I have heard it many times before with my clients: “how do I get my kids to eat healthier?” For many parents, meal time can be a hard battle of wills and a long bargaining process: “finish your plate or you will not get to eat dessert, how about just two bites of broccoli”. I know this, because I have used those bargaining chips many times before. Then I started looking into how to get my own kids to eat healthier and changed my approach.
Being overly controlling at the dinner table can have major consequences for your child’s overall weight and health. For instance, a 2004 study published in the journal Health Education Research found when parents use food to control behaviour – “If you behave while we’re at the restaurant, you’ll get dessert” – their children were more likely to have body image problems. Using food as a system of reward or punishment, or otherwise exerting high levels of control over what kids eat and when results in children were more likely to eat larger amounts of both healthy and unhealthy snack foods, according to the same study.
One of the solutions to these problems at the dinner table is not to say anything about the choices that children make, but provide them with lots of healthy options. Just let them choose what, and in what quantity to eat from a variety of healthy choices . This doesn’t mean that you have to make an extra meal to satisfy picky Charly, but it could mean that you set out an extra side dish or two: raw or roasted veggies, or even fruit.
Most parents think that it is impossible and just to let you know I have been there myself many times before. This is why I came up with three quick tips to share with you that I have tested many times and has work wonders for my little ones. I would just like to remind you that habits take a while to incorporate so try these habits one at a time.
#1. Take your kids to the grocery store
Most people think I am crazy taking both my kids to the grocery store but I look at it as a cheap family outing with the little monkies, even though it takes twice as long to get all of your grocery shopping done.
Picking out fruits and vegetables and getting the kids to help can take a while but I am killing two birds with one stone. Not only do I get to spend time with my kids, I also get my shopping done. My kids are 2 and 4 years old so every outing can be a new adventure.
Their little minds are like sponges; be prepared to answer questions and please take your time. They will remember the experience and will be more likely to eat the items they placed in the cart, especially if you let younger children choose the colour of apples or peppers. Why not send an older child off on their own to locate a particular product from the flyer, or ask them to help you determine which cereal bars are the healthiest? I have experienced many fun shopping trips with my own kids.
#2. Get the Kids Involved in the Kitchen or In the Garden
I wrote an article on this last spring called How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables: Make Dinnertime a Game. This can be a little more tricky if you have a teenager who thinks they are too cool to cook, but for little monkeys it works really well.
Kitchen chores for little hands: washing and breaking up greens, stirring up things that aren’t hot, pressing the “go” button on the food processor, just anything that makes them feel like they are a part of it. They will be excited to see the end result and are more likely to eat food they helped prepare.
For older teens you can try asking an open end questions. For instance, “What kind of cooking have you done before in the past that you liked?” This style of conversation is called Motivational interviewing. This works really well on teens because they want to feel older with more reasonability. You will also be respecting their own autonomy. If you have a teen and would like some really cool information on how to inspire and work with them please check out MI. You can start by watching this 7 min video: https://vimeo.com/56949751
#3. Appetizers – Small plate of veggies or be creative
The brain works in a funny way at the end of the day. We really have a hard time trying to make decisions. We are emotionally fatigued and so are our kids. Take the thought process out of the equation for them and yourself by having a variety of cut and ready to go veggies in the fridge so all you have to do is set them out on the table, and watch the magic happen. One cracker and a half-glass of juice is enough to spoil the appetite of a youngster, so unless you can stand the constant refrain of “ I’m hungry”, your veggie tray will at least provide some nutrients. We move the veggie tray from the snack table to the dinner table at dinner time, just in case the kids spot some offensive vegetable or flavour that makes the main course inedible to them.
Posted by Burke