How to encourage kids to eat healthy food is a personal vendetta us as parents think about, right?
ESPECIALLY if your child is a fussy eater, then it can be even more challenging and frustrating.
We play a mental ping pong game on how in the heck do we sway our kids to “eat carrots” and “NOT the cupcakes Grandma Gigi brought over yesterday.”
Ok, that may sound a little over the top, but it’s true.
Kids are picky eaters, carb lovers, sweet tooth finantics, and the list goes on.
BUT if we can find ways to introduce a variety of nutritious foods to our kiddos, they are guaranteed to get the necessary nutrients they need to grow, develop, and live an all around healthier lifestyle.
With that said, here are TEN proven methods to encourage your child to healthier eating habits.
Uplifting words are fuel to the soul.
When you utilize a few KEY phrases to play on your child’s desires, it can help encourage them to finish their meal or snack.
Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge in the right direction and interacting with your child during mealtime.
Here are a few trying methods to get your kiddo to effectively eat well:
- If dipping sauces are enjoyable, this is a great opportunity to have your kid playfully “dip” or “dunk” their food from their SPECIAL dipping bowl they picked out from the cupboard.
- For a “job WELL done” or “welcome to the clean plate club”, they receive a sticker of their choice which could be their favorite Disney character or theme.
- If you have a garden, have your child get involved picking the vegetables and fruits with you. They will feel like a BIG kid and will usually try what they worked so hard to pick. 🙂
Visually appealing food will encourage your child to EAT what they see.
It will make their mealtime more engaging and enjoyable.
Here are several ways you can kick it up a notch to glamorize food:
- Edible glitter makes meals look and feel MAGICAL
- Use food cutter shapes in fun kid designs for cheese, fruits, sandwiches, veggies, and anything else you can think of to make into a FUN design
- Add a few colorful sprinkles or toppers (like granola) to yogurt and fruit
- Create a colorful rainbow plate in assorted fruits and vegetables
- Make “veggie” fries
- Make smoothie popsicles
Use Reward Charts
A kid loves to feel like they did a GREAT job, who doesn’t?
A reward chart will reinforce positive eating habits, applaud good behavior, and help your child stay on track with better habits.
For instance, when your kiddo hits their goal of trying “three new foods” or “finishing their veggies”, they receive a fun little surprise.
The rewards can be simple such as:
To easily track their progress, get your child involved to SEE their incredible accomplishments!
Hang up their “reward chart” somewhere visible (like on the refrigerator or playroom).
OR download a free monthly calendar sheet to hang up.
Involve Your Child in Making Food Decisions
Encourage your kiddo to go with you to the grocery store OR virtually help you pick out groceries online.
By including them in the decision making process, your child will feel involved and open to trying the “foods” they were involved in choosing.
Even if you have a garden, getting your child to help you plant or pick the veggies and fruits will open their world to learning about these nutritious foods as well as trying them.
HIDE the Nutrition
If your child is super fussy about their veggies or fruits, you can creatively hide these ingredients in numerous ways:
- Puree veggies into soups
- Puree fruits into smoothies or popsicles
- Puree “extra” veggies into pasta sauce or pizza sauce
- Add smashed up bananas into pancakes or puree a small amount of carrots for an added sweetness
- Add veggies or fruits to muffins
I actually used to hide a couple spoonfuls of pureed carrots in my son’s pancakes and he had ZERO clue he was even eating carrots.
After that victory, I felt on top of the world that I got my kiddo to eat a veggie. 🙂
Make Mealtime Playtime
Ok, I know what you are thinking, play with our food, REALLY?
Hear me out.
I’m not saying do this everyday but once in a blue moon this is a GREAT way to inspire your child to try some different foods.
We have to consider dispelling the myth “food is bad to play with” and be open to having some FUN with it.
If it’s a nice day outside, set up shop and toss a few cucumbers around, maybe fling a couple blueberries here and there.
Turn mealtime into a playful game and bonding time with your precious one. 🙂
You can even use the traditional aeroplane landing or train tunnel techniques, where your child’s spoon turns into the favorite vehicle while their mouth becomes a runway or tunnel.
Consider having a “theme” family mealtime once per week where you let your child dress up to something relevant to your themed food party.
Have your child get involved in the kitchen with you.
This will add interest and creativity throughout the meal from prepping it to eating it.
Here are some popular kid-friendly themes to try:
- Treasure and pirate island picnic. Make sausage, mashed potatoes, and jewels (consider tiny pieces of peas, sweet corn, and pepper part of the treasure which you can add a touch of edible glitter to make the food glitter like jewels).
- Homemade pizza night station. Wear fun chef hats and aprons while you all make your own individual pizzas.
