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Thursday, March 1, 2012

How to Get Your Kids Eating Healthy Foods - & Liking Them

As a teenager I became aware that my grandparents and great-grandparents were being diagnosed with diabetes and beginning to have heart issues, but I didn't pay much attention.  They were getting older, after all, and isn't that just what happened?  It sounds callous, I know, but I assumed it was a normal effect of the aging process.

Fast forward about ten years.  I was pregnant with our first child, working full-time, and preparing for a move.  Everything was busy and happy and wonderful, so imagine my surprise when my glucose test came back iffy. I might have gestational diabetes.  Due to testing issues, they couldn't tell for certain, but the possibility was very real.

Suddenly I had to eat differently, and in doing so, I learned a lot about the way that we should eat.  I began to see those diagnoses as more than an eventual possibility but a definite outcome.  To improve my own health and help my children avoid these diseases altogether, our family set off on a simple healthy eating journey.  

Here are a few ways you can help your children make healthy food choices - and like them.

He says that cleaning carrots is the best job ever.

1.  Get your children involved.


When you're personally invested in something, you naturally care more about it.  If you want your children to be interested in a particular food - or food in general - get them involved.  There are lots of kitchen tasks that even very young children can do.   From snapping beans or de-stemming berries to peeling carrots, food prep is a task that the whole family can enjoy.



2.  Limit sugar, fat, and preservatives.


God created food to taste good.  Many vegetables are much sweeter than we realize - but when our taste buds become used to foods with lots of fat and sugar, we don't taste those natural yummy flavors.  If you indulge in lots of processed food, don't be discouraged as you begin to cut back.  Give your taste buds time to adjust, and that goes for your kids, too.  You're in charge of what your kids eat, so make lots of good things available to them and limit the bad stuff.


3.  Start young.


If your children grow up liking spinach and broccoli, then won't they like them when they're older?  Toss out the idea of 'kid food' and feed your children what you eat.  They don't need their own kiddie frozen dinners and chicken nugget options if you make reasonable meals available to them from a young age.

With that in mind, kids do tend to like bland food best.  If you're eating chili or some other hot and spicy dish, it may be best to give them a less-spicy version.

4.  Make food fun.

We're always being told that we shouldn't play with our food, and of course, I want my children to use good manners; but as long as they don't shove noodles in their ears at the Cheesecake Factory, I think a little bit of playing at home is okay.  (My most fun and favorite meal ever was when we all tried to eat Japanese food with chopsticks.  I've never laughed so hard at mealtime.)  Maybe you can have 'foodie playtime' when you use certain plates or only at lunch, but the options are endless.  Just think:
  • fruit pizza faces
  • veggie kabobs
  • mashed potato mountains and lima bean skiers
  • Go Bento!  This Japanese tradition of using shaped food items and incorporating lots of color is great for kids.  If you don't have a Bento box, you could create your own or use a small muffin tin.

We love eating parfaits made with low-sugar yogurt,
 fresh fruit, and granola for breakfast.

5.  Keep food simple.  

As we said before, most kids aren't born with highly sophisticated palates, so heavy wine sauces (while not good for them) probably aren't going to be a favorite, at least right off the bat. Stick with simple meals - lots of sliced raw veggies, roasted vegetables, or simple stir fries.  Try roasting and grilling veggies to add subtleties to their natural flavors, or make your favorite meals in a new way - try grilling instead of baking your pizza tonight, for example.   Make light sauces available for dipping - who doesn't love a good dip?


My family loved this popcorn with white chocolate.  
Add nuts and raisins to boost the fiber and vitamins!
6.  Start small.


If your family isn't exactly thrilled with the idea of eating differently, make subtle changes.  Buy white wheat flour instead of white.  Mix white and brown rice, or white and whole wheat pasta.  Swap out half of the ground beef in your favorite tacos for ground turkey; they'll still taste rich and meaty but without all the fat and cholesterol. Then start to add in new flavors - add beans to those tacos, eliminate the white rice and pasta, and add spinach to your tomato sauces.  By making small changes slowly, your family won't miss their old sugary foods - and they'll love the new, healthier options.

