[Soap Box alert]
Kids don’t know any better, they eat what we give them and they eat what they like. If you give them Cheetos and skittles, they will LIKE Cheetos and skittles. They will ask for them every day (or every hour) and they are really cute tiny people who are hard to say no to.
Do your kids health a favor and limit them to special treat times (ie. potty training, chore chart). The sugary snacks do NOTHING for their energy, bodies, growth, or appetites. We as parents are fully to blame for Childhood obesity or children that tend to struggle with weight if we buy into the mindset that “they can eat whatever they want because they are kids!”
[Off Soap Box]
How to make healthy happen with kids requires training your brain to see things as simply as kids do.
For example; They don’t need a colorful plate of variety and flavors in front of them like we do. They don’t get bored with the same meals and they don’t know what should go together (ie. carbs/protein/fat) or what looks good together in one meal. They don’t even like to have their foods touch most of the time compared to our piled up forks of a little of everything on our plates!
Take advantage of this “picky eating” stage to teach them about one food at a time and keep it as real as possible. Hand them an apple and let them know that the peel can be eaten and it is great for them. Show them all of the different ways you can eat an apple; whole, sliced, cord, chunks, peeled, with nut butter, humus, or plain. That may be all they need for that “meal” and that is FINE! It was better than a bowl of air puffs.
MY HEALTHY KID RULES
- Simple servings. Put just one thing on their plate at a time (preferably the protein/vegetable item). Like I said above, kids typically do not care for a big overloaded beautiful plate of colors and flavors. When given the plate of choices, they go for the starchy carbohydrates first (ie. fries, potatoes, bread, chips, mac&cheese) before they even SEE their protein, vegetables, or fat on the plate! It may take a little longer or disrupt the sit down dinner time (like that ever happens anymore) but it guarantees more of the good stuff will get in their system first.
- Snack on healthy instead of convenient boxed items. Don’t teach them that a “snack” is a salty, crunchy gold-fish or a gewy, fruit-chew candy. Take this time to teach them that a meal is a meal, they should eat every 2-3 hours and it doesn’t have to be what is marketed as a “snack food”. Fruit, vegetables & humus, deli meat, boiled eggs, nuts, wraps, pepperoni, yogurt, bacon, ham, etc. These should enter the snack category asap.
- Starve them silly…. eat within an hour of waking up! This is what I preach to people always so get your children in the habit of it now. Have something to get their energy going and brain functioning quickly. If all they want is milk after 2-3 years old, time to switch to skim/fat-free milk or water (hello tantrum at 7am!). Yogurt is a good way to fill them up like milk did but it offers some good bacteria that milk doesn’t. Now, I know that a hungry kid is no joke and I have seen how happy they can get if you throw some french fries in their face! It is very tempting to do that almost daily and I understand. However, if they are hungry and they chose to not eat their breakfast or lunch when it was ready…. let their options be HEALTHY or nothing. They will choose the healthy 80% of the time and maybe even open their little minds up to new foods!
- Monkey see monkey do. You HAVE to eat healthy foods in front of them, talk about it, show them how to prepare it, different ways to cook it, and let them try it over and over again. Let them make faces at it, stare at it, gag from it, or maybe like it:)
- Make it Quality. If they eat only hot dogs and cheese, then buy the good stuff. Get REAL meat and don’t waste your money or time trying to get them to eat a variety of items because YOU are bored with their selection.
TIPS & TRICKS TO TRY
I am not going to give you ideas on how to disguise healthy foods as cheesy, creamy, breaded, sugary options because there are tons of cookbooks and blogs out there that cover that. I use that trick sometimes but I believe that hiding the healthy stuff teaches them nothing about what healthy is for the long run and we just postpone their food-education by avoiding the real stuff.
- KABOB it…. put anything you serve on a toothpick! Kids love to eat foods on a stick for some reason! I will kabob anything to get my kids to eat it. You can do this with chunks of turkey, chicken, or ham. Fruit, vegetables, or sandwich squares.
- Make it silly. Make smiley faces with their foods on the plate and tell them they have to eat the face! Check out Pinterest.com for ideas like this Stop Light Sandwich!
