“But it’s good for you!” Sound familiar? We’ve all been there—negotiating, begging, even bribing our kids to eat “just one bite” of broccoli. It’s an age-old power struggle that usually leaves everyone feeling frustrated. So, how do you get your kids to eat their veggies? You don’t.
“Getting” kids to eat anything just doesn’t work. Sure, you might cajole your little one to choke down that green veg, but next time it shows up on the plate, you’ll likely end up in that dreaded dance all over again.
Here are three tactics that actually work for raising kids who eat and enjoy a variety of foods.
Kids need to learn about food and eating just like they learn how to walk, talk and use the toilet. Each child will get there at their own pace if we set the stage and support them along the way.
TIP: Think of your child as a “future adult.” What do you want their relationship with food and eating to look like down the road? Will they enjoy eating? Will they be relaxed and comfortable eating a variety of different foods? If you’re not there to push it, will they eat that broccoli? Picture how your actions and your child’s food experiences today will influence their future habits and attitudes about eating.
Focus less on how many veggies your kid is eating right now and more on how you can enable them to become a relaxed and competent eater who is able to enjoy food and feed their bodies what they need. That means providing balanced and regular meals, but letting kids be in charge of what and how much they eat.
Young kids are concrete learners. They can’t see “nutrition” or “health,” so they don’t understand these abstract concepts and messages. Knowing which nutrients a food contains doesn’t motivate anyone to eat it. Have you ever opened the fridge looking for Vitamin K?
TIP: Kids learn about the world around them by interacting with it using their five senses. So, harness their natural curiosity. Create opportunities for your kids to explore and experience food away from mealtimes, with zero pressure to eat anything.
Instead of “peppers have lots of Vitamin C,” notice their vibrant colour and wonky shape. Feel the smooth, shiny surface. Count the bumps. Find the stem and talk about where the pepper came from. Research how it grew. Cut a pepper open together and notice what’s inside. Breathe in its rich, earthy smell.
Food nourishes us with so much more than nutrients. It’s how we socialize, comfort, celebrate and make memories together. It’s culture and tradition.
TIP: “Healthy eating” starts with enjoying food. This means savouring the flavours, aromas and colours on your plate, and it’s also about simply enjoying the experience of eating with others. When adults focus on enjoyment at mealtimes, kids relax and they’re more likely to try and eat what’s on offer.
Don’t comment on what your child is (or isn’t) eating during meals. Eat and enjoy your meal and share a story about your day. Ask your child what made them happy today. The healthiest ingredient in a family meal is laughter.
Join the Rainbow Plate community on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and pick up a copy of their Rainbow Food Explorers at Home e-book for more tips likes these, plus activities to help you and your kids relax, enjoy food and eating together.