I’m sitting here trying to figure out if there is anything more stressful for a parent than getting your kids to eat?…. I’m thinking no.
The average American family has three meals a day and a couple snacks. It’s very rare a meal goes by where we don’t:
1) hear “yuck!” or “I don’t want to eat that!”
2) tell our kids, “eat your food” 4,612 times
3) resort to bribing, begging, yelling, and most of all feeling very unappreciated of the food we’ve provided
I have spent 7 years coming up with the BEST tips and tricks for not only getting your kids to eat, but to eat healthy! I can’t wait to share these tips with you! Before you know it, you and your family will actually be ENJOYING meals.
#1 Make meals enjoyable!
If you are happy and smiling when you sit down to eat – those positive vibes will rub off on the family. But if you sit down frustrated, rushed, and already snapping at the kids to “stop messing around!” or “sit down to eat!”, then your meal is already heading in the wrong direction.
#2 Stop giving vegetables a bad rep!
If you have to say “eat your broccoli so you can have dessert” – then you’re teaching them that broccoli sucks and dessert is good. Any type of comment that makes vegetables (or any healthy food) sound bad, your kids will then associate those foods as gross.
Instead, give them an option “should we have carrots tonight or green beans?”. “Do you want your broccoli raw or cooked?”. This will help them feel like they have a little bit of control over meals.
Teach your children that vegetables (as well as fruits, proteins, etc..) are SO HEALTHY for your body. We always compare it to putting gasoline in our van. Our van literally wouldn’t work if we didn’t fuel it, it’s the same for our bodies. Yes, “junk food” tastes good and it’s okay to have a little bit on occasion – especially if our body is filled with the good stuff!
Have your children help come up with ideas of how they could like vegetables more. Such as dipping them in ranch, cutting them into fun shapes, or sprinkling sea salt on them.
#3 STOP SNEAKING VEGETABLES INTO THEIR FOOD!
This is a great way to LOSE their trust when it comes to food. It also tells them that vegetables are so gross that we have to sneak them to eat them. DID YOU KNOW? It can take 12-15 tries before you develop a like for a new food? My 4 year old LOVES this little piece of knowledge, and it encourages her to keep trying little bites of foods she would normally say “I don’t like this”. In her mind, she’s thinking “if I keep trying it, I may like it!”.
If you make a meal that surprisingly has vegetables in it. GREAT! Tell your kids about it. “Hey kids, can you believe there is actually zucchini in this? Zucchini is a vegetable so that helps make this meal healthy right?”. I’m not saying you have to tell them this BEFORE they start eating, maybe wait until they’ve had a few bites 😉
My kids LOVE these healthy breakfast muffins, and YES they know they have zucchini and carrots in them!
#4 Speaking of trying new food… try using the napkin trick!
I know you manner-police parents might cringe when reading this, but just hear me out – because this is AWESOME.
Picture you are sitting down to eat somewhere, and a plate of food is put in front of you that,
#1 doesn’t look good and,
#2 you have no idea WHAT IT IS.
This is what kids feel like most of the time (especially if you are known for sneaking foods, as I said their trust is lost). Trying new foods, or any food that they aren’t comfortable with, can actually make a child anxious – causing their appetite to lessen. Same for some of us, less-adventurous adults, right??
So if you are sitting down with this “weird” food in front of you, would you feel more likely to try it if you knew you could (discretely) spit it into a napkin if you ended up not liking it? YES! I’m telling you guys, this works! I know many of us think this is “rude” to spit our food in a napkin, but really – it’s just a safe way for us to be more adventurous with trying new foods and not having to commit to swallowing them.
We found these awesome conversation napkins at our local grocery store – how perfect!
#5 Always have ready-to-eat veggies!
In our house, we usually have a little snack between breakfast and lunch, and another between lunch and dinner. However if my kids are hungry at anytime they can ALWAYS go to the fridge and raid our veggie container, which is filled with cucumbers, pepper slices, carrot sticks, and sometimes other veggies like sugar snap peas, celery, and raw broccoli.
My kids (well… I think ALL KIDS) love having a bedtime snack – these veggies are the only option for my kids past dinnertime. Occasionally we will have popcorn or something special but on a normal night, they always grab some fresh veggies from the refrigerator before getting ready for bed.
With these veggies being ready and available, there is a 100% chance your family will eat more veggies! I also use these pre-cut vegetables to stick in my son’s lunch or for his school snack.
If you are struggling with children who barely touch their meals, yet snack ALL DAY LONG – then create a new rule. We’ve done this from time to time when we notice our kids aren’t eating well at meals. The only snacks available then are fresh fruits, veggies, and nuts (or a spoonful of natural peanut butter). Then we save the “fun snacks” as a little side with their meals.
Not only will they snack healthier, since they only have fruit, veggies, and nuts available – but they also look forward to meals since they see a little bowl of pretzels or Goldfish next to their chicken, rice, and broccoli. This will likely help them to eat more during meals since their first thought is not “yuck, broccoli!” – instead it’s, “sweet! I love Goldfish!”.