- PREP for success! You should already be doing this for yourself anyway so fresh vegetables and fruit will be available when the hunger sets in full force and tantrums start to flare!
- Create a helper. Let them cut bananas, cheese, and even their hot dogs with a butter knife while you watch them. Let them crack an egg to scramble, put the noodles in, stir the cheese in, add salt to their vegetables, and take ownership of their meals. Even if it makes a mess, they love it and are usually proud enough to eat it too.
- Teach them food. Tell them why they have to eat the eggs or bacon before the pancakes (don’t know? it’s because protein and fat help build muscles and make them stronger. Carbohydrates from fruit and vegetables help them have energy to play longer). Tell them what kind of vitamins certain foods they eat have in them… look it up together and apply it to their little worlds.
- On the go – nothing will make you want to drive off the cliff more than when you are stuck in the car with hungry kids out of reach and screaming for milk! Being prepared when we leave the house is mandatory for our survival. My carry out bag consists of raisins, bananas, and string cheese (and water!). I have found that when it is their only option and they like to eat in the car, they will eat it! When we hit the drive through (chick-fi-la only for this mama), I pass the chicken back first before a waffle fry can even be looked at. They have to finish the chicken entirely then they get the fries. They almost always eat 1 or 2 fries and are done. It’s amazing how kids will stop once they are full, we could learn so much!
- Treat & rewards – ALL kids, healthy or not, want a treat for going potty, after dinner, or because their friends get one. My tricks for handling this are to control the portion size. I won’t open a bag of m&ms, skittles, or chocolate cookies and hand the entire thing to a 4-year old. I dish out 3-4 m&ms for potty treats, 1 or 2 cookies for keeping 5 stars all day, and 2 spoonfuls of chocolate ice cream at night if they ate their dinner.
IDEAS & EXAMPLES of healthy eats.
- Cheese sticks, squares, or shredded
- Boiled Eggs…a little salt and they eat them up. Let them help put the eggs in the water and watch it boil. Eggs of any kind are fun for kids to help with and great to eat so serve them at breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as “snack”.
- humus, carrots, celery, zucchini, squash, pretzels, crackers, spread it on wraps with turkey or on a sandwich.
- Steamed vegetables, especially broccoli. The kids love lemon juice and salt on these.
- breakfast bars, Cheerios (not cocoa sugar candied balls), rice or corn chex with a spoonful of sugar on top.
- Make your own lunchables: get the deli to slice the chicken, turkey, or ham extra extra thick so that you can cut into chunks at home and pair it with whole grain Ritz crackers and cheddar cheese. I buy meats from the deli because they are not packaged with flavors or extra coloring to extend the shelf life. I opt for Boar’s head always.
- Yellow rice is a great side dish, they usually go for the black beans if you toss it in but either way it is better than a plate full of mac & cheese again!
- Treats like Chocolate Peanut Butter on graham crackers, apples, or bananas. Popscicles and frozen yogurt tubes are great treats. Chocolate covered pretzels, raisins, and nuts (if they like them).
- Muffin pan fritattas with cheddar cheese and real bacon bits.
My DON’T list.
I am not saying that I am not human and my kids never eat candy, sugar, fried foods, or sodas. My philosophy on health in general is moderation and living LIFE in a healthy way. Life being the key word because life is an adventure, full of obstacles, vacations, tantrums, and surprises so being able to roll with the punches is a must have attitude. However, 90% of the time, I do not put these items in front of my kids and here is why.
- soda – the carbonation fills them up and they won’t eat anything after that! Especially caffeinated ones.
- Candy bars – the ones by the check out line or in gas stations. There are tons more options for treats other than these expensive, nasty, processed, balls of sugar and chocolate that get everywhere.
- Spaghetti O’s and canned soups. I know these are cheap, easy, and well liked foods for kids but if your kids don’t love them then don’t force them to eat it. It is just a bowl of refined sugar, salt, and no nutritional value. Making this with organic whole wheat noodles, sauce, and REAL meat is much better.
- Handi-snacks and spray cheese. I just can’t imagine how they are made, what is added to them to keep them on the shelf for months (or years) and to hold the soft, sticky consistency.
Follow me on Instagram or facebook, I post ideas for kids, adults, and all scenarios often.