Getting kids to eat well is a struggle, no matter what degree you have. We want them to eat well, but they often resist. Then we don’t want to pressure them because they can tell we want that and will resist even more. Sometimes it feels like you can never win, am I right?
This week I’m joined with a new friend and blogger from right here in Fort Collins! Chelsea, or “Mae” is a great resource for healthy eating and an active lifestyle. You are going to love her post and the very tangible items you can try today to help set your kids up for healthy eating success.
If you like this post, be sure to go back and read How to Raise Healthy Eaters by Dr. Sara Fox, Part One and Part Two!
It’s one challenge to learn how to eat (& enjoy!) healthier foods ourselves, but a whole other issue to teach and get kids to do the same. How do we model for, encourage, and inspire kids to eat healthier foods so they’re set up for best health and success when they get older?
After all, so much of healthy eating is about having habits set in place to make it a part of our lives without even having to think about it.
Below are some of my best ways to help encourage and motivate kids to eat well — and most, importantly, have fun and enjoy it along the way.
8 Tips for Healthy Eating!
Try some of the ideas out with your kids and let me know how it goes by messaging me on Instagram or commenting on my blog. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Tip 1: Have your kids help cook
Even if your kids just stir the batter a few times or help wash the vegetables, having them be involved in the cooking process can help them feel more invested in the meal and, therefore, more likely to eat and enjoy it.
It’s all about building that internal motivation — the most effective form of motivation — in your kids so they feel inspired internally to try the meal they helped make.
Tip 2: Have your kids help choose what to have for a meal
And by that, I mean to give them a few options for dinner and let them choose which option they want. This way the kids have healthier options to choose from while also feeling that the meal choice was theirs.
This is a super important strategy when kids are in the “no” phase. In this phase they’re learning their own agency and separation from the other people and adults in their lives. Instead of just saying “no,” they can slowly learn to identify what they do want and like.
Pro-tip: If you have multiple kids, rotate the nights that the kids choose, or let them work together to decide which options they like the best.
Tip 3: Hide veggies in dishes
What a better way to get kids to eat healthier than to have them not even realize they are eating healthier! This initially takes some creativity and experimentation, but eventually you’ll find the favorite veggies you like adding to meals. And this doesn’t need to be misleading. If the kids ask about what’s in the dish, tell them. You just don’t need to offer up the information if they don’t ask.
Here are some of my favorite ways to sneak them in:
- Adding shredded carrots or zucchini to pasta sauce
- Stirring pureed butternut squash into macaroni and cheese
- Adding minced mushrooms, extra onions, or even cooked and drained spinach to meatloaf or burgers
- Working extra vegetables to soup
- Pouring an extra can of tomatoes or diced peppers and onions into chili
Tip 4: Eat a healthy diet yourself
Kids are most likely to mimic or replicate what they observe in their parents. When they see you choose an apple and cheese or low-sugar granola and yogurt for a snack, they will have better chances of considering a similar snack in the future.
I know this can be so hard to do for many busy families, but for this reason, eating family dinners together as often as is doable can also help kids eat healthier. This works because kids will have the chance to observe a healthy diet regularly. Even eating together as a unit 2-3 times/week is better than not doing this at all.
This Blueberry Pineapple Smoothie is a great way for kids and parents to enjoy a healthy and delicious breakfast or snack. If you’re on the go, pour this smoothie in travel containers and everyone can eat it on the way to school (or work!).
Blueberry Pineapple Smoothie
Smoothies can be an easy way to work healthy food into the diet. This smoothie is more mild and simple in taste, making it kid-friendly and also easy enough for some older kids to make by themselves.
- Frozen fruit actually works best in this smoothie and makes it easiest to make year-around. You can use fresh fruit, however you will want to increase the ice to 1 ½ cups if you do so.
- Plain whole milk yogurt is my favorite yogurt for smoothies because it adds the best flavor and is filling. You can use a nut milk yogurt or a lower fat dairy milk yogurt if you’d prefer, however.
- You can use vanilla yogurt, but I don’t recommend adding the honey if you do.
- Add the honey if you’d like a sweeter smoothie. Without it, the smoothie is naturally sweet from the pineapple but doesn’t taste like dessert.
Servings: 2 large smoothies or 3 smaller smoothies
Cook time: 5 minutes
- 1 cup milk (dairy, oat, almond, or otherwise)
- ½ cup plain yogurt (preferably whole milk)
- 3/4 cup frozen or fresh pineapple chunks
- 1 ¼ cup frozen or fresh blueberries
- 1 cup ice
- 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
Add all the ingredients to the blender in the order listed. Add the blender lid on and run on medium speed until the smoothie is creamy and smooth.
Pour into glasses and serve!
- This recipe is best served straight out of the blender. Leftovers can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for a day or 2, but you’ll need to shake the smoothie up or stir before serving.
