28 Oct “How do I get my family to eat healthy?”
To read this article in German: click here.
How can I get my family to eat healthier meals?
This is one of the most common questions I get, probably on a daily basis. Every mother out there is concerned about giving her family healthier food, and to enjoy seeing everyone eat the same one meal she just laboured over.
We all know the scene – You make a nutritious meal and serve the family. The kids take one look and push the plate away. You!re now busy trying to convince them to give it a try instead of focusing on your meal. When they finally do take a bite, you continue trying to convince them to have another. They refuse to take another bite, and now you!re frustrated, your food is getting cold, and you!re concerned they!ll go to sleep hungry so you end up letting them have a sweetened yogurt, or worse yet go back to the kitchen to make them something else to eat. Sound familiar?
It!s important to understand that kids of all ages (and yes, I mean your “big kid” known as husband too), will be reaching out for attention in which ever way they can. Without even knowing they do it, they will tell you they don!t want to eat the food you just served, simply because last time they got plenty of attention when they said that. It!s obviously not because they don!t like the food – they haven!t even tried it yet!
Here are a few tips on how to get them, and you, to enjoy the food and not have dinnertime the most hated time of the day:
1. Change the conversation at the dining room table
You are meant to enjoy your food and be able to eat mindfully. Setting the stage for that is very important. Make sure everyone knows that from now on there will be one dish served, and everyone has to try a bit of each thing.. They don’t have to love it, but they have to try – or in short – you choose what, they choose how much. If they try and don’t like it, instead of trying to convince them to take another bite, rather ask “what don’t you like about it? Was it the colour? Flavour? Texture? Was it missing something?” Or in other words “what can I do next time to fix it?”. Talk about all of these topics, letting them know they are being heard, and their opinion matters. They might even take another bite just so that they can give you an answer 🙂
2. Size matters!
It’s important to keep in mind that a child’s stomach is the size of their fist. When you give a tiny human a huge portion, they will get overwhelmed and not even attempt to give it a try. Make sure to keep to tiny portions. Cut something to a small bite size for them to try. If they like it, give them a bit more, but still keep to very small portions. They can always have more if they’d like, and you’re winning by not tossing so much food afterwards.
3. Ignore the “Yuck!” embrace the “Yum!”
As I mentioned before, fighting around the dining table usually starts and ends with gaining attention. If we give more attention to the positive and ignore the negative, most likely things will start looking up. Try to ignore the “yucks”, and directing your conversation somewhere else. When they try something give them plenty of credit even if they don’t like it. And if they love it, celebrate with them by showing how excited you are, and letting them know you’re happy to make it again soon.
4. “Healthy” does not have to be a punishment, and dessert does not have to be a “treat”
Unfortunately, we all grew up being told that if we finish the veggies on our plate we get dessert. This in our young mind meant that if we endure the horror of eating a broccoli we’ll get something sweet to cover up the taste of that tree-looking vegetable. No wonder nowadays when we feel happy/sad/excited/frustrated, we reach out for a “treat”. Our relationship with food is broken, and we don’t want to make the same mistake with our kids. Labelling nutritious food as punishment and unhealthy processed sugar-bombs as a gift is a fool proof way for exactly that. Let alone the fact that the word “healthy” doesn’t mean much to a child, and means a host of different things to us adults too. So instead of labels, try explaining what’s great about each thing that’s on the plate. Direct your level of explanation to the age of the child. To a young child you can say “Carrots help you see in the dark!”, while an older child might understand “carrots have vitamin A (beta-carotene), which helps our body fight illness, protects our skin and protects our eyes”. Heck, you could even google it with the kids, and find more information if the child is showing interest.
5. Eat the rainbow
As you probably know, most kids and adults nowadays don’t eat enough vegetables, and when they do, it’s usually the same ones over and over again. Making food fun, and our plates colorful, doesn’t only make the eating experience more enjoyable, but also a lot more nutritious. Kids and adults love games, and this is a fun one to practice with the whole family. Use the chart below (courtesy of vegpower.org.uk), to mark which colours you managed to eat each day. Try to aim for 5 colours a day (or at the very least 5 vegetables a day). You can use stickers which are always fun, or simply write down which vegetable you had. Feel free to look up the power this vegetable provides you, and get excited with your family.
6. Simple is usually better
Don’t make meals too complicated. As lovely as it is to have a fancy meal once in a while, your weekly meals should be simple to make and loaded with nutrition. Simply roasting some vegetables and serving with your choice of protein and good healthy fat is already a perfect meal. Serving a homemade hummus and veggie sticks is quick and easy, and very nutritious. Or simply serve fried eggs with sweet potato rüsti and a salad on the side. As long as you go for high quality ingredients and manage to eat the rainbow during the day, you’re good to go!