12 Simple Tips to Raise Healthy, Happy Eaters: Part 1

Do you have a picky eater? Is feeding your kids stressful? Do you spend time cooking a healthy meal, only to have everyone complain about it?

My youngest use to be a picky eater! I would cook several different dinners to appeal to everyone’s tastes. Many dinners use to end with someone crying — either me or my daughter. My two girls are 7 and 9. I can happily say that I cook one dinner now and enjoy family dinners (most of the time). I now have two adventurous, healthy, happy eaters. 

Parenting is hard. Feeding our kids, I think, is one of the most challenging jobs we have as a parent. I’d love to share 12 simple tips to help raising healthy, happy eaters, creating a lifetime of health. My hope is these 12 simple tips will help make feeding our children little less stressful and a little more enjoyable for everyone. I decided to break this blog post into two parts to make it more digestible, so please stay tuned for part 2, coming soon.

Tip 1: Keep our eyes on the goal of creating healthy habits for life.

What eating habits do we want to instill in our kids now that they will continue through adult hood?  

Do we want our kids to reach for fruits and veggies more often than goldfish?

Do we want our kids to enjoy a wide variety of foods?

Do we want our kids to learn how to pay attention to their hunger and fullness cues?

As parents, we can often get caught up in the nutrition mindset, focusing only on making sure our kids get enough protein, calcium, etc.  Although, this is of course important, we can justify the high sugar yogurt because it has calcium and the chicken nuggets because they have protein.  Having a nutrition focused mindset can shape our kids tastes to reach for high sugar, high fat, high salt foods more often then they reach for the whole foods.  Although these foods are fine to eat as an occasional treat, ideally they are the exception, and not eaten on a regular basis.

Tip 2: Get our kids cooking in the kitchen.

Having our kids help out in the kitchen is a great way to expose kids to new foods, develop their kitchen skills, build confidence, get creative, explore, practice their math skills, learn science, and connect with others.  Kids are often eager to try what they have made and often do some taste testing as they are creating.  Kitchens make an amazing classroom for learning so many lifelong skills.

If you are looking to get your kids more involved in the kitchen, I offer virtual kid’s cooking classes where we create, have fun, and try new foods together in a safe, no pressure environment.  

Tip 3: Add veggies to your baked goods.  

All the recipes in my kids cooking classes are  carefully chosen to help bridge the gap between scary and unfamiliar veggies to familiar and enjoyable.  There are so many delicious recipes out there from Spinach Pancakes, to Beet Brownies, to Sweet Potato Muffins.  It just takes time, patience, and experimentation to find the recipes your kids enjoy.  

Tip 4: Provide a safe, no pressure environment where kids are able to try new foods.

Playing the “Rate-It” Game or doing a taste testing are both great ways to make trying new foods fun!

Have kids rate a new food on a scale of 1 to 10, or for younger kids, using their thumbs (up, down, or to the side).  Instead of saying “try it” say “what do you rate-it?”  This simple shift in language takes the pressure off of our kids.  If they don’t want to rate it, that is okay too.  Try again another time.  You can download my popular “Taste-O-Meter by going to Misa’s Clean kitchen.  Enter your email address in the pop up and then you can print it out and put it on your fridge as a reminder to make trying new foods fun!  

If you are looking for a new salad dressing (for example) buy or make several different ones and then ask the kids to put them in order from their favorite to least favorite.  Again, we aren’t asking them to taste them, we are asking them to play a game by putting them in order.  Do it together as a family.  You can talk about the texture, taste, smell, and appearance, incorporating our senses.  It is a great way to build vocabulary too for our little ones.  Think of this activity as wine tasting for kids!  I know, I always enjoy a good wine tasting with my girlfriends.  

Tip 5: Make veggies a convenience food.

Prep veggies ahead of time and store them in glass containers in the fridge at eye level.  This allows for everyone to see and easily access them when they are hungry.  I have noticed a huge difference in the amount of veggies my family consumes when I wash and cut them ahead of time.  I love to have rainbow colored peppers, carrots, cucumbers, and celery, for ants on a log, on hand for easy snacks.

Tip 6: Serve veggies first at dinner.

Enjoy a veggie appetizer together as a family for 5 to 10 minutes at the beginning of dinner.  This could be a small plate of veggies and dip or a small salad, for example.  A salad can look differently than what we think of as traditional salads.  A few piece of lettuce or cut up cucumbers can “count” as a salad.  It is important to meet your child where ever they are and slowly, over time add to the salad. 

Alternatively, if your kids are starving at 4 pm, and dinner is in an hour.  Serve them a plate or muffin tin of veggie sticks at 4 instead.  The key is to capitalize on the hunger.  If they are starving, they will eat their veggies.

I hope you found these first 6 tips helpful. Stay tuned for 6 more tips in my next post, coming soon!

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