How I Got My Kid to Eat Healthier - Part 2
Last week's blog post detailed some of the things I've done to get my daughter to eat healthier, despite the fact that she had some pretty ingrained poor eating habits. This is the follow up post - part 2 - of how I fostered dietary changes in our home.
I took control of my kitchen. My daughter, even at the age of 7, is not allowed to just waltz into the kitchen, open the fridge and start eating. She must ask first. And then I give her options…
Give them options. As I said, when my daughter is hungry, she must first ask for a snack. When she does, I give her two or three healthy options from which she can choose. Her options are usually fruit, cottage cheese, or almonds. If she’s not hungry enough to eat any of those things, then she’s not really hungry.
Designate a cabinet or drawer for your kids and stock it with healthy options. I have recently designated a “special” drawer in the fridge for my daughter. I stock the drawer with mom-approved healthy foods. The bonus to doing this is that she feels like she gets to have some control over her choices. She still must ask before entering my refrigerator, but she can now go into her drawer and choose whatever healthy option she wants.
Clean the counter tops. I don't keep much junk food in the house, but what little we have is always out of sight. I don't keep cereals, candy, crackers, chips, or cookies on my counter top. There are no candy dishes scattered around my house during the holidays. In the place of these unhealthy items I keep less perishable fruits and other healthy foods available in plain sight. Apples, oranges, bananas, packages of beef jerky, and almonds adorn our kitchen counter.
Find ways to upgrade your favorites, but make the switches slowly. I’m all about finding ways to upgrade favorite foods and recipes. For example, my daughter loves tortilla chips. There are many new options on the market these days, but even I’ll admit that there are differences in flavor and texture. A baked chip made from beans or quinoa just isn’t quite the same as a fried corn tortilla chip. So when I wanted to switch from the regular corn tortilla chips to the ones made from beans (Beanitos are the best!) I began by mixing the two together. She noticed, but she kept right on eating both kinds of chips. Eventually I was able to stop buying corn tortilla chips with no problems. I did the same thing with pasta. I wanted to switch from the standard white pasta made from wheat to pasta made from chickpeas (if you haven’t tried Banza Pasta, you should give it a go!). I mixed them together the first few times…and no one even noticed…not even my husband!
Do the school-lunch test-run. I have found that my daughter is far more likely to try and accept new foods when she’s in a different setting (away from me) and surrounded by her peers. Since she’s picky, she won’t buy lunch at school, so I make her lunch every day (thank the Lord). Every now and then I throw in a little “surprise”. When she gets home from school, I check her bag and casually ask her how lunch was. Sometimes my “trial runs” are flops…but other times I’m pleasantly surprised by what she’ll eat when I’m not looking over her shoulder. This is how I got her to start eating almonds, guacamole, and hummus.
If it’s on my plate, it’s on hers too. If I make carrots and brussels sprouts for dinner, everyone gets carrots and brussels sprouts. Young children may refuse to eat the veggies, but that does not mean the veggies shouldn’t make an appearance on their plate.
Don’t fight over it…but don’t be afraid to use some leverage. My kid loves dessert after dinner. And as long as she has eaten the protein and every healthy fruit and vegetable on her plate, she’s allowed to have a sweet treat. If she’s not hungry enough to eat the chicken, carrots, and apple slices, she’s not hungry enough to eat dessert either. Plain and simple. But the choice is hers. We effectively put the decision in her hands. If she chooses to eat her healthy foods, she can have the dessert. If she’s not hungry or really doesn’t want to eat the broccoli, she doesn’t have to…but no dessert. It’s not worth fighting with your kids over eating their veggies or cleaning their plate. Put the choice in their hands. If they choose to eat their healthy foods, they get whatever it is they want.
Fill them up with the good to leave less room for the bad. This is how I got my daughter to ditch cereal, waffles, bagels, French toast, and pancakes for breakfast. I began insisting that she eat an egg scrambled with cheese and a half of a banana BEFORE she could eat any of the other above-mentioned junk foods. And, yes, for a while she would eat her healthy breakfast and then I’d have to make her a pancake or a waffle. But once she got used to eating a protein-rich breakfast, I slowly increased the amount of egg, cheese, and banana I gave her while simultaneously reducing the amount of pancakes I’d make for her. Eventually I just stopped buying the junk altogether and she was fine with this because by the time she’d get done with her healthy breakfast, she wasn’t really hungry for the other stuff anyway.
Let them help. Start a little garden. Let them help you in the kitchen! Yes it takes more time and often creates more mess for you. But it bestows the best gift of all for them: the passed-down knowledge and traditions of cooking healthy food at home. It's great that we cook for our kids in an effort to keep them healthy...it's even better when we cook with them so they learn how to do it themselves.
Teach them that taking care of their beautiful bodies is the greatest act of self-love. If you’re a woman, chances are good you’ve stood in front of a mirror and hated something (or everything) about your body. Chances are good that you’ve overeaten and thought – or maybe even said out loud – that you feel like a fat pig. I feel these feelings too. Sometimes I hate my body. I have days when my clothes just don’t seem to fit right. I overeat every now and then and feel like a gluttonous sloth. Part of my reasons for working out and eating right are shallow and based on aesthetics. But I make a concerted effort to never say anything negative about my body in front of my child, no matter how bad I feel. Everything I do – from working out to eating healthy – is done under the guise of “keeping my body healthy” so that I can “do the things I love to do”…like play with her. This is what I tell my daughter, and most of the time it’s the truth…the other times when it’s not, I just keep it to myself.
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