I will preface this by saying that these tricks do not always work! Also, we are (very) slowly trying to move towards healthier eating in our household, especially in terms of cutting down on packaged foods. It is a work in progress. Sometimes I am just happy to have my children eat, especially if they have been unwell or unsettled. Thanks to My Naturopath Christos for inspiring this post with his own family’s food story which you can read here.
Trick Number 1: Eat as a family
This is not always easy as the time my husband arrives home from work varies, but when we can eat together our boys in general seem to eat better. Besides which, it is nice to sit down as a family together as a daily ritual.
Trick Number 2: Modelling Desired Behaviour
The first trick goes hand in hand with this one. If the boys see us eating the same food as theirs and saying how much we like it, there is a greater chance they will try it, enjoy it, and clean their plate. If you’re modelling eating healthy food and drink all the time, the kids are obviously more likely to copy that behaviour. I am not a huge fan of water but have tried drink it more since having my boys and I’m surprised when sometimes they choose to drink it too. On the other hand, I try to sneak dark chocolate without them looking so that they won’t copy my habit. Unfortunately, Mister Two usually catches me and demands a piece.
Trick Number 3: The Novelty Factor
I can verify that spending an extra fifteen minutes cutting your potatoes and pumpkins into the shapes of cars, stars and dinosaurs will have a positive effect on eating habits. Skewers are also a winner – whether it be vegies, fruit, chicken, prawns – the kids cannot get enough of them.
Trick Number 4: Let them choose
When I’m organising the shopping list and deciding on the week’s meals, I ask everyone in the family what meals they would like in the coming week. I also try to set out our meals in bigger bowls on the dinner table for the kids to choose from so they don’t feel as though they are being forced to eat everything. So the meat, vegies, homemade chips, rice, salad, whatever combination it may be, will be in the centre of the table and they can choose what goes on their plate. In general, they make good choices, but if they only want vegies and rice on a certain night for dinner and don’t want the meat, it doesn’t really worry me, as I know another night it will be mostly meat they want. It all evens out really.
Trick Number 5: Grow your own vegies and keep your own chickens for eggs
I think most people can attest that kids will love getting involved in planting vegies in the garden and raising chickens. My boys both love helping in the garden, from planting to picking; collecting the eggs from the chook pen and rounding up the chickens at bedtime. I remind them at meal times that they are our chooks’ eggs and cucumbers etc, and they are more excited about eating them.
Trick Number 6: Tell them why it’s good for them
I may be stretching the truth a little but if the boys are reluctant to eat certain vegies, meat, fruit, I tell them how it will affect their body: carrots will help them see well; meat will make them grow big muscles; vegetables will help them run fast. And if I’m really pressed, I start eating my food and say, “Well, I’m going to be stronger than you”.
“No, you’re not! I’m going to eat ALL my food, and I’ll be stronger than YOU,” assertive Mister Four will reply. Mummy is the real winner here. Worked a treat with the zucchini “pasta” anyway.
Trick Number 7: Don’t keep anything in the house that you don’t really want them to eat.
You can’t be tempted by something that isn’t in the cupboard, so we don’t really have chips, biscuits and soft drinks on hand unless there is a special occasion coming up. I’ve stopped buying Nutella too, which used to be one of my favourite things! Now I treat myself with my favourite fruit, vegies and smoked salmon instead.
Trick Number 8: I’ve been trying to make my own snacks (muffins, muesli bars, icypoles, fresh juices) so the boys won’t even miss the packet variety. Sometimes they are fans, sometimes not, but they are better than the alternative. Don’t get me wrong, we still have packaged foods from time to time and I like to take the boys out for a Babycino and doughnut occasionally. It’s taken me a long time to be able to make things from scratch on a regular basis.
And I do have a special container with lollies and chocolate coins for the days when I’m pulling my hair out and need bribery for a break or to stop one of those horrendous toddler tantrums.
Trick Number 9: Let them help prepare the food
Mister Two’s favourite thing in the morning is to put my vegies in the juicer for my juice. He rarely will drink the juice himself but I think he will come round eventually. In any case, leftovers are made into icypoles which he will happily eat, no matter what the weather is like, so I suppose he does have it at some point! Mister Four is also a big fan of helping chop vegies for salads or collecting herbs from the garden. The “help” really does lose the inverted commas after a while. I think by the time they’re at school, they’ll be cooking for me! And they are much more likely to eat the food they prepare or snack on it as they prepare it!
Trick Number 10: Let them have treats occasionally but tell them why
Mister Four has had shocking tonsillitis in the past and as soon as he starts getting sick we talk about eating good food and drink to make sure he gets better quicker and to avoid medicine. He knows that lollies, chocolate and icecreams are okay sometimes but that when he is sick especially, he needs to have lots of fruit, vegetables, honey and fresh juice to make him better. It’s very difficult when there are birthday parties and special occasions almost every week but I know that if the boys are eating well at home for the most part, then these occasional treats won’t do too much harm. The most important thing is that they grow up having an appreciation of where their food comes from and how healthy food can fuel their bodies and make them feel great!
I think my ‘tricks’ are probably used by most parents already. I would love to hear any other tips or tricks that work well. Parents need all the help we can get!