How do you get picky eaters to make healthy choices? I have 5 tips that will help your children try new foods, understand why a balanced diet is necessary, and set them up with healthy dietary habits for life.
Moms know that our most important job is to help our children grow and thrive. Therefore it can be disheartening when our kids start refusing to eat what we provide. Our basic worry is that they’ll starve, so we give in to their desire, which is usually some processed, grain-based “food”. But these foods are high in calories, void of important micronutrients, low in fiber, and break down much too easily into basic sugars which then often damage gut flora. Giving into children’s picky eating can still lead to malnourishment, which is the basis of chronic childhood illnesses in the U.S. today.
Then how do you make your child eat what you provide? The truth is that you can’t unless you threaten them, bribe them, or try hiding the healthy food (like vegetables) in something else they like which is not as healthy (like Kraft Mac n’ Cheese). This does not help your child make conscious healthy choices though. Preferably, they should have some internal motivation to eat healthy foods so that they grow into adults who value healthy eating.
I know this isn’t easy moms, I have a picky eater too. If he could, my son would just each fruit and bread all day. At 8 years old though, he is now turning a corner and making better choices. I would love to share my tips on what’s working in our home with the hope that your family will benefit too. Realize that it may take some time for your child to come around. But when they do, they will be set with great habits for life.
5 Tips to Get Picky Eaters to Make Healthy Choices
1. Be persistent
It’s important that you don’t give up. Keep placing healthy foods in front of your child. Do not assume that their palate is set and that they will always be this way. Their tastes will constantly change throughout childhood.
If you keep offering a food, someday they will eat it! Think about Green Eggs & Ham. For example, if you’re wanting your child to eat more vegetables, offer a variety of them and with multiple of ways of cooking them. Maybe they won’t eat broccoli steamed alone, but they will if you have a yummy dip for it. Or perhaps they’ll eat broccoli creamed with potato in a soup or in a stir fry with rice and soy sauce. Maybe you can involve them in the cooking more or ask them what they’d like to have with the broccoli so they feel like they have some control. Just keep offering the broccoli or even another vegetable with similar nutrients.
Broccoli has not been a problem in our house, but eggs has. My son doesn’t like eating too much meat (which is fine because we don’t as well), so we try to include more plant-based proteins, fish, raw dairy, and eggs in our diet. Right now he’s not eating eggs scrambled (which is a bummer because I used to be able to mix zucchini & scrambled egg in a yummy burrito). But he will eat “Egg-in-a-hole” which is a piece of bread with a hole cut out of the center in which you fry an over-easy egg. I still offer scrambled eggs & omelets. Sometimes he’ll eat them with organic ketchup, but I will make the egg-in-the hole more often because I’m just thrilled that he’s still eating egg.
2. Model Healthy Eating
Moms, I love to empower you! You are the center of your family and if you’re also the main shopper & cook, then you have much of the control. This also means that you will need to take responsibility! Sorry, but I need to give you some tough love.
Buy healthy foods so your kids can eat healthy foods. Realize that if you’re modeling picky or unhealthy eating, your kids are learning from you. If you’re too busy to cook and prefer to eat out of a box or getting fast food, your kids are also learning that food quality doesn’t matter to you and it’s something they shouldn’t care about either.
If you’re not sure what it means to eat healthy, it’s not your fault! We’ve been given the wrong information from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and their Food Pyramid and MyPlate suggestions (which are of course grain-based to support their main industry). It is becoming evident that these dietary suggestions are not helping our population become healthier. You can read this post for my advice on choosing a healthy diet for your family which is based on traditional diets of people throughout the world and is what most holistic nutritionists would suggest.
3. Make Sure All Parents/Guardians Participate
If you’re trying to make healthy changes at home to curb your child’s picky eating, it’s important that all the adults in your child’s life are also on board with your mission. You may need to point out that it’s not helpful and is actually creating a weird power dynamic if you are the “healthy” and maybe “not as fun” parent, but your partner is the one who gives into the processed foods & treats. Really, this should be a goal for the whole family – to live long healthy lives fueled by whole foods.
Same goes for caregivers and teachers. If you need to, pack a meal for your child when leaving them in someone else’s care. It may also be important for you to pack a lunch for your child at school as well.
Side story: When my son was in Kindergarten (which we tried for 2/3 of the year before pulling him out to homeschool), the teachers loved to emphasize that it was important for kids to make their own choices at lunchtime in the cafeteria. That’s a great message except that the food provided was horrible. To this day my son says that the best part of Kindergarten was being able to drink chocolate milk at lunch which makes me roll my eyes every time.
4. Allow Some Consequences
Admittedly, #3 above has been a challenge in our family. My husband makes different, not as healthy meals for our son. I’ve stayed quiet when teachers and parents of friends have given him a lot of candy. I have also given in here and there, still giving him bread and cold cereal occasionally, but for the most part I’m the constant who is always trying to get him back on track.
Where I really failed was enforcing thorough teeth brushing and flossing, even knowing that he was getting more sugar than I would have liked. I have no excuse other than I’ve been too busy and assumed that what he was doing a good-enough job. My heart sank when I learned at his last dental check-up that he had FOUR (!) cavities. When the dentist recommended fluoride I was even more upset. (Fluoride is a neurotoxin and something we avoid in our house because of my thyroid issues.) After I refused, she said, “well, I guess you’ll just need to eat less sugar, bread, chips, crackers…” That was the answer I wanted my son to hear.
Since that check-up and especially after having two of the cavities filled last week, we’ve had many conversations about healthy eating. I can tell that he’s trying really hard to make better choices, even joining me in drinking celery & cucumber juice in the mornings! He’s also more agreeable with us monitoring his brushing & flossing. So while getting the cavities was not ideal, at least my son learned from the experience.
5. Explain What Happens To Your Body When You Eat Well And When You Don’t
Kids need to know that health begins in the gut. When we’re eating well, our beneficial gut flora is nourished and we experience lots of energy, great sleep, efficient digestion, clear skin, and sharp thinking. When we’re eating too much sugar or another dietary imbalance, we’re feeding pathogenic bacteria in the gut instead of the beneficial species. We can experience problems with energy, sleep, attention, behavior, digestion, skin, may experience many illnesses, and may even develop chronic illnesses and secondary infections.
Try to have discussions about this! You are your child’s best teacher. But if you can’t explain it, I encourage you to seek out a holistic nutritionist to help.
You can also review these articles:
I hope this gives you some hope that you can manage your child’s picky eating and that it’s worthwhile to take steps in improving it right now! If you have any other advice for parents, please let us know in the comments!
Well wishes to all…