6 Tips to Get Your Child to Eat Healthier

It’s dinnertime and you’re preparing yourself for another battle. “Three more bites and you can go play. No, that doesn’t count as a bite! Just eat your vegetables!” Kids are notoriously picky eaters, and it can be tough to get them to eat all the nutrients they need and teach them healthy eating habits. If you’re out of ideas and your child still won’t eat anything green or fresh, try some of these tips. With any luck, you’ll be setting your kid up for a lifetime of smart eating.

  1. Set a good example:

    When it comes to eating well, you’ve got to practice what you preach. Kids watch their parents for an example of what’s OK to eat now and what they can eat when they grow up. A Michigan State University study found that mothers who have healthy eating habits themselves are more effective in getting kids to eat well than those who used rewards and punishments to get children to eat vegetables. It’s especially important not to eat foods in front of your children that you won’t allow them to eat, as it can lead to unhealthy habits later. So put down that cheeseburger and pick up a carrot. Little eyes are watching!

  2. Let them help cook:

    Part of teaching a child to eat healthy is helping them understand how food is prepared. Even helping with small tasks, like peeling, can go a long way when it comes to a child’s willingness to eat fruits and vegetables. A study by the University of Alberta found that fifth graders who helped with the cooking chose fruits and veggies more often than their non-cooking peers. Cooking’s fun and also gives the child a sense of ownership of the food. Letting kids help choose recipes and ingredients at the store can also give them more pride in the meal, which will make them want to eat it.

  3. Start a garden:

    In the same vein as getting kids to cook meals is the idea that children who help grow vegetables in a garden will be more likely to try the fruits of their labor. Having a backyard garden, joining a community garden, or even just taking regular trips to a local farm can help children get a hands-on experience with healthy foods. A survey by gardening company W. Atlee Burpee revealed that people whose children help them in the garden find their children eating more vegetables.

  4. Limit TV time:

    Not only is it incredibly easy to mindlessly overeat while watching TV, but it also leaves children susceptible to ads geared toward getting them to crave sugary, processed foods. Marketers are shameless in advertising to children, so the more time a kid sits in front of the boob tube, the more likely he is to want junk food. In fact, for every hour of TV children watch, they are 18% more likely to eat candy, 16% more likely to eat fast food, and have an 8% smaller likelihood of eating fruit every day. During the time that your child does watch TV, make sure to have healthy snacks on hand so they won’t reach for the unhealthy munchies.

  5. Don’t use food as rewards:

    It’s tempting to reward a child with dessert or candy for eating his vegetables or other less palatable but healthy foods, but this strategy doesn’t work in the long run. Your kids will begrudgingly eat their vegetables now, but in the future, they will think of sweets as good, comfort foods and vegetables as bad, punishment foods. A 2003 study found that adults whose parents had used food as bribes for good behavior were more likely to use restrictive eating habits, like diets, and binge eat. Avoid using food as rewards and prepare your child for a lifetime of consistently healthy eating habits.

  6. Trick your kid:

    Yep, we said trick your sweet, innocent child. You’re already telling tiny lies in other areas anyway (Santa Clause is real, writing in cursive is useful, we sent the dog to a farm), so if your kids aren’t on board with the other tips here, just sneak the good stuff into your recipes. They will never know the difference. Put pureed carrots in pasta sauce, bits of spinach in your mac and cheese, and zucchini in desserts. Search online for recipes or buy a cookbook like Deceptively Delicious or The Sneaky Chef.