I am a Mother of three, a biodynamic farmer, and practitioner of Wholistic Nutrition. The topic of how to get your kids interested in healthy eating comes up more often than any other question. “How do I get my kids to eat vegetables? My kid will only eat corn dogs, or my son refuses to try avocado. What can I do?!” The stress of making sure our children are not only getting enough nutrients but also eating healthy, sustainably grown food can be completely overwhelming. Leading us to make compromises, and slip back into old habits, especially when met by resistance from our children. It is important to remember that you are not alone. So many parents struggle picky eaters and unhealthy phases. It is also important to remember that your child is going to be okay and grow up to be healthy. Sometimes we need to let go of trying so hard to get them to do something or not do something and just let the experience of healthy eating be natural and fun. So, how do we get our little ones to get excited about healthy eating instead of fighting them tooth and nail and hiding spinach in their smoothies?
1. Live by Example
Our kids are always watching us, and even if they don’t always listen, what we do in their eyes matters. Before we can get our kids excited about healthy eating we must first transform into the healthy eaters we want them to become. Model healthy eating habits and start focusing on what you can control. Replace conventionally grown produce with foods that are in season and grown locally. Not only will they taste better, but foods grown locally and sustainably will have more diversity of flavors and will be more colorful and attractive to our children. Show off that beautiful produce, make your fruit bowl the centerpiece of your table and always have healthy choices for your kids to reach for like seeds, nuts and fun colored fruits and vegetables. Try alternatives to sugary desserts like whole raw yogurt, fresh fruit and a little drizzle of local honey.
2. Take Them to the Market
If you've ever been to a Farmers Market then you know how exciting it can be. Rows of tents overflowing with brightly colored fruits and vegetables as far as the eye can see. Just imagine being a kid, your eye level with all the magic, all the color and smells and glory of the season right there beckoning to you. When I take my kids to the farmers market they each get to pick out a fruit and vegetable. We walk all around the market first, so they can experience everything and see all the choices available to them. I am often surprised by their choices, and find them choosing new foods to try when given the opportunity. The Farmers Market is also an important cultural experience, showing your children that growing and selling produce can be exciting and fun and eating it even better!
3. Teach Them to Cook
The more you involve your children, the more they will want to eat the food served to them. Let them help you in the kitchen, even if it takes a little longer. Their peaked interest in eating dinner will be worth the extra time. Kids love to be given responsibility, especially when it is helpful and beneficial to the family. This not only gives them a sense that what they are doing is important, but also a boosted self confidence. They can help you wash and peel vegetables, stirring or mixing ingredients together, and for older children safely grating, cutting, and measuring. I find that when the kids are involved in cooking the meal they are actually excited to eat the food they have prepared and even more excited to share that meal with others.
4. Celebrate Food
Celebrating food is something that has gotten lost in our current, fast-paced culture. It's easy to overlook the impact just sitting down and eating as a family can have on a child. When we take time to sit and eat, we are showing our children that food is worth respecting. It's worth taking the time to shop locally, prepare and cook our food and then enjoy it together. If you are not already having at least one family meal a week together, try adding that ritual to your routine. Other ways to celebrate food is by celebrating the seasons. Autumn is upon us and this is the perfect time of year to celebrate the abundance of the end of summer harvest. Take the kids apple picking or to a pumpkin patch. These visceral hands-on experiences are invaluable to their development of excitement for healthy foods. If making it out to a local farm isn't in the cards you can still celebrate the season by making your own applesauce, a batch of homemade pickles or ketchup.
5. Get in The Garden
The Garden is a magical place for everyone, especially children. I have watched kids transform in the garden and even the most fussy eaters pick up and eat vegetables they never would have before. In fact, my five year old is still a very picky eater and he refuses to eat any vegetables unless they come from the garden or forest, hand picked by him. In my experience it all comes down to giving children what we all are truly craving, connection. Being connected to our food in a meaningful way is something we have lost over the years of commercializing and processing our foods. If you have an opportunity to get your children involved in gardening, do not wait another moment. Even if that means starting a few seeds in a pot on your apartment patio or window seal. When children plant a seed, and are given the responsibility of taking care of that seed by watching, watering, weeding and waiting. They gain a deep bond and connection to that plant. Not only does it bring them joy to watch something so small transform and grow in such a short period of time, it also brings them great excitement to finally be able to enjoy and celebrate that food they grew by eating and cooking and sharing with people they care about. Just like a seed, if given the right motivation, patience and love, our children can grow and become passionate healthy eaters.