- You can freeze the leftover smoothies. Store in a freezer-safe container, defrost for 12-24 hours in the refrigerator and stir thoroughly before enjoying.
Tip 5: “Re-brand” healthy foods
I have a friend who tells her kids that air-fried green beans are “green bean french fries” and the kids go crazy over them.
So, possibly start melting some cheese on your veggie burgers and just calling them “cheeseburgers,” or make some banana nice cream and just refer to it as “ice cream.”
Re-branding veggies and healthy foods can even be as simple as how you talk about them. Maybe instead of using terms like “healthy,” try discussing how a certain veggie will help us grow big and strong, make us smart, or help us feel better. When kids understand the nuances of what healthy means for them they can feel more empowered to want to choose those veggies for themselves.
Tip 6: Find healthier ways to enjoy the same kid-friendly foods
I find it so encouraging to see how many healthier food options there are on the market today:
- Instead of fruit roll-ups – buy 100% dried fruit bars or fruit leathers
- Instead of french fries — air fry or oven roast seasoned potato wedges or fries
- Instead of regular tater tots — roast up some sweet potato tots
- Instead of regular ketchup — lower the corn syrup by using organic ketchup
- Instead of sugar-laden granola bars — try this super easy no-bake granola bar recipe with minimal added sugar
There are so many new ways to enjoy food and there seem to be even more options coming out every day — whether it be new recipes or new products on the store shelves. Have fun exploring the options with your kids!
Tip 7: Experiment with preparing fruits and veggies in different ways to see how your kids best enjoy them
Do your kids like roasted veggies instead of raw vegetable dippers? Air-fried green beans instead of steamed?
Discover new ways of preparing and enjoying the same vegetables to see if your kids like them best when prepared in certain methods. A bonus benefit of this is you may find the other methods are quicker or easier for you to make, or that you even prefer them better this way, too!
Tip 8: Make it fun!
What is healthy food if it isn’t just good for us and tasty? For us adults, we may get enjoyment out of different textures, unique ingredients, or how indulgent a dish is, but often for kids it’s a matter of something being tasty but also fun and memorable.
- using alphabet pasta in vegetable soup
- making healthy pancakes in different shapes
- wrapping up turkey and vegetables in a tortilla pinwheel-style wrap.
Whatever way you try it, it doesn’t need to be tricky or involved to make it fun for kids. Try out some of the recipe ideas above, ask your kid what they’d like to try, or try my wafflewich recipe below!
Peanut Butter Banana Wafflewiches
Easily reinvent peanut butter banana sandwiches with these Peanut Butter Banana Wafflewiches. You and your kids will love them because they take less than five minutes to make and don’t require any hard-to-find ingredients.
- Make your sandwiches first and then spread the butter on the outside. Otherwise, it can be tricky to spread the peanut butter on the bread.
- If you or your kids are allergic to or do not like peanut butter, you can substitute in sunflower seed or almond butter. You can also mix some maple syrup into tahini and use that.
- If you don’t have a waffle iron you can also make this on the stovetop like a grilled cheese sandwich. Toast the sandwich on a non-stick pan over medium heat for 1.5-2 minutes per side and then serve.
Servings: 2 wafflewiches
Cook time: 5 minutes
- 4 pieces sandwich bread
- 4 tablespoons peanut butter or other nut or seed butter (see notes above)
- 1 banana, sliced into ⅛ coins
- 1 tablespoon softened coconut or dairy milk butter
- 2 tablespoons honey, optional (for dipping)
- Preheat your waffle iron to medium heat.
- Spread 2 tablespoons of your nut or seed butter on one piece of bread. Layer half of the banana slices on top and cover with a second piece of bread. Repeat with the second two pieces of bread to make 2 sandwiches.
- Spread the coconut or dairy butter on the outside of the pieces of bread to cover.
- Once the waffle iron is preheated, add 1 sandwich at a time to the iron, close it, and cook for 1.5-2 minutes, or until the iron grill marks are a nice golden-brown and the peanut butter is melted.
- Repeat with the second sandwich. Cut the sandwiches into pieces and serve with some honey for dipping, if desired!
- This recipe is best served straight out of the waffle iron, though you can store them in airtight containers in the fridge for 2-3 days. Reheat on low in the toaster oven for best results.
However you decide to enjoy healthier food with your kids, I hope it’s a fun, memorable, and delicious experience your whole family will love and appreciate now and down the road.
Chelsea Plummer is the food blogger behind Mae’s Menu, a food blog with recipes for runners and other athletes. Chelsea lives in Fort Collins and has run 4 marathons, 11+ half-marathons, and is currently training to qualify for the Boston Marathon. In addition to creating all of the original recipes for Mae’s Menu, Chelsea is a hairdresser, dog mom, and obsessive book reader. Follow her on Youtube and on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook at @maesmenu.
These are great tips! I can’t wait to make the waffles. My mouth is watering!
Yes!! So good and so simple 😊