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Family health

10 ways to raise a good eater

Your kids want dessert and candy. You want protein and vegetables. Bring them over to your side with a proactive approach to healthy eating.

By Chelsea Dolan

10 ways to raise a good eater

Photo: iStockphoto

Your kids want dessert and candy. You want protein and vegetables. Bring them over to your side with a proactive approach to healthy eating.

Get them cooking

Kids who lend a hand in the kitchen learn invaluable skills and are more likely to try meals they've helped create.(It never hurts to teach them the skills of washing dishes, either.) Young children enjoy helping choose and wash fresh fruits and vegetables. As they grow, they can progress to stirring, scooping, or carefully cutting soft items.

woman with her little daughter with curly fluffy hair having fun and making pastries in the kitchen. Mom and daughter cooking together. Valerii Apetroaiei/ Getty Images

Creativity sells

Show your kid there's more than one way to serve most foods. If they don't like sweet potato mash, encourage them to try sweet potato fries instead (or any of these crowd-pleasing sweet potato recipes!).If they won't eat an apple, make it more interesting by slicing it up and dipping it in peanut butter.

Try making fun shapes using cookie cutters or explore different textures by serving the same food multiple ways at once. Tap into your kid's favourite topics or characters with themed foods like a picnic lunch or all the snacks their favourite character enjoys. Encourage playing with fun shapes by building a mashed potato volcano or sliced carrot coins perfect for stacking.

Mother and daughter having fun with the vegetables in the kitchen. Petar Chernaev/ Getty Images

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Use the 80/20 rule

Tell your kids that if they make nutritious choices 80 percent of the time, the remaining 20 percent can be for treats, like sweets or fast food. This shows them the occasional indulgence won't hurt, as long as they're making healthier choices overall.

Making healthy, nutritious choices at least 80 percent of the time will provide plenty of wholesome foods and chances to try new things while keeping a healthy view of snacks and treats. Food is not good or bad, so avoid shaming less nutritious choices.

Lovely daughter enjoying traditional snacks while helping her mother to prepare red envelops (lai see) at home for Chinese New Year AsiaVision/ Getty Images

Avoid food rewards

If you give your kid a cookie for good behaviour—or to cheer them up after a hard day—they'll start to associate food with praise or emotions rather than hunger. Instead, reward them with hugs, kind words or stickers.

Develop healthier rewards early. Unhealthy comfort eating and rewards with treats can contribute to eating disorders and obesity. These are very difficult habits to overcome later.

Learning to calculate, high five success, mother and child FlamingoImages/ Getty Images

Tune in to hunger

When your kid says they're hungry, they might just be bored or craving sweets. You don't want to label those things as bad, but it can help to understand the difference between a rumbly tummy and the desire for a pick-me-up. Brainstorm other ways to deal with boredom or cravings.

Try having a glass of water and redirecting to a fun game or activity instead. If they still feel hungry after a drink and some movement, that's when a nutritious snack is a great go-to.

My daughter did not want to eat her food and gave a sad face. Laura Olivas/ Getty Images

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Don't trick them

It can be tempting to hide veggies in your kid's meals. But even though they are eating those secret carrots, they aren't learning to eat actual carrots, one of the keys to lifelong healthy eating.

Encourage kids to try veggies in many forms to find what they like, but never force foods that are refused. Once you find a winner keep at it and build on similar flavors, colors, or textures! This is especially important for kids with sensory or food-avoidant issues. It's much easier to learn to like new veggies that are similar to things they already know that they like.

Big happy family have fun and having healthy meal together on the table filadendron/ Getty Images

Serve family style

Instead of dishing out a serving for your kid, leave dinner on the table in platters and bowls, allowing them to build their own plate. Avoid the temptation to correct how much food your kid is taking—they'll figure it out after a while.

Kids learn the best by experimenting and making their own choices. Make sure every meal has at least one thing that you already know they'll eat, and then make them in charge of their own choices.

family and cousins having reunion dinner at home Patrick Chu/ Getty Images

Don't put dessert on a pedestal

It's oh-so-tempting to use dessert as a motivator for eating healthy foods, but saying things like "eat your broccoli or you won't get cake" tells your kid broccoli is bad, but they will be rewarded with something good for eating it.

Instead, try serving small treats at the same time as other foods without discriminating between them. The more you try to bribe kids to do something that they don't want to, the harder they're going to resist. Remind them of times they have enjoyed their healthy foods and let them share your enjoyment. You can tell them how tasty those veggies are without shaming dessert. Forbidden and highly controlled foods also become more tempting! Why would they eat their veggies when they'd rather have desserts that are treated as something much more special?

Multi-Generation Family Celebrating Christmas At Home With Grandfather Serving Turkey monkeybusinessimages/ Getty Images

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Snacks vs. treats

Explain to your kids that snacks are meant to be mini meals made up of whole foods like fruit, nuts and whole grains (not added sugar) to give them energy between meals. Save treats for special occasions, like movie nights or visits with the grandparents.

Try keeping healthy snacks ready to grab in a hurry and talk to kids about the benefits of whole foods. Prepare to get excited explaining how their veggie sticks and almonds will help them run faster, jump higher, and have lots of energy to keep playing longer!

mother and little son eat cookies with milk for breakfast at home evgenyatamanenko/ Getty Images

Model proper eating habits

Your kid is watching you, so make sure they see you eating vegetables, not skipping breakfast, and even enjoying an occasional treat. When you normalize a healthy diet, it becomes their norm too.

Setting a good example is the single best way to teach kids to have a good relationship with food and their bodies, and that example starts with making sure that your own views and habits are healthy. Kids are even more likely to make healthier choices when they're surrounded by peers who are already good eaters.

Mother and kids in car Jupiterimages/ Getty Images

Read more:
I fed my kids the new Canada's Food Guide and let's just say it was a bad week
8 healthy snacks toddlers will love

This article was originally published on Apr 26, 2019

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