It can be a daily struggle for so many parents: getting your toddler (or toddlers in my case with twins) to eat healthy foods. “Eat your broccoli!” “Finish your spinach!” “Just try the Brussel sprouts, you might like them!” “Fish is good for you, eat your salmon and you can have ice cream for dessert!” Many parents of young children are at their wits end trying to make their kids eat vegetables. Some put veggies in a blender and “hide them” in a smoothie. Others sneak them into other foods. Nothing wrong with either of those strategies. But ultimately, we want our kids to develop a palate for good food. So how do you get kids to eat healthy foods?
Too often, parents bribe their kids, promising cookies, candy, ice cream or other treats if they eat their veggies. Or they just declare that “you can’t leave the table until you finish everything on your plate.” Neither of these strategies are wise. We don’t want to train our kids to complain about certain foods knowing that it will lead to a treat when they eventually eat them. Plus, these tactics reinforce the child’s thought that the food actually isn’t good. It’s like saying, “I know those Brussel sprouts are gross, but if you can just force them down, you’ll get some cake.” No, that’s not the message we want to send. So, what’s a parent to do?
Change your words. And change your tone. Present the foods in a positive way, and your children will have a positive association! It also helps to be sure you have a tasty recipe, of course. It would be a shame for your positivity to be effective in getting your kids to try something, only to have them hate it because your recipe wasn’t good. (Kids will dislike some foods regardless, and that’s ok). So find ways to prepare tasty vegetables, fish, and other foods, and then put your positive words and tone into action! Below are some real-life example we use with our 3 kids.
Our oldest is 12, and he has an incredible palate! He’s been eating shrimp, crab, mahi mahi, sea bass, salmon, broccoli, spinach, onions, squash, black olives, tomatoes, salad, eggplant and more since he was a very young toddler. He recently tried escargot (loved it!), octopus (“it was ok”) and beef carpaccio (“I love how the shaved parmesan brings the flavor out,” he said). Our other two kids are 5-year-old twins. They LOVE black olives, broccoli, salad, various fish, spinach soufflé and even lox on a bagel. Tonight they had a salad with goat cheese, cranberry, & almonds topped with a crabcake! All of this great eating started with positivity.
When we began offering broccoli to our kids, we didn’t just say, “Here, try some broccoli. If you eat it you can have some ice cream.” Instead, we offered them “yummy broccoli! It looks like small trees!” We made it fun and positive. When my wife made mashed cauliflower, we called them clouds (and in fairness, our twin daughter loved them, but our twin son did not…but he tried them!). When it was time to introduce them to salad, we would cut up the various ingredients (carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, turkey, ham, black olives, cheese) and called it “twin salad.” They LOVED that! They even began to request “twin salad” for dinner. When we then started adding lettuce, we found that they liked some of the more firm pieces of iceberg, which we called “crunchy lettuce.”
When it comes to fish, kids can be picky. Especially if it has a stronger odor. So we started them on mild fish like tilapia & flounder, then moved to salmon. It was always “yummy fish” or “tasty salmon” or we would put “delish fish on your dish.” I know, it’s corny, but it came from Dr. Seuss and it made them laugh! Once, we served spinach soufflé, and our twin son asked, “Is that broccoli?” So we started calling it “soft broccoli.” (We have since switched and called it spinach soufflé). We started chopping fresh spinach and putting it into scrambled eggs or mixing it in with rice. When asked what it was, we called it flavor! At this point, our kids will try just about anything. Some things they like, some they don’t. One twin likes Brussel sprouts (“russels”), the other likes cauliflower. He likes walnuts in his yogurt, she doesn’t. They both love shrimp, crab, lobster, green beans, pork tenderloin, most fruits, most cheeses (yes, including blue cheese, brie and other stronger cheeses), edamame, and eggs benedict.
It’s not perfect, by any means. They can have their picky moments. They all have their likes and dislikes, including the oldest. Tastes change. But using positive and fun descriptions, introducing new foods often, and always with a smile, will lead to a more open mind and open palate! I hope you will try it and tell us how it goes! What tricks have you tried? What fun food descriptions have you used? We’d love to hear about it!
Song Pairing: “I Love Myself” (click sample to the right)