10 Secrets for Getting Your Kids to Eat Better

When the “Choo-Choo” Has Been Pooh-Poohed

Kids eating healthy

Have you ever looked at someone else’s child happily scoffing a plateful of broccoli and hummus and wishfully wondered where this kid came from?

Trying to get your kids to eat well can be an uphill battle. They’re surrounded by tempting junk food on every corner, you’re busy, they’re busy, and even though you know the importance of healthy eating, convenience often trumps coercion.

So, what’s the secret behind those lentil-eating little ones?

The benefits of a healthy diet are numerous and varied, including: 

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding health problems
  • Stabilising their moods
  • Sharpening their minds
  • Improving mental and emotional wellbeing
  • Supporting growth and development 

Secret #1 Children aren’t born with cravings for candy 

Children’s eating habits and preferences are conditioned from what they have been exposed to – they don’t emerge from the womb craving ice-cream! As children are exposed to more and more unhealthy food choices, they develop a taste for these treats. And the opposite is true too – the sooner you introduce wholesome, nutritious choices into your children’s diets, the easier it will be for them to develop healthy relationships with food. 

Secret #2 Your kids are what YOU eat

Getting your children to eat well starts with setting a good example yourself. Your kids observe and learn directly from you, even when it seems that they are too young to do so. So, if your kids see you pigging out on the couch, they’re likely to want to do the same. But if they see you enjoying wholesome meals (with occasional treats), the better the chances that they will enjoy healthy food and adopt healthy habits themselves.

Secret #3 Make mealtimes about more than food 

Eating is about more than just what you put in your mouth. Making time to sit down and eat a healthy meal as a family brings everyone together and sets a good example of the importance of healthy food. The routine of eating together also brings comfort to kids, which may help enhance their appetites. 

Have fun at mealtimes by giving fun names to food – like “broccoli trees” and “super-vision carrots”. You can also get creative with presentation, using cookie cutters to turn food into fun shapes or arranging food on the plate into a pattern or shape. 

Secret #4 Build healthy associations with food 

Don’t obsess about food or comment on your own weight, which may cause your children to adopt negative associations with food. Try not to comment too much on what or how much your kids are eating. Serve a balanced meal, and leave it as your child’s responsibility to eat it. Remember that your children are developing, and their appetites fluctuate with their level of activity, their growth and their mood.

Secret #5 Emphasise the benefits of healthy food in a way they understand

No food should be deemed “good” or “bad”. Rather, encourage your children to eat healthy foods by explaining the specific benefit (in an age-appropriate way that they will understand) – like good ol’ Popeye has been doing for decades!

Some examples of what we mean:

  • “This yoghurt has lots of calcium, which helps you grow taller.”
  • “The iron in this meat will help you do better on tests.”
  • “Lentils will make you run faster.”

Secret #6 Don’t use food as a reward 

“Eat all your dinner or you won’t get dessert.”

Think about what you’re saying here – clean your plate (even if you’re full), and you’ll get an unhealthy reward! 

There’s nothing wrong with occasional treats, but avoid using food as a motivator. Instead of an ice-cream as a reward for a good test result, why not spend time going for a walk with your child (and hey, an ice-cream along the way won’t hurt!)?

Secret #7 Allow treats

Cut back on junk, but there’s no need to cut it out entirely. Having less healthy food occasionally is part of life! And it keeps these foods from becoming ‘forbidden’ (which, for children = more appealing!). Things like sweets, cookies, cooldrinks etc. can be called “sometimes” foods, rather than “forbidden” foods. 

Secret #8 Get your kids in the kitchen 

Getting your kids involved in choosing or preparing meals means that they’ll be more interested in eating what they’ve created. Take them grocery shopping and let them help choose fruit and vegetables. An easy place to start is by getting your children to choose ingredients and help make a salad (fruit salad, pasta salad, green salad etc.). Once they’ve made it, it’s up to them to eat it! If they’re old enough, you can also teach your kids how to read food labels.

Secret #9 Stock up with healthy alternatives 

Cut back on the junk you keep at home. Rather, make healthy snacks available. Nowadays, there are so many healthy alternatives – think rice cakes instead of chips, fruit chews instead of sweets, baked fries instead of french fries, yoghurt instead of ice-cream – get creative! 

Secret #10 There’s no secret

At the end of the day, every child is different. Sometimes, getting them to eat healthily comes down a combination of tactics developed through a lot of trial and error. The key is to persevere and find what works for your family. 

Encouraging healthy habits is one of the best gifts you can give your children. Another is the gift of education. School-Days is an innovative platform that helps you actively build a better future for your family. Find out more and join for free by visiting the School-Days website: https://www.schooldays.co.za/.

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