How to get your kids to eat healthy with you

A question I often get asked is ‘How do you get your kids to eat so healthy?’ Now don’t get me wrong, my kids still eat their fair share of unhealthy treats and sweets but our attitude towards food is that ‘food is fuel’ and they know what food is going to fill their tummies, keep them healthy and when you just want to eat for the taste.

Do you talk about food with your kids?

I remember preparing dinner one night when my eldest son (who was about 4 years old at the time), I was cutting up the veggies he asked me if he could have a carrot ‘a whole big one – NOT chopped’ as I began to feel myself say ‘No its almost dinner!’ I paused… and realised my child is actually asking to eat a whole carrot – give it to him! So I did and he loved it… He told me that he liked how crunchy it was and liked that it was cold. This was my lightbulb moment of understanding that I needed to be descriptive when talking about food to be on his level.

How to start the food conversation

This is a method we use all the time in our house and the process goes something like this:

Son (S): Mum, I’m hungry can I have something to eat?

Me (M): Drink a cup of water, and then come back to me and we will get something to eat. (In my experience, sometimes the boys confuse thirst with hunger and if I don’t think they have had enough to drink this a good way to hydrate them. Occasionally they will come back to talk about food straight away, and other times they won’t come back for half hour!)

S: Ok, I had a drink so what can I eat?

M: Do you feel like something crunchy or soft?

S: Answer

M: Do you feel like something hot or cold?

S: Answer

M: give suitable options for their selections.

I found by going through these options I was able to offer a healthier solution and the boys would be more satisfied with what they were eating as they were ultimately making the choice in what they ended up with. Have you ever been frustrated when you get the kids something to eat and they don’t eat it… or they did eat it, but they are coming back for more straight away as they were unsatisfied?

When your child feels like they are empowered with the choice, they are happier with the outcome…

Snack options without any hassle

Here are a few ideas of what I would scan through of what I might have easily available for a snack:

Soft and cold options

Yoghurt, cheese, boiled egg, fruit smoothie, low calorie jelly

Crunchy and cold options

any raw veggies (carrot, celery, red capsicum, cucumber) pop fruit in the fridge for a nice cold crunchy apple, make your own ice blocks, rice crackers or vitaweats with a spread, frozen fruit (my boys love frozen raspberries straight out of the pack!)

Soft and hot

Scrambled egg, porridge, cup of soup, quiche, meatballs, banana bread warmed up, crumpet,

Crunchy and hot

Toasted sandwich, Toasted wrap, lightly steamed veg (carrot sticks) with a small drizzle of honey, Roasted chickpeas, lightly toasted nuts (cashews are a winner here), homemade zuchinni / sweet potato chips

How to cater for the snack requests

You can grasp a good idea here of where I’m going with this – and by now I’m sure your thinking, well ok – who has all that ready to go? It all comes down to preparation and making food that is freezer friendly. Not for a second would I have imagined that my kids would eat cold meatballs – but they seriously love it… its something that I make in bulk, freeze and pop into their school lunches. By the time their break comes around, the meatball has defrosted, I’m confident that they won’t get food poisoning, and everyone is happy and healthy – win, win!

How to get children to try new foods

We use this same principle – something new on their plate… (nervous look) “mum… what’s this??” my response to them “You taste it and tell me: Is it hot or cold? Is it crunchy or soft? Is it sweet or sour?” By asking these questions the boys have to think about what they are tasting – take some time to process it before just dismissing as ‘yuck I don’t like it!’ After they have answered these questions I will ask ‘do you like it? Out of 10 what do you rate it?

This helps me communicate at their level – if it’s a 7/10 great, I’ll pop that on the meal plan more often, if it’s a 2… I know it’s not something they don’t want to eat each week. This is a really key point: If they don’t like what they taste I don’t make them eat it! I thank them for trying it and tell them just to leave it there on their plate they don’t have to eat any more if it. I will cook it again in the coming weeks and we do the same process for 3 times before I really establish the outcome.

Enforce the meal time boundaries

Call it tough love, (or maybe some other word!) but we all eat the same meal and I don’t crack to cook up anything else if one of the kids ‘don’t want or like that’. My answer to these comments: Sometimes it’s our favourite, and other times it’s not – but we all eat dinner together and it’s ok if you don’t eat it, but there is nothing else to eat until breakfast so it’s your choice…

I’m comfortable to do this ‘tough love stance’ as my kids are all healthy so really if they miss a meal, I’m not concerned of any health implications. This method helps hubby and I stay calm and relaxed in this mealtime situation, the boys understand the consequences and they are free to choose their option.

Please don’t confuse this strategy with being a ‘boot camp – military style household’ this is what we call discipline with affection. We love and adore our boys to no end… but we call the shots not them. There is no reheating the food if they take too long to eat it, and there is definitely no caving in to giving them a bowl of cereal because you can’t see them go without any dinner. I’ve never had any of them refuse to eat entirely, if they are being very defiant, they will only have a few mouthfuls to curb the hunger pangs and then leave the rest.