Let’s be honest, getting your little one to eat anything can be tricky, and getting them to eat healthy… well, that can feel like summiting Mount Everest on some days. Currently, Little Miss’s favorite lines are, “I do it myself!” and “No please, mom” (ahem, wonder where she got that one). These assertions of independence are both exciting and challenging. When it comes to getting our little dictators to eat healthy, it is best to capitalize on their enthusiasm for independence while also laying firm boundaries so they know what will and will not fly (pun intended) in your house.
I’ve split this topic into two separate posts, because otherwise it would be behemoth! Part I, below, focuses on our roles as caregivers (deciding when, where, and what food to offer) and our kids’ roles as eaters (deciding what and how much to actually eat). Part II focuses on tips for getting little ones to make healthy decisions all by themselves, which we all know from hard experience is the ideal!
Part I: Tips for Getting Your Kids to Eat Healthy
Live by the mantra: “My job as a parent is to decide when, where, and what I will offer my child to eat and their job is to decide what and how much they are going to eat.”
- It can be easy as a parent to feel like we have to take responsibility for all the jobs listed above, but the truth is we don’t and will actually have much better success developing healthy eaters who are in touch with their hunger cues if we don’t! Following this philosophy also gets rid of the dreaded power struggle of trying to tease food into a child’s mouth at every meal.
A few tips I learned from feeding Little Miss:
- Meals served in “courses” work best for younger kids to ensure they eat the most important nutrients first: start by putting protein and vegetable foods on their plate, then after giving them some time to eat add the other food groups. I’m fairly certain Little Miss would be a blueberry by now if I didn’t practice this method.
- It is important to make sure that your little buckaroo is not filling up on snacky type foods that don’t provide much nutrition between meals (e.g. cereal, Gerber Puffs, juice, teething biscuits and cookies, fruit snacks, granola bars, and yogurt (that are high in sugar and lower in protein), etc.). If this happens they will not eat the healthy choices that you are providing them at meals and will most likely hold out for snacks later.
- Don’t worry if they aren’t eating as much as you feel like they should. Babies and toddlers are experts at knowing how much they need to eat and will stop when they are full. Some days you’ll notice they’ll eat as much as you and other days they may eat like a bird. This is perfectly normal, however, if you are feeling stressed that your child is not getting enough to eat discuss it with your pediatrician or a registered dietitian.
When to feed them: Shoot for 3 meals a day and 2-3 snacks a day.
- Offering food every 2-3 hours will not only allow your child plenty of chances to get in the food they need, but it will also keep their fast little metabolisms fed and happy. Eating on a regular basis is also an excellent way to prevent tantrums and fussy kids (and adults! ;)). As children get older they will be able to better communicate with you when they are hungry and as long as it isn’t too close to a meal, I say honor that hunger with a healthy snack.
Where to feed them: Try to sit down together for meals as often as possible.
- Sharing a meal together is a time that kids treasure as it is one of those moments where all distractions are put away (emphasis on actually putting distractions-phones-away!) and families can truly bond.
- Sit-down meals also serve as a time where caregivers are given the chance to model what and how to eat; believe me, kids watch and hear almost everything!
- Studies also show huge benefits for kids who engage in family dinners on a regular basis. Kids are more likely to get better grades, talk to their parents about issues that come up in their lives, eat healthier, and stay away from drugs and alcohol.
What to feed them: Provide mostly whole foods and shoot for at least 2-3 food groups at each meal (one group being protein).
- Check out “What Does a Healthy Plate Look Like?” for an easy visual showing how to balance food groups and make healthy food choices at each meal. Note: the portion guide in the infographic gives recommendations for adults.
- Do yourself a favor by limiting the amount of “junk” food in the house and putting it out of sight. If it’s not there you won’t be begged for it!
- Don’t worry or stress about your kids eating the perfect diet everyday. They won’t and that’s completely normal. Easy tip if you can’t shake that worry: think of their food intake in terms of a week instead of every meal or every day. The science behind this advice would take an entire separate post to explain, but suffice it to say for now that the essential nutrients everyone needs to thrive don’t have to be consumed every day.
- Healthy food ideas:
- One of the easiest ways I get Little Miss to eat dark leafy greens is by making green smoothies! Nutritious and delicious for all 😀 Check out this link for kid friendly green smoothie ideas.
- Sneaking In Superfoods
- Tips for Creating Easy & Healthy Lunches
What are your favorite tips for getting your kids to eat healthfully?! Please share the love with everyone 😀
To Healthy and Happy Eaters! Chris