Learning about healthy eating doesn’t have to start in adulthood. However, it’s a lesson RARELY taught in school. Empower your kids to fuel their bodies with healthy food with one of these 19 tips.
Kids are like sponges.
They soak information up like sponges!
From learning how to speak Spanish and English (growing up in a bilingual home) to going from rolling…to crawling to walking to running—all within a matter of 9-17 months…to knowing how to use an iPhone by the time they exit the womb, they are smart little cookies!
So when it comes to “learning how to eat” and fuel their bodies to be as healthy as possible, they should be sponges too.
Unfortunately, far too often than not, in our society today, we resort to feeding our kids “kibbles and bits” (i.e. “kid food”)—foods that mimic real food in the form of Hot Pockets, Pop-tarts, Fruity Pebbles, Goldfish, Pretzels, Doritos, Go-gurt, Crustables peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, Lunchables, and on and on.
And, unfortunately…our kids don’t learn much about healthy eating (other than that food-and sugar- tastes good).
Sure, you TRY to serve them peas and carrots, make them drink milk, slice up bananas in their morning Cheerios, present grilled chicken or broccoli on their plates…BUT, “They won’t eat it” you say, and you chalk it up to the fact that:
“They are JUST kids…”
Listen up, your kids deserve just as good of nutrition and food as you—if not even better—for their growing minds and bodies.
Sure, we all want to teach our kids healthy habits — but what are the BEST ways to accomplish this (especially when we’re busy or exhausted or don’t have time to implement the best habits for ourselves)?
Here are 19 unconventional, fun ways to incorporate a little fun learning—and nutrition lessons—into your daily interactions with your kids (after all, nutrition is NOT something regularly taught in classrooms today, and with school cafeterias, nationwide, calling pizza and French fries “vegetables”, your kids’ health education is, in large part, up to YOU):
Instead of stealing the show every night and just getting dinner cooked and on the table, rally the kids’ to pitch in! Have them stir, mix, assemble, concoct healthy dishes with you. The more involved they are in the process and feel part of the food experience, the more likely they are to feel invested in the actual “healthy” food they otherwise may view as a foreign alien (like broccoli or spinach). Here are some other ways to get them involved (aside from cooking):
- Help set the table.
- Tear lettuce into bite-sized pieces for salad.
- Pour ingredients into a bowl and help mix.
- Toss the salad.
- Snap fresh beans.
- Wash fruit, such as grapes and apples.
- Slice bananas, soft cheese, and hard-cooked egg with a plastic knife
- Squeeze a lemon or orange.
- Help rinse and wash unbreakable dishes.
- Peel a hard-boiled egg
- Mash potatoes
- Measure ingredients
- Peel vegetables
- Read simple recipes and follow the directions
- Open cans
- Stir the pot or bowl
- Put away groceries
- Make a shopping list
Before your family meal, start a new habit of checking in with their food-body-mind connection. In other words: Intuitive and mindful eating. Ask them to rate their level of hunger/fullness on a scale of 1-10 (1=famished, 10=stuffed) and what they are most looking forward to (or dreading) about the meal before them (the taste of the cauliflower mash with butter, or chicken fingers—with almond flour crust, etc.). Get them to start thinking (and viewing) food as a nourishing experience for fueling their lives.
Draw a colorful picture of what the ideal plate looks like when eating real food (what kid doesn’t love coloring!?). Break out the Crayolas, and you draw the first version: a circle with at least half the plate filled with colorful vegetables, one-quarter to one-third filled with a protein of some sort (you can draw the actual animals, or the meat itself), and one-quarter with the “secret sauce” (i.e. healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, nuts and seeds, etc.). These are the basics. In addition, you can draw pics of colorful fruits and their favorite starches (rice, oatmeal, potatoes) as the occasional sides. Start helping them visualize what a plate should look like.
Let them choose.
Whether they accompany you to the grocery store, or are just involved in helping you make your grocery list, let them choose a healthy food of the week. You can give them options if they are stumped—and call it something fun: such as “crazy yellow hair”—spaghetti squash; “monster eyes”—olives; “rabbit food”—carrots; “muscle food”—protein like bison burgers or chicken thighs; “James & the Giant Peach food”—fresh peaches; etc.).
Sit down with the clan and brainstorm a healthy goal (or two) to focus on each month as a fam (and write it down on a place you can all see it). Such as:
- We will eat 1-2 fruits/day and at least 3-4 vegetables each day; and limit our chips and candy to 1-2 times per week
- We will eat out 1-2 times per week (rather than every day)
- We will order veggies, a salad, or baked potato with our meal when we eat out instead of french fries, or other greasy side
- We will sit down and plan our weekly menus together
- We will take turns picking out a new ethnic food, vegetable or recipe to try each week.
The world is your oyster!
Spark a Fire.
Take a sparkler, a candle or simple lighter, and talk to them about how foods with sugar and packaging we eat are like sparklers or candles. Light the sparkler or candle, and explain how we “get quick fire” (energy) from foods like candy, or chips, or granola bars, BUT then (have them blow it out; or let the sparkler fade)…the energy is GONE (and we are depleted). Tell them: When we eat foods like protein, veggies, fats, some fruits and a little bit of lasting starch (potatoes, rice, oats)…we have fire (energy) to keep on, keeping on…for hours. Visualize.
