Teaching your kids how to have a healthy relationship with food is very important for their future livelihood and well-being. Getting them to eat a well-balanced, healthy diet is hard! But with these helpful tips, your child will see food through a different lens, which is the first step in nurturing a healthy food culture at home.
How to get kids to eat healthy
Studies show that childhood obesity is not only detrimental to a person’s long term health risks but can also make it more difficult for them to maintain a healthy weight when they’re adults. Simultaneously, when we encourage our children to eat healthily and have a balanced relationship with food, we need to be careful with how we address it.
If we make eating healthy legalistic or point out any physical reasons as to why they need to eat healthy, our children can quickly associate negativity or self-doubt with food.
As with anything I write about here on the blog, I always encourage balance and moderation.
Food is a beautiful gift that has been given to us to not only nourish our bodies but enjoy life! When we can help our children to understand this as well, it will help them have a healthy perspective of food.
And the first thing a parent should do when it comes to teaching this to their children is to model what a healthy relationship with food is.
Parenting is all about being a good example, as our kids watch us intently, even if it’s subconsciously.
Why you shouldn’t forbid foods and let them have a “Daily Sweet”
A great way to incorporate the mindset of having balance and moderation is to allow yummy treats alongside healthy meals and snacks. I usually allow my son to have one special treat a day, whether that’s a piece of candy, a cookie, etc.
One day, he came up to me and said, “hey mom, it’s time for my daily sweets!” I loved it so much, it stuck, and we now call his allowed daily treat a “daily sweet.”
It’s important your children understand that eating sweeter or less healthy food is not bad in and of itself. Teaching them moderation has a lot to do with them learning how to have self-control. I talk about his a lot on the blog, and it applies to SO many things other than food — video games and screen time, when it comes time for them to drink alcohol, etc.
Teaching moderation and self-control with things in life they love will help them in many areas of their life.
Here are 7 ways to nurture a healthy food relationship in your home and get your kids to eat healthy
1. Make eating healthy food a celebration when you can
I wrote a post a while back about the benefits of eating together as a family, and how it’s one of the main habits to foster a healthy home life. It encourages conversation, develops good eating habits, and helps bring everyone together, even in the hustle and bustle of life. You can also use it as a way to teach your kids about different cultures and traditions by making different kinds of foods
Being the cook of the household, I love to make our meals memorable when I can. I set the table, light candles, prepare a dessert. Call me regressive, but who says that working moms can’t make delicious meals AND wear aprons.
But as a working mom, I also know how hard it is to get dinner on the table every night.
That’s where balance comes in. Even if it’s only ONE meal a week — doesn’t matter!
As long as your kids can experience the family celebrating the dying art of eating food with one another — it’s one of the best ways to connect with your family on a deeper level. Check out this awesome dinner talk table game for families to open up more opportunities for deeper conversations.
2. Have them cook meals with you
Ever since my sons were old enough to crawl, I have them up on the counter with me during dinner, “helping” in whatever they can.
Whether it’s having them stir the pancake mix, break an egg in the pan, or even chop veggies — making them a part of the cooking process will help introduce them to healthy eating and is an excellent way to connect with your kids.
I know for me, when I prepare a meal, I am WAY more likely to eat healthily. Opening a bag or getting take-out is sometimes a necessity of #momlife, but I try not to make it a habit.
Nurturing a healthy relationship with food starts with your instruction and introduction to what food is, how it nourishes our body, and THAT will be the most influential to your child.
3. Be the example of a healthy eater
Like I discussed above, one of the most effective ways to help your child have a healthy view of food is to have a good relationship with food yourself. What does that mean?
Well, I believe that everyone has a different view of food for one reason or another, so I’m not going to dig in on that too much. What I might view as healthy, you might view as unhealthy. Everyone is different!
But remember that your kids are watching you with open eyes. That doesn’t mean you need to perfect. But it does mean you need to be aware of your actions in front of your kids. For example, if you’re on a diet because you want to lose weight, you don’t necessarily need to explain the details to your tween daughter that you want less junk in the trunk. Maybe say, “I feel so much better when I eat things that nourish my body.”
Or let’s say you just ate more than you wanted to and said, “ugh, I’m going to get fat from how much I ate,” in front of your kids. That might not be setting the best example. As I can understand the pressures as a woman in this day and age to stay thin, be careful not to pass along the unhealthy diet culture that isn’t about “being healthy” but rather, “not getting fat” or “getting skinnier.”
We can easily change this lingo, so our kids don’t get confused about what “being healthy” means.
4. Don’t say that, say this!
“You need to finish everything on your plate to leave the table.”
I know how hard it can be to get picky eaters to eat healthy. But there are some great natural consequences to when your child won’t eat, like… they will go to bed hungry. Remind them that they had the chance to eat when it was time to eat, and it was their choice not to.
A great way to avoid kids not eating their dinner is to take out or lessen the afternoon snack. You can also have them serve themselves their own portions, so they can’t say, “You gave me too much!”
If they don’t want to finish their food on their plate, try asking a few questions to get to the bottom of why they aren’t eating. If you find that they’re just not hungry, then that’s okay! But if the reason is because they snuck candy or something, that’s a different story.
“If you do this, then you can have some sweets!”
Using food as a reward isn’t the best. It connects positive feelings to unhealthy food, which can lead to emotional eating later on in life. I give my kids yummy treats, but it has nothing to do with a reward.
“Eat your broccoli because it’s good for you.”
