Long before I was pregnant with my first child, I decided that my children would eat healthy, balanced diets. Little did I know what a struggle that would be.
I didn’t grow up in a health conscious household. I’m pretty sure I was drinking soda by the age of 3. By 16, my diet consisted of sugar-laden cereal in the morning, lunch at the local pizza joint, an after-school-snack of chips, soda, and brownie bites, and a home cooked meal for dinner. Plus dessert.
I was 22 years old when I realized the negative impacts food was having on my body. I was out of my parents’ house, living with Chris, and eating macaroni and cheese and hot dogs on a nightly basis. My weight was steadily rising while my energy levels were draining rapidly. I spend countless hours Googling diets, healthy meals, at-home workouts, and fitness apps. Personally, I was ready to take the plunge. But nothing prepared me for having a child who’s a picky eater.
After hours of crying and being frustrated over my daughter not eating dinner, and later being hungry and wanting cereal, I gave in. I quit pushing. I let her eat Poptarts, hot dogs, chips, and cookies. Of course, this only fed the beast I worked so hard to fight.
As she gained a better ability to communicate, I started implementing a few ideas to get her to eat healthier. She was able to talk, express her wants and understand my explanation for not being allowed to have a brownie for breakfast.
I know other moms can relate to having a picky eater and finding balance. It’s overwhelming at times, and we all know it would be a lot easier if we just let them eat what they wanted and avoid the tantrums. But it doesn’t have to be hard. Getting your picky eater to eat healthier requires a little patience and lot of perseverance. You can do this momma! It
Tips from a Mom with a Picky Eater
Include your child in preparing healthy food
When you include children in activities that you are passionate about, they are more likely to follow what you are doing. If you allow them to add ingredients to a salad, and tell them what each ingredient is, they are more willing to want to try it. Just like you and I, children love to be included. These are a few ways I include my child in food prep.
- Let them know you are making food, and ask them to help. More often than not, they will be delighted.
- Grab a barstool or chair for them to stand on. They need to feel equal.
- Pour everything into measuring cups and then allow your child to dump the measuring cup into the bowl, blender, baking dish, etc.
- Explain what different ingredients are. Are they sweet? Are they sour? Ask them to tell you the color. Remember, it’s about engagement and inclusion.
- Give them a whisk or a spoon and ask them to stir.
- Praise their efforts.
There are certain things toddlers
can’t shouldn’t do, like using knives, taking dishes in an out of the oven, or flipping eggs. But, if it’s safe and you can guide them through the process, be open to their assistance.
My daughter loves to help me make green smoothies in the morning. I measure everything out and she dumps it in the blender and pushes the buttons. When we are done blending, I offer her a small glass of the shake, and she always takes it and drinks it.
Recently she helped me make this Fully Loaded Broccoli Salad. She even tried one of the pieces of raw broccoli. Although I can’t say she enjoyed it, at least she tried. And she was enjoying the carrot sticks and toasted pecans.
Set out healthy snacks throughout the day
After making and eating breakfast with your little one, it’s time to start thinking about what they will eat throughout the day. If your child is anything like mine, they are far too busy to sit down and eat a healthy snack. There are baby dolls that need bottles and naps, puzzles that need to be put together, and musical instruments to make a ruckus with. Instead of insisting they sit down for a snack, try laying out some healthy snacks on a plate. Some of our favorites are:
- Sliced apples and cheese
- Healthy, Sugar-Free Kettle Korn
- Carrot sticks and hummus
- Cucumber slices with a little salt
- Watermelon wedges
- Whole wheat crackers and peanut butter
- Sliced cheese and deli meat
Don’t make your child eat these snacks. As a parent, I think it’s important to know that some food is just going to go uneaten. If they aren’t hungry, that’s okay. But if they are hungry, having a healthy snack tray in a convenient location makes them more apt to eat healthier.
Be a role model
I’m going to be a finger pointer for a moment. You can’t expect your picky eater to eat healthy if you are sitting around eating cookies and chips all hours of the day. Your child looks up to you, sees what you’re doing, and wants to be like you. Show them that you are making healthy choices, and they will be more likely to want to do the same.
I’m not one to criticize. I like chocolate covered sins as much as the next person, but to be the best version of me and the best role model for my curious toddler, I make healthy choices.
Don’t try to fool them
Young children may be tricked easily, but as they get older, they will notice the spinach in their cheesy omelet and may feel like you lied to them. Instead, incorporate healthy ingredients into their meals and be honest about it. Tell them that there’s broccoli in their pasta. Show them the peas in chicken pot pies. They may be hesitant at first, but then you can also remind them of the ingredients they enjoy in the dish. Some of my favorite ways to incorporate healthy foods into our meals include:
- Add 1 cup of spinach to smoothies
- Add small broccoli florets to mac and cheese
- Having supreme pizza with lots of veggies
- Add peas and carrots to rice
- Include mushrooms with biscuits and gravy
Again, I never try to trick my daughter into eating these foods. These are things she already likes, and I simply add in a few ingredients that have a little more nutritional value. If she asks what something is, I tell her. Be up front and honest with your child.
Switch to healthier alternatives
This is something we have done as a family and seen a lot of success. Our daughter has always loved breakfast sausage and bacon, so we switched from regular pork products to a leaner option, turkey. She has never questioned the change or even acknowledged it. However, if she ever does, I will be honest about the source of her food. Easy switches you can make:
- Whole-wheat bread instead of white bread
- Whole-wheat pasta instead of regular pasta
- Switch out your regular bacon with turkey bacon
- Instead of pork hot dogs, try all beef hot dogs or turkey dogs
- Brown rice instead of white rice
- Mozzarella sticks instead of cheddar cheese
- Veggie Straws instead of potato chips
Some alternatives may not go over as well as others. Brown rice was a tough switch for us, but whole-wheat pasta wasn’t an issue at all. It doesn’t hurt to try, and you can always try again later if the first attempt is rejected.
Overall, I think the best tip for getting your picky eater to choose healthier options is to be patient and positive. They aren’t going to want vegetables overnight, and if you nag at them and scold them for not eating they may be more aversive to your intentions. Try to stay positive, give praise when they try a new food, talk about healthy foods you like, and continue to implement healthy ingredients into your daily meals.
Before you leave, I’d love to hear any ideas that have worked for you in getting your picky eater to eat healthier.
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