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My Tips on Raising Healthy Little Eaters

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I want to open this post up by first stating that, I DO NOT HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS! What has worked for me, may not work for your family. We by no means eat perfectly in our house but DO make it a priority to fuel our body with good nutrition as best and as often as we can. My little also definitely does not like eating all of the healthy things I make her.

In fact, I think I need to clarify that this picture is not the reality it may seem to be.. (happy toddler joyfully eating her whole bowl of salad)

Reality was, I gave her the bowl she asked for and then like many toddler’s, she had a moment of bio polar-ness and decided she didn’t want it anymore.

I wanted to write this post to simply share a few things that WE have done that I believe has helped my child want to eat (and even ask for) most of the healthy foods we offer in our home, most of the time. This is not an exhaustive list of all the things we have done, but I will highlight what I feel like has been the most beneficial.

I hope that it will help you encourage your kids to eat healthy too! It CAN happen!! It just may take some time, intentionality and lots of patience (especially if you didn’t start off when they were babies), but it is SO worth it for their health!!

#1: Be The Example

I cannot emphasize this one enough!! It MUST start here. Our kids are watching everything that we do, including what we are eating. How confusing would that be and unfair for us to be telling our kids to eat healthy foods when we are not even doing that ourselves. This should apply in all areas of our life, not just food. They learn by watching us. This will not only benefit the health of your child, but you as well. You will be a better parent for taking care of yourself in this way. You will have more energy, less illness, more stable moods and so much more.

#2: Ideally, Start With First Foods

Now of course some of you may have already missed that window of opportunity. That doesn’t mean you can’t still teach your kids to eat healthy, it may just take a little bit more effort, patience and intentionality. But, for those that are planning to have kids in the future or have little babies currently and wondering what to do for first foods, our family has leaned a lot on the wisdom of Sally Fallon in her book ‘The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Childcare’. We used the advice from this book to decide which foods we would introduce first to our kids and how we would continue to feed them throughout the first few years of life. We don’t do everything in this book, but definitely agree with a lot of it!

If you aren’t already pregnant, she discusses a lot about nutrition for pre-pregnancy to prepare your body for that well, as well as pregnancy and nursing moms. All of these stages are equally important in supporting a baby that will grow to thrive.

#3: Involve Them In Cooking

Kids LOVE to help in the kitchen, at least mine do! Of course it can make for a messier experience that may take twice as long, but in my experience, when Harper is involved in the cooking, she is MUCH more likely to eat the meal we made. While we are preparing the meal together, she is getting to learn about all different kinds of foods and what they look like, what color they are, and even snack on some of the ingredients.

I pay close attention to what she likes to grab and snack on while we are cooking. Often times it is a raw vegetable I never would have thought she would even like and one I don’t offer her very often, and then to my surprise, she loves it! For example, I recently discovered she loves raw bell peppers. Who would have thought?? I never would have known this if she had not been a part of helping me making dinner one night because I never think to cut up raw bell peppers as a veggie for her. I usually go with something easier like carrots. Now bell peppers are regularly cut up for an easy veggie to go with lunch most days.

It will depend on the age of course in how involved they are in cooking, but there is always little ways each different age can help.

#4: Don’t Assume They Wont Like Things

I think it is so easy to fall into the idea that kids will not like certain foods. Our culture has led us to believe there is “kid food” and then there is “adult food”. Certainly kids would not want to eat salad! Even being in the mindset of wanting to feed my child nutrient dense foods from the beginning, I always assumed she would never want to eat salad for some reason. Well, I was wrong. This goes back to the ‘Be The Example’ tip that I gave you. I typically make a side salad most days to go with my lunch and/or dinner. One afternoon, Harper pointed at my salad and asked to eat some. I thought, really? Ok, you probably won’t like it, but sure! Turns out, she finished my whole salad before I even got hardly a bite then asked for more!! All this time I had been trying to hide her greens in smoothies. Turns out, she would have just eaten her greens straight up in a salad.

From that point on, I have tried to offer her a salad every time I make myself one. She doesn’t always want it, but most of the time she does.  This example leads right into my next tip.

#5: Make A Mental Note of the Healthy Foods They Do Like

Of course your kid won’t like every healthy food that you offer them, but if you find one they do, RUN WITH IT!!! If carrots are the only vegetable your kid likes at the time, let them eat them as much as possible. One vegetable is better than none. Keep introducing new healthy foods and reintroducing old ones they didn’t like before and they may come around. We have gone through so many stages with Harper of loving certain healthy foods to then wanting nothing to do with them for periods of time. They have a mind of their own just like we do and won’t always be in the mood for certain foods.

