegetables (all of which promote strong bones).
8. Praise healthy choices
Kids like to be recognized when they do something right. So, if your child eats all the salad on their dinner plate, praise them! Words like, “Good job” or “I’m so proud of you” will go a long way. You can even give your younger kids a sticker when they try a new food.
These rewards will create a positive meal experience for your child and make it more likely that they’ll want to try the food and continue eating it in the future.
9. Get kids involved in cooking
Children are automatically more interested in things that they are a part of. So, allow them to join you while grocery shopping or even when you’re cooking a meal.
Don’t just brush off the idea thinking that it’ll be too hard or dangerous for them. There are plenty of things a young child can do—pouring and stirring ingredients, mashing vegetables, picking herbs off a stem, juicing lemons, cutting soft foods with a plastic knife, and more. Having your kids involved in cooking will make them more likely to enjoy eating healthy foods and try new foods.
10. Keep healthy food in stock
What do your kids reach for when they’re watching a movie or want a little snack after school? You really can’t expect them to eat healthy if your kitchen is only stocked with junk food (chips, chocolate cookies, microwavable dinners, etc.).
Make sure that healthy options are not only available, but more accessible than unhealthy ones. That means putting the nuts and rice cakes in front of the bag of chips (and at their eye level). It also means putting fruits in plain sight and placing the yogurt at a height in the fridge that they can actually reach.
11. Be a good role model
Kids pick up really fast on the things they see and hear. You’ve probably noticed that their mannerisms and certain words they say mirror your own. It’s no different with eating habits! If your child sees you starving yourself or eating junk food all the time, they’ll think that it’s okay for them to do it, too.
So, cut back on eating out, buying fast food, and buying frozen or junk foods. Stock your kitchen with healthy food and eat them so your child will see that it’s the norm. You can’t just be educated on healthy eating; you have to apply what you know.
12. Give them options
Kids like having a say in everything they do—from the clothes they wear to the food they eat. So, give them a lot of healthy options and let them pick out the ones they like best.
You can do this with pizza toppings (broccoli, green peppers, pineapple, spinach, olives, grilled chicken etc.) or tacos to make it even more fun for kids. This will make them feel like they’re in control and involved, making the food more appealing to them.
13. Make it into a smoothie
If your kids hate drinking milk or won’t eat whole fruits and vegetables, it’s okay to be a little bit stealthy. You can blend these things together into a smoothie and sweeten it with a spoonful of honey (you can also use yogurt instead of milk).
Of course, you shouldn’t always hide the healthy stuff from your kids. Eventually, you should give them the whole version of the same things you blend and let them know that it tastes the same.
14. Allow them to enjoy treats
Surely you know that making something forbidden only makes it more tempting to kids. So, don’t take all their treats away! That’ll only make them want to chow down an entire chocolate bar or family-sized bag of chips as soon as they’re away from you. And you don’t want that, do you?
Allowing them to have treats once in a while is perfectly okay. One cookie every day, accompanied by healthy meals and snacks, isn’t going to do any damage. It’ll actually make eating a more enjoyable experience for your child.
15. The “one bite” rule
Once children decide that they don’t like a certain food, it can be a struggle to get them to try it again. Enforce the “one bite” rule with your child, requiring them to try at least one mouthful of a food each time it’s served before they can reject it. As your child becomes more familiar with the food, they’ll begin to like it more.
However, you shouldn’t force your child to eat all of the food if they don’t want to. This will create a negative meal experience for them and it’ll just make them fussier!