Encouraging Your Kids to Eat Healthy

I certainly don’t profess to know the exact formula for turning your kids into healthy eaters.

But it seems to me, there is one very important strategy for increasing the chances that your child will grow into a healthy eater, and it’s all about getting your focus right.

I’ve noticed this over and over again, if your area of focus is always on the short-term needs of your child, chances are you’ll spend much of your time feeling guilty that their diet isn’t up to scratch.

Obviously it’s important that your children are well nourished and meeting their nutritional needs in an immediate sense. But, if that is your continual focus, it can get you feeling stressed.

Don’t Focus On A “Perfect” Diet

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Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect diet. Pressurizing your child to eat perfectly all of the time is certainly going to backfire. You know it isn’t possible for you, so don’t try to impose this on your children, too.

So, what exactly should you be focusing on?

As I’ve said, short-term goals are important, but you also need to keep the bigger picture in mind, that is, your long-term goals.

You need to ask yourself, “Is my daily feeding ritual in line with my long-term goals?

Never Force Feed

If you find yourself forcing your children to eat certain foods, let me stop you there… that won’t work. EVER. I know it can be tempting, but don’t do it.

So for example, if your child is going through a phase of not eating “green veg,” don’t freak out! Just be consistent, keep offering a wide range of foods, set an example by eating a healthy diet yourself, and don’t stress if they refuse to eat certain things.

Chances are they will eventually give in to eating that particular food, and if not, it’s no big deal. As long as their overall diet is pretty well balanced, there’s no need to get stressed over it.

In fact, there’s never a need to get stressed. Children pick up on that, and it wrecks havoc on what you are trying to achieve. Try to be cool, calm and collected at all times in the kitchen :-)

Eat As A Family

I also recommend that you only serve one meal for the whole family. Don’t fall into the trap of cooking different meals for each child.

Serve your meals with a selection of vegetables and healthy carbs. If you feel the need, allow some bread, and perhaps a little fruit and natural yogurt (or other healthy foods which they will eat) on the table as well. That way, if they won’t eat what you’ve served as a meal, they will have a healthy alternative option to choose from.

Experts suggest that for some children it takes up to 15 tries of certain foods before they will eat it. For other children, though, it will take way more than that. The best thing you can do it be patient and consistent.

You should also try to encourage a pleasant family environment, where everyone sits at the table together. Try to avoid arguments over food at the table, and never bring guilt to the table either — if they won’t eat what’s been prepared, let it go.

Allow Self-Regulation On Food Intake

Your aim is to expose your children to lots of different foods and flavors when they are young.

You also want them to be able to regulate what they eat and how much. That’s one reason why the “clean your plate brigade” doesn’t work, and should not be used in your home.

Not convinced this will work?

Think about it for a second…

You probably believe your children will learn to read books, make friends, drive a car, manage their own finances some day, right?

However, when it comes to eating, parents have a hard time believing their kids can do this all by themselves. Many feel they need to tell their children what they should eat, when, and how much.

Lead By Example

Obviously, there is a certain amount of guidance you can and should provide, but aside from that, how about just believing that they will eventually learn to eat well if you give them the right teaching, show them how by living it out in your own eating habits, and then make sure healthy food is always available to them?

That’s far more effective in my book.

No doubt your children won’t always make healthy food choices, but we don’t as adults either. It’s all a learning process. You must allow your children to make these choices for themselves.

I must admit, there are days when Elissa eats really well, but other days, particularly at dinner time, she refuses to eat any vegetables or meat, just the rice and maybe some kidney beans or chickpeas, for example.

I have to remind myself to keep an eye on the long-term goal. Eventually she will eat well everyday, and eat more of the food placed in front of her as the months and years go on.

The important thing is not to make food a battleground, but to learn to trust your children to grow into the healthy eaters you want them to be when they are older.

How do you keep things in perspective when it comes to feeding your children?

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About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Taleen June 30, 2011 at 4:40 am

Another great read. Very interesting to read about what you have said regarding not forcing your child to finish what is on his or her plate. Thank you Mel, once again!

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Melanie July 1, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Thank you Taleen.

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Nicola June 30, 2011 at 11:58 pm

I definitely agree with lead by example. I see lots of families where an adult in the family won’t drink water, but expects their children to. We are the best role models for our children. Any changes in a family for nutrition have to be for the whole family.

I’ve also found a healthy eating chart for kids works well too, so they tick of their serves of fruit and vegetables every day. Some kids love doing things like this.

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Melanie July 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm

That’s a great idea Nicola. I really love it. Think I will use that in the future when my little one is old enough :-)

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Marianne July 14, 2011 at 6:35 pm

If you are looking for a great way to learn a little bit more about nutrition for kids you should check out Fitango.com they have a lot of great tools for parents. I found this HappyBaby series especially helpful.

http://www.fitango.com/actionplans/infant-and-toddler-nutrition-guide/35291

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Nanette July 24, 2011 at 10:49 am

As a child I was always expected to eat everything on my plate, now as an adult I still feel that same pressure, even if I’m full to the point of feeling sick I still would struggle on & finish what was on my plate. To combat this I now use a smaller plate at home and for the kids I give them a small manageable portion and allow them to ask for more if they want it or a choice of fruit, yogurt, cereal bar and some times a special treat like a little ice cream for after the main meal.

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Melanie July 27, 2011 at 10:27 am

Hi Nanette,
it can certainly be a struggle. At least your own children won’t experience this in later years. You are doing a great job.

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Justin R. Douglas November 21, 2011 at 10:16 pm

I enjoyed reading your blog but I’m concerned about this post. My wife and I don’t have children yet. However when my wife was growing up all the way up intil now at the age of 29 she did not eat green vegetables. Her mom did’nt make her like you say not to do. However now the past 2 or 3 years she has had a wide array of health challenges. I can’t help but think this is because she was malnurished growing up not eating green vegetables or taking vitamins. I grew up eating green vegetables and taking vitamins and I am healthy. Could her not being fully nurished for all those years be related to her recent wide array of health challenges?

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Melanie December 2, 2011 at 10:16 am

Hi Justin, I honestly couldn’t make that judgement based on a simple comment. Having a healthy, complete diet will certainly help to ward off disease in later life, but there’s no guarantee in these things. Your wife’s health challenges could be to do with genetics, or other environmental factors, etc.

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Health Tea October 24, 2012 at 3:10 am

Great read!Very interesting to read about what you have said regarding not forcing your child to finish what is on his or her plate. Thank you Mel again!

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Melanie October 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm

You’re welcome :-)

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