65 comments:

  1. I agree with you. Getting off the sugar bandwagon allows kids to really TASTE foods. We love spending the whole summer snacking and eating out of our garden. My kids eat fresh green beans like most kids eat candy! I'm subscribing to your site.
    I'm a teacher turned homeschool mom too. Hope you'll come visit me! http://www.layers-of-learning.com (:

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    1. Nice to meet you, Karen! Isn't it great when are kids fall in love with veggies? My son's that way about tomatoes. :-) I will definitely come to visit.

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  2. I had GD too, and you're right, it does change the way you look at food and nutrition. I still use some of those principles in feeding my family now.

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  3. I couldn't agree more. We are a work in progress (my husband and I that is), but now that our daughters are in their teens the fruit of our labor is showing in their food choices and how healthy they are. It's really neat.

    Great post!

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    1. Us, too! My husband and I still struggle with our bad-for-you favorites, but the kids happily gobble up raw spinach and tomatoes. :-)

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  4. My children love fruit and fresh veggies to snack on as long as there are no chips and cookies!

    Stopping by from the 100 Comments event.

    http://www.AsToldByLisa.com

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    1. My son always chooses the healthy choice, but my daughter does have a sweet tooth. Even then, she tries to eat good foods first. I'm hoping it rubs off on me - either the determination or the lack of temptation.

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  5. I wish my parents had made more of an effort to get me to eat healthier when I was a child. Now that I'm getting older and seeing friends develop health problems, I'm trying but it's not easy.

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    1. Nope, it's hard! A friend and I have a friendly competition going to help keep us on track. Is there someone you could partner with to stay accountable?

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  6. Both of our kids dont eat the normal junk most kids do. But we didnt have to push anything to them on it. To part though that is because we homeschool so they are not having junk food marketed to them in school.

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  7. I could not agree more about the Bento Box idea. I previously taught at a school where most of the students brought their lunch. The kiddos who used the Bento Box always had the cutest and healthiest meals.

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    1. I'm still looking for an actual box to pack lunches in ... any suggestions??

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  8. My little boy loved vegetables when he first started eating. We could hardly get him to eat fruit. Now, everything has changed. We still eat veggies and put them on his plate but he won't touch them. I hope we can change that.

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    1. When our children don't like something, we make them eat one bite more than their age - so our four-year-old has to eat five bites. This way they always know exactly how much of 'yucky' stuff they have to eat and the amount slowly grows as they mature. So far, it's worked well and caused few issues - they prefer just to eat the required bites and get it over with.

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  9. What original thinking! My problem is that I never did outgrow my pickiness with food so one of my children took after me. If I had it to do over again, I'd try ideas like this. Meanwhile, I'm still trying to get past the looks of cottage cheese before I can even taste it, the smell of sauerkraut, and the taste of liver. *shivers Good article. Deb

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    1. Thanks, Deb! I must admit, I don't eat any of those things, but as long as you eat lots of pure, fresh food, I don't think it matters too much which ones they are - just make sure to add variety in color for an assortment of nutrients.

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  10. I, also, agree!! My daughter is just now 5.5 months and I'm going with the Baby Led Weaning theory. So far she hasn't shown any interest in food but I'm preparing to start with real food and not manufactured. As a family we are Paleo so it will be easy to share our meals with her when she is ready.

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  11. Thanks for sharing your great list! We have started with our young son to serve wholesome food that is low in salt and fat. Unfortunately, he does have a sweet tooth and loves juice. Guess it's good we limit it to twice a day. I just recently saw an infographic about eating habits of American children, it was soooo scary!!

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    1. Those articles can be scary! I read an article about I was pregnant about the dangers of juice - high sugar, no fiber - and so we decided that our kids would drink milk at mealtimes and water in between. Now, thanks to Sunday School, they do both like juice, but we keep it for special occasions. In the end, we're hoping that they'll grow up making lots of healthy choices for themselves.

      My daughter has a sweet tooth, too - she comes by it honestly. ;-)

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  12. I agree about limiting sugars, fats, etc... Recently I made some modifications to my eating habits and have discovered that while it's difficult in the beginning, because you have to adapt to different tastes, it does get easier and you get a better appreciation for good food.

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    1. Exactly! Doesn't it taste GOOD when you get all that other stuff out of the way??

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  13. Great tips! Could have used these when my kids were younger.

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  14. Thanks to my parents who fed on mostly with fruits and veggies. I also started early enough with my kids and I'm so happy I did.

