It is so frustrating. I want my children to eat healthy, but the only vegetable Johnny will eat is raw carrots.
My youngest wants chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.
I try to get my kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, but it seems like an uphill battle.
I talk to them about eating right all the time, but they just don’t seem to listen.
Children are visual learners — they watch, they see, they do.
So . . . let them “DO.” Turn your kitchen into a “learning lab.”
Cooking with Mom or Dad can be one of the most fun and educational experiences possible for children. And . . . it will create memories that last a lifetime.
Once you get them started, my guess is they will want to do a lot of cooking on their own.
My mom was a great basic cook — and never used a recipe (at least not that I can remember). It was her ability to cook delicious meals so effortlessly that inspired me to develop my own skill set.
Her gift to me was free rein in the kitchen to experiment and cook as often as I wanted. That freedom developed my passion for the art and an appreciation of what it takes to create good meals for the family.
If you want your children to enjoy long, healthy lives that are sustained by healthy eating habits, now is the time to start them on the right path.
Seven Ways to Inspire Them
Work with one child at a time. Let him/her be your partner in planning a healthy balanced dinner. When you finish planning, make a list of the groceries needed and take him/her shopping with you.
Shopping provides a first-hand experience for buying healthy foods like organic produce, pastured eggs, and grain-fed beef. They can also learn how to read labels to avoid dangerous additives (If they don’t know what it means, or can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it.)
Keep a Stool in the Kitchen
Invite the children to watch while you cook. In the beginning, you can explain what you are doing, why you chose the foods you are using for good nutrition and how the flavors and textures make more interesting meals. Make the explanations fun and interesting.
Let them help whenever possible — reading the recipe, helping you measure, mixing dry ingredients together, tossing the salad, etc.
Kids are also great taste testers, which is a smart way to get them to sample new foods.
Start Them Early
How early? As soon as they show interest. Many four-year-olds love being in the kitchen.
Start with fun, easy foods like healthy snacks, breakfast meals, and sandwiches. Making cookies was a family favorite for my kids. Even with desserts, you can impress on them the importance of making foods from scratch — so they have control over the ingredients.
Depending on age and ability when preparing full meals, let them do as much as possible. Teach them how to peel and cut up vegetables, break lettuce leaves for the salad, combine and toss the salad, place chopped veggies in the steamer, wash the potatoes for baking, layer the foods for a casserole, etc.
As early as possible, teach them how to use knives safely. The younger ones can use kitchen scissors. It is easy to teach kitchen safety when they are cooking with you.
Introduce them to healthy cooking techniques: steaming, sautéing with healthy oils, baking, roasting, and broiling.
Family Night Cook-Off
This can be a wonderful family activity. One night a week have everyone help prepare dinner.
Each week have a different family member (including mom and dad) plan the menu, which must include a main dish, a vegetable, and dessert.
There should be no restrictions as long as the dishes are made from scratch with healthy ingredients**.
Before you start preparation, be sure everyone is clear about his/her responsibility. (Don’t forget setting the table, and clean up.)
A Family that Eats Together . . .
Always sit down together for dinner (and for breakfast as often as possible) The old adage, “A family that eats together, stays together” is still very true.
Sitting down to a healthy, delicious family dinner every night to eat, talk, and laugh is a powerful glue for holding the family together.
This has never been more important than it is today. Unfortunately, eating together is becoming less and less common. Don’t let that happen to your family.
Be Subtle When Introducing Habit Change
We live in a world of “super-sized” everything and frequent mindless eating, which makes portion contol more difficult.
Over the years, the average size of a dinner plate has increased from seven or eight inches to 12 inches.
Rather than preaching portion control that may or may not work, buy and use smaller plates (nine inches max) for your meals so the plate looks full, with less food.
You will probably have to buy “lunch” plates in order to get a smaller size. They can be purchased on Amazon and Target.
It would be wise to fill the plates and serve (rather than having people serve themselves). Keep the serving sizes reasonable — leave a little white space around the portions — avoid stacking.
Also, discourage mindless munching of unhealthy snacks when sitting at the computer or while watching TV.
Always have healthy snacks available. For example, fresh fruit (washed and ready to eat), plain yogurt topped with fresh berries and drizzled with a little honey, or real cheese and 100% whole-grain crackers.
Create Eating Adventures
Introduce new foods often. Make it fun. This helps develop a willingness to try new foods.
If you have a picky eater, adding something new to the menu with foods they already like can increase their repertoire of nutritious foods.
The rule in our family was they must each one bite of everything served. It worked most of the time. As adults, three out of four of my children eat almost everything.
If over time there are foods that several family members really dislike, don’t worry about it. There are enough healthy foods available they can still maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
The habit of healthy eating begins early — at home. As a parent, it is important to take every opportunity to help your children develop a positive attitude toward healthy eating so they can live long, productive lives.
Final Factors to Consider
Are you setting the example you want your children to follow? What changes do you need to make?
By implementing any or all of the above suggestions, you will be helping you children to enjoy preparing and eating healthy foods.
Adventures in the kitchen and eating well will become family traditions.
**When you prepare meals from scratch, you have full control over the ingredients and you know that your family is getting the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.
We recommend TWEENS and TEENS, A Cookbook to Get You Started, as a useful tool to use with those just learning to cook.
Related Article: Stock Your Kitchen with Healthy Foods