7 Easy Ways I Get My 3 Kids To Eat a Little Bit Healthier
Getting kids to eat healthy is hard. As parents, we all know how important it is that your kids eat well. In our fantasies, our kids have never heard of a candy bar and live exclusively on lean proteins, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains… but this vision of what we want their diets to look like doesn’t exactly align with, you know, actual reality.
So what happens when your little sweet-toothed angel just won’t play ball? What do you do when they flat-out refuse to eat the healthy, well-balanced meals you spend hours lovingly preparing?
Well, I’ve been there three times over. And I’ve battled endlessly with my 2-, 6-, and 8-year-olds in an effort to get them to eat three healthy, well-balanced meals a day (plus a couple of nutritious snacks). And over the years, I’ve discovered some tricks that really got them to eat a lot more than just chicken nuggets.
1. Break out the cookie cutters
In our house, cookie cutters are rarely used for making cookies. The kids normally use them for creating play-dough masterpieces, and they’re also employed in other arts and crafts projects. But recently, I learned a cookie cutter trick that puts our cookie cutters to even better use: getting my kids to eat foods they normally despise.
A little while ago, my two boys absolutely refused to eat the delicious sandwiches I made for their lunch. I’m talking whole-wheat bread, romaine lettuce, fresh turkey breast, and a little bit of cheese — nutritious and wholesome, right? I presented them on their favorite Mickey Mouse plates with a handful of cut-up grapes… and was treated to said plates being pushed away in disgust.
My eldest started insisting he wasn’t hungry (I knew he was lying) and asked for the cookie cutters and play-dough. And that’s when a brain wave struck: I took the sandwiches and a couple cookie cutters, and started making animal artwork out of them. I then gave the plates back, and instead of a plain sandwich, I had created a little dog, fish, and dinosaur sandwich. Cue eyes lighting up… and sandwiches being gobbled up.
I now use the cookie cutter trick on sandwiches, wholewheat pancakes, and even healthy pizza, and they always love it.
2. Get inspired by their favorite books or shows
One night, after a day spent trying to get my toddler to eat her broccoli (I failed every time) I was reading one of her favorite books, Green Eggs and Ham, when I had a great idea: What if I could somehow make green eggs, and use all those healthy ingredients she refuses to touch?
Read next: How to Get Your Kids Involved in Meal Prep
So the next day, I started cooking up my own version of green eggs. First was the exciting addition of actual greens, which I so desperately wanted to incorporate in her diet. I cooked some broccoli, peas, and cauliflower in low-salt chicken stock to give it extra flavor. Once tender, I drained the vegetables and mashed them with a little bit of butter until the texture resembled mashed potatoes.
Next up was the white part of the egg. For this, I just made mashed potatoes as normal, making them as smooth as possible. Taking the mashed potato, I spread it on the plate until it looked like the white part of a sunny-side-up egg. Next, I used an ice cream scoop to get a perfect scoop of the broccoli mix and placed it on the potato. And, voila — green eggs!
I presented this to my toddler the next day for lunch, and she was so happy and excited that she ate the whole thing. She now requests green eggs most weeks (as do my older kids).
3. Make food shopping a family activity
This tip is a bit like a buy-one-get-one-free because I’ve found it helps my kids eat better and it provides an afternoon/morning activity. Score!
Whenever we need to grocery shop, I’ll take one (or more, if I have the patience for it) of the kids with me. We start off by writing a shopping list at home where everyone gets to choose three healthy things and one treat to add to the list. This is also great because it gives us a chance to have a chat about what foods are considered healthy and which ones are seen as treats.
When we get to the store, they love going around the aisles spotting everything on the list. The fresh produce section is always great because I ask them what fruits and veggies they can see, and they always want to try a new one: especially if it’s an exotic-looking fruit. When they see my husband or me cooking at home, we play the same game and ask what ingredients we’re using that they bought at the store.
4. Get creative with toast
I got a little fed up with giving my kids cereal for breakfast. It isn’t always the healthiest, and I wanted to give them a bit more variety, but they weren’t the biggest toast fans.
Inspired by how well the cookie cutter sandwiches went down, I started experimenting with other creative ways to present food in a fun manner. After toasting some whole-wheat bread, I spread each piece with either pure peanut butter or mashed avocado.
With the peanut butter toast, I cut up the bananas and blueberries to create a little owl face, and placed them on the toast, creating a peanut butter-and-fruit owl. And I did the same with the avocado toast, but this time, I used hard boiled egg and tomatoes to create an adorable bear face.
Yes, this one is a little fiddly and time-consuming so it might be best on the weekends, but trust that all three kids eat up every scrap whenever I make this for them.
5. Use sweet potato instead of white potato
I was inspired by this recipe I found online (swapping white potato for sweet potato) and I haven’t looked back since. It adds bright, kid-friendly color to the final product.
I originally tried this swap when I wanted a healthier alternative to the kids’ favorite latkes. To be honest, they actually prefer the sweet potato version — just don’t tell my grandma! With latkes, you use white potato and onion to create pancakes that you fry in oil.
Because there is quite a lot of moisture in this recipe, I find it best to squeeze as much out as possible using a clean dish towel. Once done, I add them to a mixing bowl with an egg, some salt, garlic powder, a pinch of pepper, a glug of olive oil and half a cup of whole wheat flour. Mix everything together and form into little patties about the size of your palm. You can either bake them in the oven or fry them in a pan with a little bit of olive oil.
6. Give them breakfast for dinner
This is a trick I learned from my mom. She used to make us breakfast for dinner on days when we were being extra fussy with food. With my kids, I make a batch of scrambled eggs with a little bit of sharp cheddar grated in, and if I have time, I’ll whip up pancakes made with whole-wheat flour and a mashed banana to add extra flavor, moisture, and vitamins. On the side, I’ll cook turkey bacon, add some chopped-up fruit and honey for the pancakes, and a glass of milk to wash everything down with.
This is a perfectly reasonable, balanced meal that everyone in the house loves. The kids see it as a massive treat (we’re getting breakfast for dinner?!) and it always guarantees a good night’s sleep, too.
7. Eat together
It’s not possible for us to eat every meal together with school schedules, work, and after-school activities, but we try to sit down together as a family a few times a week. It really doesn’t matter what meal it is, as long as we’re all present.
I’ll usually make something simple: whole wheat spaghetti bolognese and “sprinkle cheese” (aka parmesan) which everyone enjoys. During this time, we don’t have screens on, and it’s really nice to just sit and talk. There’s normally some squabbling and bickering at some point, but I really love this simple family time and my kids all eat better when we do this, too. My toddler especially: she loves it when we’re all together and she can see that we’re eating the same food.
Good food brings people together. So do good emails.