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  15. You are so right! I hope all moms will take your advice to heart. Before I became a HSing mom I worked with families as a registered dietitian and I saw the results of families who followed the principles you listed and those who didn't. Its so great when kids get a head start on good health by eating well right from the beginning. But for those who are just starting to make changes, congratulations, you're doing a valuable thing for your family. Changing eating habits and ways of thinking about food is a process that takes time, but it is so worth it. Tip #3 is especially important in avoiding developing picky eaters.

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  16. Great Ideas. When my children were younger I could not get them to eat healthy and to this day they will not eat any vegetables.

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  17. Great ideas. My kids really like salad so I try to work that in often for veggies. They would eat fruit all day long. I will have to check out the Bento box. Chopsticks sound fun I might have to see what my kids would do with that.

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  18. These are great ideas for adults as well. As a society we have to begin to learn exactly what we put in our bodies.

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  19. Great article. I have 4 teenagers and for the most part they eat heatlhy and I think that is because we started young.

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  20. TOTALLY agree with all your tips. I started REALLY early introducing my son to LOTS of different baby foods. He is 2 and loves to eat all sorts of veggies (when he feels like it of course! LOL). One thing though is "convenience" foods - sometimes I just GOTTA have them for on the go or when he's in the nursery at church... I always go with an organic version but MANY of them still have tons of sugar - if you have any suggestions for low sugar "grab & go" snacks that are shelf-stable, I would love to know! :)

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    1. We don't eliminate ALL convenience foods, but we try to make the best choices we can from those available. I'm planning a post on this soon!

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  21. What a good post filled with such solid advice. You are doing your kids the best favor in the world by teaching them how good "real" food can be.

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  22. These are great tips, thanks for sharing! My daughter is currently going through a very picky faze, and I can use all the help getting her to eat healthy and balanced meals as I can get. I have never been a fan of "Kids foods" and we tend to just make balanced meals that everyone can enjoy. I can't wait to look around the rest of your site.

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  23. Although my daughter is 11 years old, she can still be a picky eater. We still have to tell her that she can only have dessert if she finishes her veggies. It worked so far, so we've stuck with it.

    My Mom has been diagnosed as being borderline diabetic, so we are very serious about maintaining a healthy diet. Tonight, my daughter had an orange for dessert and only one scoop of ice cream.

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  24. Great tips! I don't have kids, but if I do, I definitely want them to eat well.

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  25. What a great and timely post. I have a 23 month old that only has a few things she will eat. If she sees green, forget it. I'm try some of these tips and see if I can't get her on the right track! You have some cute kiddos!

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    1. Thanks, Colette! My kids didn't always want to eat what we put in front of them - it was a process at times. I'll have more on that soon.

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  26. I'm here from the 100 comment event...so glad you were in my group. :)
    As I scrolled down and read your post, my head was nodding up and down...yes, yes, yes!!!! I love that you changed your eating habits and now your family will benefit for the rest of their lives. Getting kids involved in food preparation, making it fun and healthful...I love that!
    I'm following by email now...don't want to miss your posts.
    Hope you will stop by my blog: www.viviankirkfield.wordpress.com
    I'm all about participating with little ones...reading, crafting and cooking!

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    1. Nice to meet you, Vivian! I'm slowly working through our list of blogs, but I will definitely stop by. I can't wait to see your blog!

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  27. All very good ideas! I am in that stage where one day something is their "favorite" and other days they are gagging over it! But I have learned that timeouts do not work for motivation! :)

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  28. I'm trying to make better food choices and I always offer my kids healthy snacks. That means I have to eat healthy snacks too or they call me on it. In the summer, they love to eat fresh peas from our garden.

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  29. What's quite popular in Asia is preparing Bentos that are really a hit with kids. Plus they look so nice and the kids cant wait to dive right into them. I wished was more creative and had the patience to do it like the Japanese mothers.

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    1. The Bento style does not come naturally to me, either, but being creative with lunch is something that I've been working on lately because it means a lot to my Big Helper. I'll have another post with ideas coming soon.

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  30. That's something I realized a while back. Water actually tastes good, if your palette isn't sugar coated from a sugary diet.

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  31. I try to do a lot of these tips with my little one. making it fun and having her help makes a big difference.