#6 Get Sneaky/Creative

While kids can no doubt be picky, I don’t believe this is an excuse to throw in the towel and give your kids junk food and chalk it up to them just being picky. There are plenty of healthy foods out there to rotate around and find ones that they will like. Or, you may just have to get a little creative/sneaky. This again will just take some patience and intentionality.

For example, Harper went through a phase where she didn’t want to drink smoothies. This was also a phase where she wasn’t eating much of ANY vegetable, and so smoothies were my insurance that she was getting lots of good nutrition in her each day because I could hide lots of things in it she wasn’t liking at the time. At this same time, one of Harpers FAVORITE foods was yogurt, so, instead of serving her smoothies out of a cup with a straw, I would serve it in a small bowl and tell her that it was yogurt. She would devour the whole bowl and have no idea she was eating a smoothie. To her it was just a new flavor of yogurt.

When I make smoothies for Harper I typically will add the following:

  • Avocado for a good source of fat, fiber and is also loaded with potassium. Will make the smoothie nice and creamy.
  • Small handful of kale or spinach
  • Teaspoon or two of chia or flax seeds for the omega 3’s they provide as well as some added protein and more fiber
  • Some milk (we like to use almond milk)
  • Maybe a dash of raw honey (only after she was 1. Raw honey is not to be consumed for children under the age of 1)
  • 1/4-1/2 a scoop of vital proteins collagen peptides
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of a blend of frozen fruit
  • 1/2 small banana

Sometimes they may just be at a stage where they want different textures.

For example, Harper LOVED mashed avocado at one point and then all of a sudden wanted nothing to do with it. It took me awhile to figure this out, but one day I tried offering it to her in slices because she could chew a little better at this point, and she devoured the whole avocado.

We also went through a phase of her loving plain scrambled eggs to all of a sudden not wanting to touch them. I learned that if I made casseroles or egg muffins with other flavors and ingredients in them however, she would eat them. She just needed a change up. I can totally relate. I don’t like having the same thing every morning either! Keep things interesting for your kids so they are excited to eat healthy foods!

There are lots of healthy muffin and breakfast cookie recipes available now too that you can sneak in lots of healthy ingredients.

Here are a few of our favorites:

#6: Control Snacking

This one took me awhile to figure out too, but when I started limiting Harper’s snacks, she started eating SO much more at meal times. Out of routine I used to offer her a snack mid morning and then right when she would wake up from her afternoon nap but I found that she wouldn’t eat much for lunch or dinner when I did this. I decided to stop offering it to her and just wait for her to tell me if she was hungry.

If she tells me she is hungry around 10:30 or 11, I go ahead and just do an early lunch so she gets in some more nutrient dense and filling foods. If she is still hungry after lunch, then I’ll offer some of our more snacks foods. I try to do the same for dinner.

You will have to use your judgment as a parent on the extra snacking outside of meal times. Harper has a tendency to tell me she is hungry if she is bored or wanting my attention. She will tell me she is hungry literally right after she had a HUGE breakfast. We as the parents do have to teach them self control also and can’t let them just eat all of the time. Know your kid to judge this one correctly. Sometimes they really are hungry as they are growing all of the time!

#7: Don’t Always Offer A Second Option

Kids are smart. If you always offer them a less healthy option after they refuse what you made for them to eat first, they will quickly learn that if they whine or complain about it then they will eventually get the foods they want. Again, you have to be the judge on this one as the parent what will be best for your child, but I believe if a kid is hungry enough, they will eat it.

Now that Harper is old enough to reason with, if she refuses to eat something I made her, I say “Ok, that’s fine, you can be done if you aren’t hungry, but if you are still hungry, I will leave this here for you to come eat when you are ready.” More often than not, the whole plate is empty an hour or so later. However, sometimes she just chooses not to eat it, but she doesn’t get anything else. Sometimes kids really aren’t hungry when we are all sitting down to eat. I don’t think we need to force them to eat if they aren’t hungry.

#8: Offer Foods In An Intentional Order

I don’t do this as much now as I did when we were first introducing foods to Harper, but I quickly learned that if I offered Harper fruit before her veggies or source of protein, nothing else would get eaten and she would only want more fruit.  So, in order to get a well balanced meal in for her, I would offer the less sweet foods first and then offer some fruit as a dessert.

#9: Relax

At the end of the day, if your kid doesn’t like their vegetables or anything healthy for that matter, this doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. However, don’t give up! Keep trying. It is so worth it to get your kids good nutrient dense meals and snacks throughout the day! I guarantee you will notice a huge difference in their behavior, potentially sleep patterns, their immune systems and so much more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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