#6 Take the pressure off EATING!
It is so hard for me to not beg my kids to finish their plate of food, even though I know I shouldn’t. I’m not sure if it’s because my kids have always been on the lower side of the weight range, or if I just don’t want to see wasted food. I feel like it’s my job to make sure they eat (and eat enough!) so I pressure them into eating every bite. However research shows this can lead to eating disorders, and other poor eating habits.
Kids, and adults, should eat until they feel full (but not too full). Only our children can tell how hungry or full they are. The problem lies when kids “skip” dinner saying they aren’t hungry, and then want to snack on large amounts of graham crackers or Goldfish 10 minutes after. In our house this is not allowed. You eat what you want at meal times, and then you have to wait until the next meal – they can of course munch on fresh veggies from the fridge if they choose.
Do not force your kids to clean their plate. Instead, focus on teaching them healthy eating habits and how to realize when you are full, or when you are so hungry that you want another plate of food. Teach them to listen to their bodies. We have a joke in this house that you “eat until your belly is happy”, and we imagine a smiley face on their bellies (sometimes we even draw smiley faces on with marker).
#7 So we’ve taken the pressure off eating… but we still want our kids to sit at the dinner table…
As a family, we sit and have dinner together EVERY NIGHT. I know this is becoming rare these days, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of a few years before we can no longer do this as much as we would like. Once our kids are old enough to participate in more time consuming sports and after-school activities we will be packing dinner to eat on the road (sad face!).
But for now, while our kids are 7, 4, and 18 months, and my husband has a normal 8-4:30 job – we sit and have dinner together every night.
Like with our kids, I’m guessing that you might struggle to keep them sitting at the table? Whether they want to hop up to grab something, or just stand up to get the wiggles out – it’s like they can’t for the life of them just SIT DOWN for 20 minutes to eat! So not only are we nagging them to eat, but also having to gripe about staying seated. Heck no! I am sitting down and enjoying the meal I prepared, thank you very much! As you may of read in my previous posts, I do NOT like to NAG.
I tried this little trick last year and it has worked SO WELL for our family. We don’t do this every night, but we go in spurts and it truly does help. While we are sitting down to eat, my husband and I will take turns reading from a kid’s chapter book. My kids LOVE to be read to, and they would sit for hours upon hours listening to us read, which is why this works so well. They aren’t distracted or wanting to get up from the dinner table. My husband and I are able to eat our food while it’s still hot – maybe handing off the book tag-team-style every 1-2 pages.
Since our kids are sitting at the table, they are more likely to eat – but sometimes they are so focused on the book that they forget. So when we turn the page, we sometimes have to stare at them until they realize we are waiting for them to continue eating. We don’t have to nag or say any words, just “the look” works.
For some families, reading a book will not help. Find something that works for your family. If you notice your kids are extra squirrely, then suggest everyone takes a 30 second break to stand up and get the wiggles out!
We also like to talk about our plans for after dinner. Whether we are going to play a game, go outside, take a bath, etc… it helps the kids realize we only have a certain amount of time left before bed, and not to spend 2 hours eating a small plate of food.
#8 “No Thank You Bite”
I learned this trick from my daughter’s old preschool. The kids would take turns providing snack for the class, and if it was something that another child didn’t like, the teacher would ask that they take a “no thank you bite”. Meaning, just take one bite to be polite, and then you can decide if you want to eat more or not. Pairing this, with the napkin trick above – is a great way to get your kids to try more food without all of the pressure.
#9 Serve dinner family-style!
This has helped tremendously with getting my kids to eat! When I bring the food to the table, and they get to serve themselves – they instantly are in control of their own meal (even if we are having something they don’t love). They basically get to make their own food creations!
Bonus points for deconstructing the meal. Think tacos, rice bowls, salads… the more separated the ingredients – the more fun kids will having putting together their own meal. They will love getting to put their own ingredients on their plate – and might even surprise you!
#10 Play “Sample Person” or serve mini bites.
I don’t know about your family, but we LOVE going to Costco and trying all of the samples! My kids are always more adventurous to try anything there, I’m not sure because the samples are small bites – or because they trust the Costco strangers more than their parents…. Weird! But hey, we love it.
My kids also like to pretend play “Sample Person” at home and give out samples of something to the family. This is a great way to have them try new foods! Or just serve what you are having in mini bites with toothpicks at the dinner table, they will love it!
#11 Try to provide ONE thing they like.
Never, EVER, should we make 4 different meals to please everyone. If I am trying out a new recipe, or cooking something that I know is not my kids’ favorite – then I try to at least include a side that I know they do like.
My kids also know that if they don’t like something, I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT IT! Anytime we start to hear one of them saying, “But I don’t li…..” we quickly interfere with, “I’m sorry, I think you meant to say “thanks Mom, I really like ________”.
I really hope these tips help you and your family enjoy meal time together!!
PIN FOR LATER!!