Transitioning to Healthier Eating with Kids

People often ask if my kids eat everything I make, especially the more unique recipes. And the answer is, for the most part, they do. I attribute this to the fact that the healthy food I eat is the food they’ve been offered their whole lives. This doesn’t always mean they are always dying to try my weirdest dishes but for the most part we don’t have much of a fight.

That being said, my girls do have different tastes and sometimes one just doesn’t love something that the other might and we do have to adjust according, but within reason. Just because someone doesn’t like the dinner I made doesn’t mean they get heir own made to order meal. They still eat what was made but they may be allotted more of what they prefer and less of what they don’t.

But what about kids who didn’t grow up with healthy eating and are resisting the transition? Well there isn’t a one size fits all answer. The age of child makes a big difference and their personal preferences and level of stubbornness to try new things all play a factor. For example, Tilly will succumb to eating a dinner she doesn’t particularly love if she has a sweet she wants to eat but can only have after she finishes dinner. On the other hand, Cecily will go without the Sweet and will refuse to finish her meal. I’m fine with both. My kid isn’t going to die because she didn’t eat her dinner and I don’t have to feel bad about her not getting a sweet, it was her choice. I also feel fine about offering a positive reward for my child who did decide to finish her meal.

I’ll address a harsher opinion first and then hop of my soap box and share some less intense ideas after.

Assuming your children aren’t old enough to walk out of the house and go buy their own food at the store, kids aren’t going to starve. And if you get rid of the crap in the house and only offer healthy food to your kids, they will eventually choose to eat over choosing to starve. The secret to success with this cold turkey switch? Your ability as a parent to ignore the whining long enough to let your children choose to eat the healthier options. It is a battle of wills and yours has to be stronger and more patient. I often times hear “oh my kid won’t eat anything healthy I make.” Really? I wonder…is that because after 20 minutes of them complaining you allowed them to get what they wanted out of the pantry? Or did you make them a second dinner? If so, that’s like telling your child they can’t drive the car but then handing them the keys after they complain long enough. I’m not saying your kids will choose to eat the healthy food today, or even tomorrow, but they likely won’t skip too many meals before deciding that food is better than I food.

As for handling spouses/partners or teenagers who refuse to eat what you offer?Thats a different battle entirely that I have no qualifications to address. I’ll jut pray for you. 😉 The more you and your partner can be on the same page regarding health and diet, the exponentially easier the switch will be for the entire family.

It’s no secret that the older your kids are the harder transition it becomes. Which speaks volumes to the importance of starting early!

Ok now that I’m off my soap box let’s hear some less intense options shall we? In my opinion, the easiest way to transition is slowly and consistently. Start regulating the sweets first. Start with only one Sweet a day. After that, replace snacks at home with healthy options. Instead of chips, fruit snacks (which are not a healthy option), and juice, try offering REAL FOOD like hand fruit, berries, vegetables nuts, raisins, string cheese, and water. Don’t try and force your kids to eat these foods but have them easily available throughout the day so that when I child (or you) is hungry they easier options are the healthier ones.

Next you can adjust meals. Make simple adjustments to breakfast. Add some healthy fats to breakfast like eggs and avocados or even breakfast meats in addition to their pancakes, then slowly limit the pancakes eaten or trade the Bisquick out for a healthy pancake recipe like I’ve shared in other posts. Breakfast may be the hardest switch if you are just giving your kids cold cereal. In which case, stop immediately and she make the sacrifice to fuel your child’s body with something other than sugar. (We’ll save the details on that soap box for another day.)

Lunchtime at my house involves a lot of finger foods. We snack a lot at my house and I find it easier to get my kids to snack on healthy foods like nuts, berries, cheeses, and veggies than it is to eat then to eat a chicken breast, sweet potato and salad with me. I’m sure you may feel the same. Sometimes I think moms feel emotionally gratified when their child eats, so we push them to eat a meal or make them something they will love, rather than allowing them to listen to their bodies and select healthy foods that will satisfy their cravings. I remover how I used to stress myself out SO much when my toddlers wouldn’t eat what I thought was “enough.” But neither of them died…shocker….they were listening to their bodies.

(Home made apple chips were a hit with the girls!)

Dinners are tricky too because you don’t want to make a cold turkey switch if you don’t have to. So for any adult or child I think it best to slowly substitute good food in place of bad food. More healthy for less healthy. Add some more protein and leave out some noodles, trade flour noodles for sweet potato noodles, spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles. Switch white potatoes for yams, trade quinoa for rice, make broccoli instead of a iceberg lettuce salad, etc. make the transition slowly. Build on what you know your family already likes and run with it. Your family will probably notice the absence of unhealthy food less than they will the introduction of some new weird food. Slowly eliminate the bad for something good, then better, and eventually best.

I do believe that moderation in all things is key. Currently I’m trying to teach my daughters the appropriate amount of sweets to eat and allow them to embrace the cookies when they come. Often times all the girls want to eat is bread or crackers/pretzels. Pretzels and crackers are rarely in our house bare on occasion. Realizing that grains are beneficial to growing bodies I buy the healthiest wheat bread available and limit consumption. If the girls want bread it needs to be coupled with a protein or healthy fat and they get to choose their favorite one to with or along side the bread.

That’s what moderation looks like at our house. But moderation is a term flung around with varying degrees of meaning. Moderation doesn’t mean only 2 ice cream sandwiches a day instead of 3. That may be a good start to cutting back on your ice cream addiction but it isn’t moderation. Evaluate where you may be making justifications and do your research to learn how impactful food is and then stick to your guns. Your kids won’t starve.

I know I am only one woman with a limited scope of perspective. I realize that everyone has a different situation, different limitations and obstacles in the way of healthy eating. But I hope some of the things I’ve shared with you may help give you a boost of confidence in helping your family, and especially young children, transition into making healthier food choices. It can be done and it will indefinitely benefit heir lifelong health!

Please comment and share your secrets about what has worked for you and your kids. I’ve only touched the tip of the ice berg and would love to learn more from each of you!