At some point most parents will find themselves in a food struggle with their kids. Maybe they refuse to try new foods. Maybe it’s a texture thing and hard to figure out meals that they will enjoy. Or maybe they are just not hungry. Whatever the reason, it can be really frustrating as a parent to go through the daily grind of getting our kids to eat healthy foods. There is no doubt that meal time can be a stressful time for families. Without cooperation from our kids it is not an enjoyable hour to spend together talking about our day – but rather a struggle that we often feel as if we lose.
It’s time to regroup. I have two very different eaters – Addison will try mostly anything and eats really healthy foods most of the time. Quinn, not so much. I have to be pretty creative to get him to try new foods and he often doesn’t want to. I’ve had to do a lot of trial-and-error type things to get to the place we are today. And while my kids still love treats we are doing fairly well during meal times.
I wanted to share some of the strategies (yes, I call them strategies because it sounds fancy like we are armed to go into battle lol) that have worked for us as a family. Hopefully you will give a few a try and you will have some success – and hopefully your meal times can become a place for your family to share their day, enjoy each other’s company, and be excited about food!
11 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat at Meal Times
- Make a schedule. Plan it out. – Kids need to be eating 3 meals and 2 snacks daily, and drinking a lot of fluids. Plan out your meals WITH your kids so that they know what to expect each day. Ask for their input so that they feel like they are a part of the process.
- Watch how many snacks you give and how big the portions are. – If your kids eat a snack every time they get into the car they may be eating too many snacks. If they eat a snack an hour before dinner they may not be that hungry at dinnertime and may not want to eat. Make sure snacks are a combination of 2 food groups, and small enough to just tide them over to the next meal. Snacks are NOT meals.
- Ask your child to help prepare for meals. – Kids like to be helpers. Give them age-appropriate jobs that they will be good about completing. If they are able to help prepare a meal, LET THEM:) If they are able to set the table or pour the drinks, LET THEM:) Kids will give you less battling if they are a part of the entire process. Yes, it may take some extra time, and yes, there may be some spills…. but kids LOVE to feel as if they are a part of the team.
- Give smaller portions at meals and allow kids to ask for a bit more. – Wasted food can be very frustrating for any parent who took time to cook and works hard to pay for groceries. Make sure portion sizes are age-appropriate.
- Introduce new foods slowly. – There is nothing worse than finding a great recipe, shopping for ingredients, spending time cooking it, and then having no one like it! Now what? You’ve got nothing to fall back on and now you are frustrated. Introduce new foods and recipes slowly. Instead of making that the entire meal have it be part of a meal. Always include something on their plate that is familiar and that they love.
- Hold firm in your role…. you are NOT a short order cook. – Giving kids the ability to help plan meals is great…. standing in the kitchen and cooking 3 different meals to accommodate 3 different kids is not so great. You are not a short order cook. While kids have different tastes and different likes/dislikes it is important for them to know that you are not going to have them demand different meals each day. If they’d like to be a part of the planning process that is great! Find meals that everyone will enjoy together and stick with those!
- Allow “sometimes” foods. – Treats are OK sometimes. It’s a slippery slope when we begin to reward our kids with treats for everything they do. Eat all your chicken, get some ice cream. What’s the message that the kid learns? They learn that the chicken isn’t the good stuff and that the ice cream is. Now, while I love a big bowl of mint chocolate chip or pumpkin cheesecake ice cream I know that it is also not great for me. They learn to get through and tolerate the chicken because if they do they will be rewarded with the good stuff. Parents also often reward kids with treats for good behavior, completing chores, getting awesome grades, etc…. and again… this can be a slippery slope. We could be teaching kids to seek treats instead of praise and encouragement. It sets kids up to believe that a hug and “good job” from Mom isn’t enough…. a treat has to go along with that. Treats are ok sometimes, trust me… my kids LOVE them! But I am trying more and more to not begin a cycle of emotional eating at a young age… and we do our best to try to make it a “sometimes” thing. It’s true that parents are in control of what our kids eat. WE buy the food and control what is in our cupboards. If you are tired of battling your kids about how much junk food they are eating then simply stop buying it. If it’s not in the house they cannot eat it. While I understand that kids will still give you a hard time about you not buying it and the battle will still continue…. you won’t have the ability to give in and give it to them because it’s not at your fingertips.
- Be a Positive Role Model. – Your kids watch all that you do. Be their biggest influence by showing them that you are enjoying healthy foods! Kids will be much more likely to try new foods and eat healthy if they see you doing it.
- Choose one new try-food each week. – Make it fun! Have your kids choose something new to try each week, it can be a fresh fruit or vegetable… try them raw and cooked…. make it fun and do a taste challenge with them. Be creative and encourage them to try it. Don’t force them into trying things they don’t want to try. This will most likely cause them to dig their heels in and not want to try new foods.
- Don’t make them finish foods they don’t like. – Bottom line, there are plenty of other green veggies packed with fiber if your kids don’t like broccoli. Why force them to eat things they don’t like? Keep offering new foods until you find ones they do like. I get it…. they may begin to tell you that they don’t like “any” vegetable. There are lots more out there, keep at it… you will find several they like if you keep looking:)
- Sneak those veggies into every meal. Be creative! – It’s ok to blend up spinach and carrots and add it into your pasta sauce or a smoothie. Get those veggies into shakes and sauces without your kids noticing a difference…. but take it one step further and SHARE with them what you put into it after they have eaten it. This is a great way for kids to learn they can love veggies other than just dipping them.