Toddlers, man. They’re TOUGH when it comes to, well, everything! They’re especially tough when it comes to getting them to eat healthily and not just a bunch of junk and snack foods. When they were younger and I was a total stronghold over their food intake and sugar content, it wasn’t so difficult. Then, they started Mother’s Morning Out and have since attended other part-time programs where cookies, crackers and other snacks I had never intended to introduce them to so early and often happened. And then the convenience of certain foods was just REALLY appealing.
Somehow, my husband and I have still done a decent job at getting our kids to not only eat what they’re given but eat foods that are good for them. By good for them, I do mean a pretty decent range of vegetables and options that actually provide nutrients and goodness as opposed to sugar and more sugar that comes in just about everything these days. Because let’s face it, even “healthy” snack and meal options are full of sugar, sodium and just plain yuck ingredients.
Don’t be fooled, in full transparency fashion, we eat the bad stuff too. However, I try to maintain a balance so that the times I simply need an easy meal or snack to hand out I don’t feel so guilty about skipping out on the organic roasted, free-range, grass-fed, raised on a golden pedestal options (who REALLY is able to do this when they live in the real world and aren’t celebrity status where money and nannies galore aren’t as abundant and attainable, though?).
Below I’ve listed out FIVE ways we’ve been able to maintain a healthy balance of food for our family!
The best way to get your kids to eat healthily? Trick those little suckers! I’ve mastered the art of grated and puréed vegetables to stockpile foods such as zucchini, broccoli, carrots, squash and more into what one might think is simple comfort food. My favorite and most successful version is grated zucchini in my spaghetti sauce. Use a fine grater (I prefer this handheld one to grate directly into the pot) and use an entire medium zucchini with one jar of spaghetti sauce (lowest sodium possible for us!), a small can of no salt added tomato sauce and some extra dried oregano and basil, minced garlic and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. I even use veggie pasta to attempt as much vitamin and goodness content as possible! If you can get your kids to eat spaghetti squash… even better!
Hold the Milk
Milk is a big source of fats for kids, which they need in order to grow and develop properly, whether as an addition or insurance to ensure our littles get the needed amount. This is a catch 22 though because it’s so easy to get stuck in the mentality of, “well they aren’t eating their food but at least they’re drinking their milk!” We started noticing a decline in the twins’ eating habits when they were two and realized milk was the culprit, actually hindering instead of helping since they loved it so much and would suck it down and fill their little tummies up before eating even a small portion of their meal. So we stopped giving them milk as a drink with their meals entirely and used it solely as a snack or as their reward for eating a good meal.
Don’t Back Down
Just like with the way I now handle milk mentioned above, use something they LOVE as leverage. My kids are obsessed with Entenmann’s Muffins now thanks to a mad sale and coupon availability recently at the store. Since we learned how much they love these, we use this as the consolation prize for eating their dinner. The trick here? Stick to your guns and make it worth it; don’t let them get away with just ONE bite of dinner to get the prize; make them take at least three! And don’t falter on your deal; if they don’t take all of the required bites DO NOT cave. You’ll find after just a couple times of this they know you mean business and slowly take the bites. Many times they forget they ever thought they didn’t like it and end up eating more than the originally requested three bites!
Don’t Throw it Away
So many times it’s tempting to just clear the table of dirty plates and uneaten food as soon as everyone gets up. But if your little didn’t eat all you wanted them and you know they’ll be asking for a snack in just a short while, leave their plate and remaining meal out. And then follow the tip above and don’t back down; let them know they can have that snack they so badly want if they eat a certain amount of their remaining dinner.
If you know your kid truly despises something, don’t force them to eat it. For example, my kids REFUSE to even try brussels sprouts. So I encourage as much as I can and always put at least one or two on their plate, but I don’t force them to shove one in their mouth just for them to spit it back out (because believe me, no matter how well-behaved your kid is, if they hate something so much they WILL push it out of their mouth as a guttural reaction instead of swallowing). However, my kids do love green beans and eat them really well. So I fix these often and add more and more to their plate each meal we have them and I do expect them to finish them. Another example from my kids’ experience is my son used to DESPISE potatoes in any form – mashed potatoes with just butter or butter and cheese; baked potato; roasted potato; etc. All of a sudden a few weeks ago, he got all excited to try roasted “poh-TAY-toes” and he’s been killing them ever since at each meal I serve them!
With anything that has to do with kids, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Trust me, I get that! But stand your ground with those littles and their strong personalities and I promise you’ll get some success in the eating department!
What ways have you been successful in getting your kids to take in the good stuff and not just “stuff?”