I know from personal as well as professional experience, that getting kids (and some adults) to eat healthier can be a bit challenging. Between busy schedules that demand quick and easy, to the allure of sweets at every corner, it can be a real struggle to raise kids who grab for a tomato instead of a treat.  

But making sure kids understand the importance of eating healthy for not just their physical sake, but for their emotional, educational and long term well being is on par with how well they learn their ABC’s and manners.

In fact studies show that a healthy diet is a leading indicator of doing well in school and also has been linked to less depression and fewer long term health disorders. 

If your teens or toddlers are junk food junkies, they likely weren’t born that way. And just like they’ve been conditioned to prefer sweets over healthier options, they can be reconditioned to enjoy healthy foods as well.  

Example:  My 9 year old daughter went to a week long ski camp last year, where lets just say nutrition was missing from every corner of the menu (lots of white bread and chocolate). She returned home begging for her mom’s healthy soups and stews. Her body needed nourishment.

It is important that your child has a healthy relationship with food. As it goes hand and hand with a positive body image. When a child feels healthy, they make better decisions, feeling confident in their own decision making skills. This will serve them well as they enter adulthood.

Here are my top tips for getting kids (and some adults) to eat healthier. Aka how to raise kids who eat vegetables:

Start early: Introduce wholesome, nutritious choices into a child’s diet early on. Research shows that a child needs to try some foods 8-10 times before they accept it.  Sometimes it may feel like an uphill battle to get your kid to eat broccoli. Be patient and continue to offer them healthy options to choose from. 

Make a game of it:  Kids love to be loud. When my kids were little we introduced “the crunch contest”.  Using cut up vegetables or fruits, we would take turns to see who could make the loudest crunch (carrots and apples were the clear winners). It was fascinating to see how much they would consume. As well as the varieties they would try, just to be the loudest. 

Lead by example:  Kids look up to their parents, so model healthy eating habits yourself by refraining from junk food and soda, and instead consume healthy portions and talk positively about your body.

Play hide and sneak-Add grated or shredded veggies to soups, stews and sauces. Make cauliflower rice or add zucchini or carrots to healthy home made muffins. My husband makes a mean bolognese sauce loaded with whatever vegetables we have on hand, including mushrooms in place of ground meat (shh don’t tell my kids as they absolutely despise mushrooms) unless they are finely chopped and hidden of course.

Involve the Kids:  From shopping for groceries to preparing meals kids like to feel needed.  I know I know, sometimes it may take a bit longer with their “help”. But when kids feel invested in the process they are much more likely to try the meal.  Plus learning cooking skills early on is a plus.

Example #2: My son hated cooked vegetables for a long time (he loved raw vegetables). So I started asking for help in the kitchen. He became my official leek washer. That night he announced how much he loved leek potato soup (something wouldn’t touch prior)

Out of sight out of mind.  If you do keep some “sugary loaded sweets” in your home, keep them hidden away. Kids have less willpower when they see treats, so keep them out of eyesight.  Instead keep plenty of fruit and healthy snacks easily accessible at all times 

Start their day with a healthy breakfast: Ditch the sugar cereals, pastries and overly processed grains and bread for more higher quality proteins and healthy fats that will sustain energy levels and not leave their tummies grumbling.  

Watch your wording:  Think about how you use the words “Treats” & “Sweetie”. I know we’ve all done it but try and refrain from using food as a reward or bribe.

Hold Your Ground:  I know way too many exhausted moms who cave and resort to the plain bowl of pasta or white bread for their picky child after they spit out the broccoli for the tenth time. I’m not advocating for letting kids starve. But usually when kids are hungry they will eventually find the food in front of them wildly appealing. Especially when they know there is not a bowl of plain pasta coming.

Make healthy snacks readily available. Keep plenty of ready to eat (washed) fruit on hand, cut up vegetables with healthy dips such as hummus or cucumber yogurt. Check out my previous post about Healthy Summer Snacks complete with healthy recipes here.

Limit sugar and refined carbs – Overly refined grains that have been stripped of all nutrients—such as white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white flour, white rice, and many breakfast cereals are missing vital nutrients and cause blood sugar to spike, leading to cranky and tired kids. Opt for healthier options mentioned above.

Getting kids to make healthier choices on their own is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids.  It doesn’t have to be a battle ground. Health is something that will last a lifetime when done right.  We owe them that.

How to raise kids who eat vegetables was first published on My Swiss Story by Angela Warm on May 7, 2021