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Raising healthy kids can feel daunting; after all, they will almost always pick Oreos over okra and -without your help- choose chicken nuggets for dinner every night instead of the healthy variety you want to give them. But these 11 hacks will help you raise healthy eaters.
Besides the regular milestone concerns and typical teething, sleeping, potty training questions, one thing moms always want to discover is the secret to getting kids to eat healthy.
While there is no one secret to learn, there are several simple parenting hacks you can employ to help your kids make healthier choices as they grow up.
I’m a mom of 2 kids, a 6 year old boy and a 2 year old girl. Anytime we have friends over, they get surprised that my kids eat anything from eggplants, okra and papaya. Now don’t get me wrong, they are typical kids who will eat chips, popcorns and hot dogs slathered in ketchup, too, but they do eat most fruits and vegetables and generally enjoy a healthy way of eating.
What Is A Healthy Diet For Kids, Anyhow?
Figuring out what a truly healthy way of eating is these days can feel like attempting to crack the DaVinci code. It’s very difficult to decide with so many diets, lifestyles, and latest scare article on what causes cancer.
Honestly, I can’t keep up with all of it.
However, these tips are ones that have worked well in our home and can be adapted to your own lifestyle and the dietary needs of your own children. If your kids have allergies or sensitivities, it can be harder and I get that so freely tweak this advice as needed – you’re a great mom and you know what your kids need!
A lot of this inspiration comes from the way people eat in the Mediterranean, as that’s my heritage. People indulge in food, but their diet is pretty healthy overall.
I rarely remember people going on a diet; occasionally someone would cut a few slices of bread and that’s it. People look in shape without going to the gym, they love and indulge in food, and have plenty of social get togethers.
Their secret? A healthy relationship with food — and that’s what we all want for our kids.
Less Processed Foods
A lot of processed foods have less of what they show in the packing picture and more High Fructose Corn Syrup and artificial ingredients.
And once you figure out the names of the “bad” ingredients, they’re changing them on you!
If you can’t read the name, say the name, or recognize the name…your kids probably shouldn’t be eating it. You don’t want to feed your kids chemicals, after all; you want to feed them real food.
Say “NO” To Soda (Most Of The Time)
This is a tough one. There are carbonated drinks everywhere. Sometimes in places you wouldn’t even suspect!
From grandparents who want to treat their little loved ones to your kids’ summer camp, your kids are likely being offered sprite or other sugary drinks without anyone thinking twice.
I used to have a no soda policy whatsoever at home but I realized that the more I said no, the more my son wanted to have soda. So we implemented a once a week policy. We have water with our meals 6 days a week, but on Pizza Night we also enjoy some soda.
They still don’t know I water their cups down (shhh, mom’s secret!). But we have no fights about soda and I can live with once a week if every other day they drink water.
Serve Less Sugary Foods & Healthier Treats
If you let them, kids will always choose a treat over a “healthy choice.” But what if you made treats healthy?
Instead of trying to keep a balance when sharing cookies, brownies, and cupcakes on a daily basis, consider relegating them to birthdays and holidays…and introduce “every day treats.”
What are every day treats? Smoothies, yummy fruits, homemade frozen popsicles, and the like.
Give Them More Water
Less soda and less juice makes sure that kids don’t get loaded in unnecessary calories. Water is vital for keeping hydrated, and the more active your kids are the more water they’ll need. Remember to give them more in hot weather.
Water ensures that kids are healthy and hydrated and will be ready to eat their meals when you all sit down.
If your kids are used to juices and sodas, you might have them help you make fruit infused water which they will like because they helped make.
Serve A Variety Of Fruits & Veggies
Kids eat what their parents eat most of the time.
Create a weekly meal plan that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables. Incorporate fruits in your salad, add 10 different vegetables in your casseroles.
And here’s a biggie: don’t vocalize your dislikes for certain vegetables.
I have 2 recipes that have turned into my kids favorites and I repeat quite a bit because they like them. This vegan casserole has 11 types of different vegetables and this dragon fruit salad has been awesome to talk about around the dinner table.
Keep cooking and trying new dishes, introduce your kids to a large variety of produce.