- Choose a different culture and country. This is not only a great way to expose your child to different cultures and food, but an entertaining way for them to learn about different countries.
- Choose their favorite character or show. Does your child like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Paw Patrol, or Princesses? Do a fun themed dinner around this.
The sky’s the limit with the different themes you can create!
Use Kid-Friendly Eating Equipment
There are so many fun, silly, and cute eating utensils for kids to eat from such as animal shaped utensils, colorful cups, princess or superhero themed bowls and plates, and the list goes on.
Kid-friendly designs on your child’s eating equipment will get them more excited to chow down come mealtime.
Food Chains or Food Bridges
This is a simple strategy you can do for picky eaters to try new foods.
When “food chaining or bridging”, you are essentially creating a link between the preferred food your child wants to introduce a new food for your child to try.
You can accomplish this in a few ways …
Pick their favorite food and make note of the color, flavor, shape, and taste.
Make a change to ONE of these areas.
For example, if your kiddo likes eating cheddar Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, have them try out a different brand like Annie’s Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese.
Basically, offer a new presentation alongside their original preferred version.
A good rule of thumb to follow is when your child eats a new food three times WITHOUT an issue, make another change. 🙂
As your kiddo gets MORE comfortable with trying new foods, it becomes that much easier to expose them to other different nutritious food options.
Use Appetizing Spices
Aromatic spices can encourage a child’s appetite and has been linked to numerous health benefits such as:
- Cinnamon … helps lower blood pressure.
- Nutmeg … helps with digestion and pain relief.
- Turmeric … helps fight inflammation.
- Ginger … helps relieve nausea.
- Dill … helps with digestion.
- Cumin … aids in blood sugar control.
- Garlic … supports a healthy heart.
You can incorporate these spices early on during your child’s toddler years (from ages 1 to 3).
You can add these spices to the numerous foods such as:
- Cinnamon … add to smoothies, fruit, pancakes, granola, yogurt, or oatmeal.
- Nutmeg … add to fruit, spinach, pasta, onion-based sauces or milk sauces
- Turmeric … add to rice, soups, eggs, smoothie, or vegetables
- Ginger … add to chicken, rice, sesame noodles, or white fish
- Dill … add to eggs, seafood, salad dressings, chicken, or soups
- Cumin … add to hummus, zucchini, or tacos
- Garlic … add to pasta sauces, fish, soups, eggs, or chicken
Spices can infuse flavor and give meals more of a pizzazz to inspire your child’s pallet into trying different foods.
Lead By Example
Being your child’s subtle “cheerleader” when it comes to mealtime can help encourage positive eating habits in them.
But pushing them to try new foods can lead to a downward spiral.
You will have greater success when you get involved in having your kiddo:
- Help you prepare meals in the kitchen
- Pick out their own eating utensils
- Try new foods with you
These actions show you are leading by example.
It is a FACT that the eating habits of our kids are difficult to predict.
As a parent, it is very important to stay positive and NOT give up if your child responds differently to various foods you introduce them to.
It’s all about trial and error and finding what works best for your kiddo.
By encouraging your child to eat healthier through the proven methods we explored you will ultimately help them grow, develop, and live a nutritious lifestyle.
If there are questions you have or anything you’d like to add that I did not cover in this post, please feel free to leave your comments in the section below.
If you found value in this information, please share by clicking the sidebar link to help another child. 🙂
I strive to make the content I create as helpful as possible for you…as a fellow parent looking out for their most precious gift.
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Lindsey Kovach says
Thanks for sharing to help another kiddo!
What a great article! I thought I did pretty well getting my children (and now my grandchildren) to eat different and healthy foods but I got nothing on you! I really like the idea of food chains/bridges to slowly introduce them to new foods. Theme nights and getting children to help in the kitchen is also a good one.
The only one I disagree with is the reward chart because I don’t believe a child should receive material prizes for doing something they should be doing anyway (eating the food they’ve been given to eat). But this might be a good solution for some children, who am I to say?
All-in-all, I would say this is a great list of ideas. I’m going to forward it on!
Lindsey Kovach says
Thanks so much Cynthia for your honest feedback! I appreciate you sharing your opinions and what you thought about the post. 🙂 Also thanks for passing this along to help another kiddo or parent!
Jonathon Howard says
This is very interesting and helpful information I have to say I learned something new today. I remember being a kid always wanting Ice cream and candy and the method my mom always used was if I ate the things that she wanted me to, then I could have those things afterwards so I would eat really fast to get to the sweet foods or Ice cream lol. I enjoyed reading your article keep up the good work and merry Christmas to you and your family.
Lindsey Kovach says
Thanks Jonathon! I appreciate you sharing and Merry Christmas to you and your family too.