Parents know that it can be difficult to encourage healthy eating in toddlers. Different textures and flavors outside of their comfort zone will make many kiddos run for the hills. As parents, it’s our job to keep trying to get our kids to eat healthy even if they are resistant, and sometimes using a little bit of savvy and misdirection can go a long way to get your kids eating veggies, fruits, and lean protein — even when they don’t know it. A healthy diet can benefit everyone in so many ways. Kids eat better, have more energy, have a better mood, and can be a good example to their friends and classmates. So let’s get them eating healthy!
Buy fun dishware to encourage healthy eating
It’s easy to make mealtime fun with plates and bowls with fun designs. While they are not the most economical investment, it’s a great way to encourage kids to eat nutritious food. A toddler presented with a new plate or bowl with their favorite character, superhero, sports team, etc. will often be more likely to eat what is served in that dishware!
The Fred DINNER WINNER Kids’ Dinner Tray is a tray that’s also a board game. Just fill up the empty spots and the goal is for your kids to empty them all until the end, where you can put a special dessert or prize! Another fun plate is the Mr. Food Face plate. Your kids will have so much fun creating a beard out of mashed potatoes or eyebrows out of steak.
Make up silly names for healthy meals
Who says you have to use common food names? Whether you use classic names like “ants on a log” or you create some of your own silly names for foods, kids are more likely to try something new if it’s fun! “Super Duper Pasta Surprise” sounds a lot more appealing than plain old spaghetti and meatballs.
Check Pinterest for some great ideas for unique food names, or to find inspiration and create your own ways to encourage healthy eating habits.
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Seek alternative healthy food choices
A great way to get your kids to eat fruits and veggies without a fight is to hide them inside other foods that they like. A great book called Deceptively Delicious is filled with awesome recipes, from chicken nuggets that are cooked with broccoli in them to brownies with carrots and spinach! Or if they ask for candy or cookies, offer them a sweet piece of fruit instead.
You want to offer them plenty of choices to get them to enjoy eating healthy. Don’t just say no to chips and hand them a carrot. Say no to the chips and ask them if they would like a carrot or nuts. Kids love to feel like they are making the choice on their own but can easily become overwhelmed at the thought of no chips and so many other choices. Narrowing it down, while still giving a choice is the best way to go.
Make eating healthy fun
Cutting fruit into fun shapes is a great idea to get kids to eat healthy snacks. Use cookie and sandwich cutters to make everything from sandwiches to waffles to cantaloupe more appealing. Another good idea is to make fruit and yogurt parfaits. Use fun glasses to layer your favorite fruits, berries, yogurt, and granola. This is a great way to eat healthy when you’re in a rush or on the go!
Labeling healthy foods with fun stickers is also a great way to encourage your toddler to eat healthy. If my kid knows that these grapes in this bag are washed and just for him, he is definitely more likely to eat them. And if I add a Spiderman to his name sticker, well, let’s just say we might need to hit the market for more grapes again sooner than I thought.
Keep healthy food available for snacks
When kids are hungry they will most likely eat what is available. If you only keep junk food available for them to snack on, that is what they will want to eat. By keeping healthy options for snacks such as fruit, granola bars, cheese, or vegetables available they will learn to love them.
Fill a large, colorful bowl with nutritious foods and place it in a central location to encourage them to grab a healthy choice when hunger strikes. Keep your little ones’ size in mind. You probably want to keep the cookies on a higher shelf than the nuts and raisins. Out of sight out of mind works well here.
Eat healthy to model the behavior
If your children see you eat healthy foods they will learn to do the same. Eating healthy is not only good for your kids, but it is also good for you too. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, eating a balanced diet, along with physical activity, will help you fight obesity, reduce your risk of chronic disease, and improve your overall health.
Many parents wrongly associate healthy eating with a healthy weight. That is true but not the most important reason to eat healthy and encourage your children to follow suit. Maintaining a healthy weight will reduce your overall risk of many long-term health problems. If you notice a weight gain in your child that is concerning to you, bring it up to their pediatrician. Often it’s just right around a growth spurt and nothing to worry about but a quick glance at their diet with an outside observer can’t hurt.
Everything in moderation
Of course, there will always be room for a treat here and there, but modeling a balanced, healthy diet will normalize this behavior for your kids. They will grow up opting for healthier choices and reasonable portion sizes because it’s routine for everyone in the family. You should also praise your children when they make healthy eating choices. This will help to promote their continued healthy choices.
Allow your little ones a treat now and then. It generally won’t hurt to have a cookie or ice cream after dinner on ocassion or as a special treat for a celebration. We used to do random spontaneous ice cream sundae night about once a month at my house and it those were always fun nights since we didn’t get too much junk food growing up. Make it special, but in moderation.
You can do this!
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be a chore. With a little bit of creativity and a lot of patience, your kids will soon be enjoying a wider variety of healthy options. But remember, even if you have the pickiest eater in the world, if you are trying your best to get them the right nutrition then you are doing your job as a parent. Some kids won’t eat a single vegetable or fruit no matter what you do! If this sounds like your kid, talk to your pediatrician about a referral to a nutritionist or feeding/speech therapist for some extra help. This is a common problem for many kids and there are resources out there that can help. Oftentimes, it is a texture issue that can be worked through with professional help. So take heart, all hope is not lost!
While getting your toddler to eat healthy may seem like an impossible task, it is possible with a little creativity, patience, and perseverance. The key here is remembering that each child has different needs, so you need to use a little trial and error to figure out what works for your toddler. We hope these 5 tricks will help get you started on the right track! Which trick works best for your picky eater?
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