Go to a local Farmer’s Market together. Let them pick what they want to try and use Pinterest to find some recipes.
Most kids are familiar with broccoli, tomatoes, apples and bananas. But vegetables like eggplant, okra, beets, leeks etc are less known to kids.
Have A Routine
I know routine meals are not always fun for adults, but kids thrive from the routine.
They love knowing what comes next and what to expect. Even my toddler knows when it is meal time and she’ll go climb in her highchair before I set up my table.
If kids eat 3 good meals a day, chances are they will eat less unhealthy snacks in between. If you are at the park or running an errand with them, they won’t throw a tantrum because they are hungry etc.
Also, routine meals help moms too. If I plan my week out, then I have less grocery shopping to do and less worrying about what to put in the table when kids are hungry.
Planning your routine and your meals will help avoid those drive-through runs at the fast food stores. Routine is key for healthy eating for both adults and kids.
Check out these healthy meals you can make a regular part of your meal times:
- Mixed Berry Breakfast Pudding and Dragonfruit Chia Pudding make a great breakfast or dessert
- Turkey Chili is easy in the Instant Pot and yummy for kids of all ages
- Philly Cheesesteak Casserole and Beef With Garlic Sauce are iron rich and loaded with healthy ingredients
- Eggs In A Nest is a fun breakfast, easy lunch, or simple breakfast for dinner dish
Plan For Play Dates
I might sounds a bit like a control freak here, but I plan what food I’ll serve on my playdates ahead of time.
Also, I will take some fruit with me to other houses when we go visit. I usually serve cheese breads with lots of different fruits in playdates.
It’s very easy for kids to run around, stop by the table grab some watermelon and keep running again. Always have healthy choices on hand!
Tips For Handling Picky Eaters
Some kids are just picky (like my daughter) and some kids would try anything you put in front of them (like my son).
If the food is not one kids are allergic/sensitive to, then it’s just an impression they have on texture, color etc that they don’t like. Offer it more than once.
Eat it yourself, have siblings eat same food, and make lots of positive reinforcement comments.
My daughter won’t eat a food she has a bad impression of, but if my son eats it and asks for seconds then she will quietly start taking small bites and fake it like she likes it.
Kids teach other kids to like certain foods. Invite kids with healthy eating habits over more often. It really helps!
Homemade Ice Cream
It’s summer time, who can say no to kids on ice-cream!
Anytime we go grocery shopping they want to try them all. The stores make it enticing because they’re putting freezers with ice-cream sales all over the store too. There’s enough sugar in there to keep kids awake for a whole week! Okay, I’m kidding, but really it’s a lot.
Instead, make homemade ice cream quite often. If you make mango ice cream or another fruit flavor, chances are you won’t need any sugar at all especially if you use ripe fruit (sweeter).
It’s not hard either; grab this simple, inexpensive ice cream maker and try it!
Let Kids Be Messy
Bear with me here, mama. I promise, it’s a good thing!
Kids make messes in the dining table even when you tell them not to — but what would happen if you encouraged them?
Let them eat by hand, let them play with their food. They will like it so much better if they think food is fun.
If they want to use a spoon when you offered a fork, it’s okay. If they drink their soup instead of properly eating one spoon at a time, that’s okay, too.
My kids love this chicken soup that my mom makes with orzo, chicken and veggies. I still don’t know if they really like it so much or if it is because I let them drink it at the end.
Don’t Forget The Protein
Sources of protein can vary, so you choose from the ones that are adaptable to your way of eating.
However, make sure you offer enough protein with all the fruits and veggies you’re feeding your kids. Protein will keep them fuller longer.
And if they play any after school activities, it’s important for their development (source).
I’ve found that they don’t snack excessively between meals, either, when they eat enough protein. It’s a win/win because they are growing stronger bodies and don’t crave junky treats.
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Mom of two, wife, engineer, food blogger & recipe creator! Sonila was born in Albania, her heritage inspires her Mediterranean recipes while that of her husband the Latin ones. Sonila has 2 degrees in Engineering from University of Miami. You can find her delicious recipes & more at Mediterranean Latin Love Affair.