The importance of a healthy diet cannot be stressed enough, especially when it comes to our children. It is the key to keeping their minds and bodies fueled to allow them the best opportunities to learn, absorb and explore. Vegetables and other wholesome food may be great for you, but are not often favourites among your kids. Getting them to eat healthy now will impact how they eat as they grow up. So don't dread mealtime. Nutrition month inspired us to make your job easier with these simple but effective methods to get those veggies down!
1. Set an example
Be the eater you want your kids to be!
When your kids see you eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, they will be more inclined to try them as well. A child’s eating behaviours are shaped by the patterns of their parents eating behaviours… so be a role model.
2. Get your kids involved
Take your children grocery shopping and let them lend a hand in the kitchen – seriously!
Take them to the store or farmer’s market, and let them choose produce for you.
Tip: Ask your children to find different coloured vegetables or fruit to have for snacks during the week.
Let them get involved in preparing the meals. Depending on their age, you can have them give you a hand in the kitchen by washing veggies, mixing dressings, building the salad with pre-cut veggies and setting the table.The more involved you get the kids in the whole cycle of eating and food preparation, the less apprehensive they’ll be about eating new foods or foods they don’t think will taste good.
3. Introduce new foods slowly
Limit the new items in any single meal.
Kids are “new-food-phobic” by nature so introducing a lot of new foods at once can be overwhelming. Try introducing one new item at a time to take the pressure off them.
Tip: Hero Worship can be highly effective – e.g. “Fireman Sam eats broccoli to grow big and keep strong”. They’ll be more interested in eating them to be like Sam than eating them because they think it’s yummy!
4. Teach Them
Explain to kids the benefits of them eating healthy foods beyond “it’s good for you”. Make it matter to them, like in the example above. Practical and positive advice can go a long way, for example “yogurt makes your bones stronger”, rather than saying “this is good for you”.
5. Reward Good behaviour
Create positive food experiences to decrease picky eating tendencies
Reward them with non-food related activities to encourage them to keep trying new foods. Stickers will be a fabulous addition to the family during this time in your little one’s life. Research has shown that rewarding a child for trying one bite of a rejected food with things like stickers makes it easier for them to try the food.
6. Make food fun
Create positive associations with mealtimes
When meals are fun, kids are more likely to eat a variety of foods...so get creative! Turn meal-time into a game or create a picture on their plate. Try imagining you and your kids are dinosaurs and need to eat five mini trees to out run a giant T-Rex! Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes out of veggies. Make the veggies create a face on the plate or give them silly names!
7. Enforce the “one bite rule”
The more they try it, the more likely they are to like it
It is a general understanding that we like things that are more familiar to us. Research consistently shows that children must be exposed to food they previously did not like at least 8-10 times for it to be accepted. The “one bite rule” is usually very effective! Ask your child to try at least one wholesome mouthful of a food whenever it is a part of dinner. Eventually the food will be rated more favourably as exposures increase.
8. Don’t force them to finish
Forcing your child to finish their plate is very different asking them to take one bite. Forcing them to eat a full plate of something they do not like will not result in a change in behavior. One bite is good, anything more may result in more picky eating tendencies.
9. Offer diverse food colors
Children love colorful foods... so use this to your advantage! Add different coloured veggies to their plates to stimulate their interest. We forget about this because most adults tend to like flavors mingled together, which disguises all the creative colours.
Tip: Try making separate vegetable dishes instead of a big, mono-color casserole.
10. Keep at it
Not all children are the same. Be patient. Your persistence will eventually pay off. Some children will require more effort. It is important to remember the bigger picture - the habits they develop at a young age will remain with them long into adulthood. Relieve your stress and prepare them for the future by solving their picky eating problems early!
11. Keep trying
Don't give up on any vegetable or fruit ...after all it may take 8-10 exposure before they even consider it more favourably! Give new vegetables and fruit to your children as often as possible, especially when they are young. The earlier you start, the better.
Tip: It is never too early - infants introduced to fruit and vegetables, as an alternative to baby food, are far more likely to eat these foods when they are older!
If your kids simply do not like the sight of vegetables or your patience is running thin, check out our blog on how to disguise fruits and vegetables in yummy meals!