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  32. This is so important! We buy organic, low sugar, high fiber options and eat most of our meals at home. And we try to skip the nuggets and fried foods when we do eat out! Great advice!

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  33. Thanks for the tips here! My kids will usually eat most vegetables but sometimes I sneak it into other foods and they don't realize what they are eating, lol

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  34. Thanks for the wonderful tips! I loved them all. :)

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  35. Great tips! One tip I would like to try is to start mixing brown rice with white and gradually making the switch. Sounds great!

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  36. Great ideas! I agree that young kids don't need to have the nuggets or frozen dinners. Start them off with simple, fresh foods.

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  37. Thanks for the valuable tips! Three cheers to eating healthier.

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  38. I think serving fresh fruits and veggies is really important. My daughter just commented to me the other day how much she misses the tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden when it's winter time! Great post.

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  39. Great post! I'm a real picky eater, whose trying to eat healthier and am slowly introducing healthier foods into my diet and it is a bit difficult. I found I really love spinach so I've incorporated that into a lot of meals!

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  40. Eating well is a lifetime journey. Glad to see you setting good examples and instilling good habits for your kids.

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  41. I have three kids and they are at various levels of "pickiness." My youngest is actually my best eater. For some stranger reason, the kids' tastes tended to shrink as they got older, not grow and I can't figure out why. For example, my oldest used to love tomatoes when she was 2, ate them like candy. Now she loathes them. I have no idea what happened. And getting my son to eat anything besides carbs and fruit is like pulling his arm off.

    I've tried getting them involved with cooking but it hasn't mattered. Maybe someday they'll outgrow this but I'm not holding my breath lol.

    Christy
    www.alivinghomeschool.com

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  42. I have been blessed with kids that love to eat fruits and veggies! My 2 1/2 year old eats more of a variety than most adults I know! I try to make them available to her all the time so that she is encouraged to eat well. She rarely gets sugary treats, but I am guilty of letting her have some every once and a while :) Thanks for the information! I think I will use it more for me than my kids though, hehe!

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  43. Really great topic as anyone with small kids knows how challenging it can be to get them to eat right! Thanks for the tips and tricks and will definitely be working on some of those!

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  44. Great idea! I love the first one of involving the kids - it goes so far when one of the kids helps to make something they normally would probably "hate!"

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  45. Thanks for the tips! I could really use this when I start weaning my baby to eat more solid and grownup foods.

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  46. Great tips! I completely agree that it's so important to start when they are small... though it's possible to teach older kids to be better eaters, it is so much easier if they have just always eaten good food. I had gestational diabetes twice and it really forced me to be more aware of my own eating. As frustrating as it was at times, I truly feel that having gestational diabetes was a blessing!

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  47. I agree with Julie, I too had gestational diabetes with my first daughter and so it realy taught me how I should be eating. Although I wasn't over weight and my baby only weighed 6 lbs, 10 oz, diabetes runs in my family. Thankfuly with my 2nd child and now my current pregnancy #3, I passed my tests. I think this is in part to eating better and exercising too. My kids love sugar but also like broccoli, carrots & hummus, beans, things many kids won't touch. They also love snack foods like cheez-its, which is mommy's fault. i'm trying to slowly move away from boxed snacks but it is definitely not easy!!!

    We started a garden last yr and are doing it again this yr. So far they will only eat the okra (fried) but I'm working on tomatoes with them!

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  48. I've been doing a lot of research and have been learning what is healthy to eat and what is not healthy. It's been really good to do. Thanks for this encouragement!

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  49. Great tips - I think so many people just "give up" - they think it's easier to let the kids eat the unhealthy stuff. However, by starting now (however old your kids may be), they will reap the benefits of better health for YEARS to come - so worth it!

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  50. Great tips! I find kids are definitely more likely to eat healthier when you get them involved whether it be in growing, prepping, cooking, etc.!

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  51. I was just thinking about this the other day for future kids. Although I don't have them now, I do want them to have healthy eating habits, but of course the parents have to set the example, so I would probably need to cut out some stuff as well.

    Thanks for the good tips!

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  52. Everyone in my husband's family gets diabetes, and that puts my children at risk. My husband is "pre" diabetic, as well as one of our daughters. I understand completely where you are coming from. Thanks for this information.

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