Re-create ANY kid “friendly” (preferred) food with a healthier twist and talk to your kids about how the foods can be very similar, but how the healthier versions give them more POWER AND ENERGY than the boxed Kraft Mac & Cheese, Kids’ Cuisines Frozen Meals or fast food Chic-Fil-A. Check out some of my favorite imitation versions of kid-staples:
- Chic-fil-A Chicken Nuggets by Stupid Easy Paleo
- Waffles by Civilized Caveman
- Mac & Cheese by the Paleo Mom
- Chocolate Chip Cookies by Texanerian Baking
- Easy 3-Ingredient Pizza Crust with toppings of choice (procuitto, olives, chicken or ground meat, pepperonis, spinach, veggies, etc.) by The Big Man’s World
Make a Contest.
Who doesn’t like a little bit of friendly competition? Have your kids keep a veggie and fruit chart to keep track of how many fruits and veggies they eat in a day. Winner at the end of the week? Gets a “treat”—like dibs on the front seat, a day off from chores, heck you could even throw a little money in there or they get to choose the Sunday night dinner…something creative.
Taking care of things teaches us responsibility—be it a pet, a car (or bike), our bedroom, or our food source. Plant something with your kids—it can be super simple (a tomato plant, herbs, zucchini, etc.)—and let them tend to it. Throughout the process, you can teach them how the foods that we eat (ideally) are those that we can grow, pick or kill (i.e. animal meat). If it didn’t walk the earth, swim the sea or grow on the land…it’s not food. Another fun activity in conjunction with this would be to visit an orchard or farm where fruits and/or vegetables are grown. Pick fresh strawberries, peaches, pumpkins or apples.
Visit a farmer’s market. Many cities have scheduled times that local farmers come into town to sell their produce, plants and flowers. Talk to the farmers about what they’re selling, such as how long did it take to grow? When was this fruit or vegetable picked? What’s a good way to cook and eat it?
Read a book. There are a handful of picture books out there that bring healthy eating to life. I highly recommend Gregory the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmat to open your kids’ minds to the realm of picky eating. Other winners include: I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato (Charlie and Lola) by Lauren Child; How Did That Get In My Lunchbox?: The Story of Food by Chris Butterworth, and, of course, the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. For your pre-teens and teens, you can’t go wrong with The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Young Readers Edition by Michael Pollan.
Sugar Scavenger Hunt.
Take your kiddos to the grocery store, or on a scavenger hunt through your pantry. Their mission? Find all the foods labeled with extra sugar in them (i.e. high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar and artificial sweeteners are also sugars). Have them make a list. At the end of the grocery store shopping or pantry clean out, count up the number of foods they found with sugar. For every food, have them then brainstorm a different alternative without added sugar—you may have to help them (for instance: fruit snacks=an apple or orange; a chewy bar= beef jerky or a homemade bar; etc.).
For older kids (10+), host a family movie night, and watch the documentary Fed Up together. Host a little discussion following the showing.
Just as kids are sponges…they are also little models—and will model often times what we do (particularly when they are really young). Healthy habits FIRST start with you. Practice eating balanced, healthy meals yourself (and keeping the diet talk to yourself), and your kids will learn—without feeling pushed.
Make a Cookbook.
More crafts! Have your kids design and create their own cookbook of favorite foods—with healthier versions. Conduct an internet search for any of their favorite foods by typing in “(food) + paleo” or “(food) + gluten-free” or “(food) + real food recipe” and see what you find! Print these out, and have them draw the pictures. Way better than any ol’ book you buy off the shelf, and their own creation.
Your kids become the chefs and waitstaff. Have them take your over, with the mission: they must ask you what vegetable, protein, and healthy fat you want. You can create a menu of a few different options in each food group to choose from for each meal.
Give funny names to food your child is reluctant to try. Be creative, such as broccoli “trees” and salmon “Nemo’s friend.”
Taste the Rainbow.
Play a color game with the kids: When you’re in the supermarket’s produce section, send your children out on a color-finding mission. Assign one child orange and green, and another child gets the job of choosing two yellows! This can also be an excellent way of introducing new foods and getting color variety into the family diet
Acknowledge Good Habits.
Who doesn’t like positive affirmation? Speak positivity into your kiddos.
- “I like the way you chose that piece of fruit.”
- “I’m so proud that you’re learning to make good food choices to help you grow strong and be smart!”
- “Wow! I see all the food groups on your plate!”
- “Yummy – those vegetables and fruits are my favorites, too!
- “You’re such a super helper in the kitchen. We’ll be able to eat dinner much sooner since you helped.”
What other ideas do you have? What has worked for you and your family?
Sound off in comments!
In addition, looking for guidance in helping your kids (or fam) transition to “healthier” eating? Thrive’s Family Fuel program was made for you!
A 30-day program to help you kickstart a sustainable approach to eating healthier (for your whole fam!).