I have said this before. I know you probably have. So what’s wrong with it? Well, let’s face it. Broccoli isn’t the most delicious of healthy foods. So when you label it as a “good for you” food, they might start associating “good for you” food with bad tasting broccoli.
Instead, you can say, “To some people, broccoli doesn’t taste the best, but we eat it because it nourishes our bodies!” If you find that it’s one of those foods they just can’t tolerate, then you might not want to force them to eat it. Not everyone is going to like ALL the veggies. My son HATES zucchini, so I don’t make him eat it. As long as he is overall getting balanced nutrition and eating his vegetables, I’m not going to force him to eat something he hates.
5. Don’t become their personal chef
Variations of food are good because we will be more likely to get all of the nutrients our bodies need. Explain this to your child when they say, “I don’t want to eat that tonight. Can you make me something else?”
If we become a personal chef to our child, we will not only be enabling their inability to do something they don’t particularly like (hello life), we will get exhausted! They need to know that food isn’t only about enjoyment, but also about nutrition.
In our family, I try to cook healthy, well-balanced meals. But sometimes we have pizza or take-out night. I know I’ve said this a lot, but it’s all about BALANCE and MODERATION.
6. Teach them gratitude for food in general
It’s easy when living in a westernized culture to forget how much of a privilege food is. There are so many people in this world who don’t know when their next meal will be.
And as you don’t want to throw this in your child’s face because you’re trying to coerce them to finish their potatoes, there is a time and a place to educate them that food is a privilege.
Teach them about third-world countries and what they have to go through when it comes to getting food. Find ways to help out in your own community, as there are starving people among us, even in westernized culture.
I’m not saying to use less fortunate people as a gateway for teaching your child gratitude for food, but rather to show them that it’s never something we should take for granted. And that there are plenty of ways to help those in need.
Because of our faith, we pray before our meals and thank God for our food. Doing this helps us remember the beautiful gift of food that God has given us on this earth to enjoy and nourish our bodies.
7. Let them decide when they are full
It’s easy to say things like, “three more bites, then…” I am SO guilty of saying this in attempts to get a few more veggies down my child’s gullet. But instead, I should say, “Remember that snack time isn’t until…are you sure you want to be done?”
If they come back asking for a snack in 30 min, you can kindly remind them of their choice — it’s a natural consequence of hunger. The hard part is — you need to stand firm!
Getting kids to eat veggies
Getting your kids to eat healthy in general is difficult in this day and age. It seems that everything they associate with delicious is processed and full of sugar.
So if you want to get your kids to eat healthily, it begins with how you make your food. They need to understand that healthy food can be delicious, too!
Here are a few tips to help your child eat more vegetables
- Check out these delicious kid-friendly veggie recipes
- Put veggies in a smoothie
- Have them prepare food with you (they will be more likely to try what they make themselves)
- Incorporate veggies in place of meat or pasta (Think Zoodles, Mushrooms, or Spaghetti Squash)
- Make a yummy sauce for them to dip their veggies in
- Avoid buying unhealthy food so they won’t have the option
- Prepare cut up veggies for the week, so they are easy to grab and go.
- Make a veggie soup or one plate pasta dish
When I roast veggies with garlic, salt, avocado oil, and balsamic vinegar, my kids LOVE them. I also like to throw various veggies in my one plate pasta dishes.
asparagus or green beans
Sauté in a pan and toss with either pesto or tomato sauce.
Making a one plate pasta dish is the BEST way I’ve been able to get my kids to eat their veggies.
Like I said, celebrate food with making it good! You don’t have to be a chef to do this, but if your kids’ general feeling from eating meals together is ease over quality, then their relationship with it will be as such.
Whoever is the cook in the household sets the tone for your child’s relationship with food. I usually give myself 30 – 45 minutes to prepare a healthy and delicious meal. In all reality, that’s not a crazy amount of time to commit to nurturing a healthy food life in your family.
Positive parenting tools for every parent
Screen Time Protection and Teaching Moderation
I’ve recently partnered with Bark, a software to supervise, manage, and protect your child’s device use on the go. Use the code WORDBIRD at checkout to get an additional 1 month free trial after your first initial 7 day trial!
Screen Time Checklist Printable for Kids – FREE if you sign up for our weekly newsletter. Just fill out your info below.
Book List for Kids and Parents
Check out my recommended books for parenting.
Book list to teach kids about racial diversity.
Journaling for Kids
When a child is old enough to start drawing, coloring, or writing, journaling is an incredible way to help your kids better express themselves in a free and comfortable way. Check out our Kid’s Printable Journals — created specifically to help children better express their feelings, encourage gratitude, and spark imagination.
Chores for Kids
Magnetized Chalk Chart for Fridge
Implementing chores and structure in your child’s daily life is a VERY helpful tool to teach them follow through, discipline, and respect. We use this chore chart in our family to help our kids keep track of their own progress, and keep you from having to constantly remind them of their daily tasks.
If you’re looking for something a bit more simple, this is also a good option.
Chore Chart Printable – Get it NOW from the convenience of your own printer
If you’re looking for something you can print out immediately and start implementing chores in your home today, check out this CHORE CHART PRINTABLE. With a Mandalorian theme, it makes for a lighthearted and fun way to encourage kids to do their daily and weekly “missions.”
Emotional Connectivity with Your Kids
Connecting on a deeper level emotionally with child is CRUCIAL, and sometimes more difficult. We play THIS GAME often in our family to create a safe space for our kids to feel free to share their questions and emotions, all without judgement.
We even offer an “Exemption Time” for the duration of this game, where anything he tells us is off the table for consequences.
Check out these other posts on emotional connectivity on the blog!
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