There are few things more satisfying then watching our daughter enjoy nutrient dense foods and knowing that she is receiving the very best nutrient quality we can provide. She never really eats any true “junk” foods, fast food or high fructose laden drinks and actually likes culturally shunned foods like sauerkraut and offal. We of course, intend to keep it that way for as long as possible yet know that evidently those foods will sneak their way into her mouth. I hope that with these tips to get kids to eat healthy foods, she will have a solid foundation of health foods and understand what her body needs for nourishment.
What are my tips to get kids to eat healthy foods?
Teach kids healthy ways while they are young
It is our intention to teach her the importance of clean, organic, nutrient dense foods. Essentially in a word, REAL food. At only three years old, she understands where her food comes from whether it be from an animal, tree, bush or out of the ground directly. She seems to have a basic understanding of life and death. She understands young and old. She is familiar with the cycle of life as far as things are newly created and then decay, rot or decompose. Paying outdoors, finding dead insects, watching food spoil and having a compost pile has taught her these basic concepts. She does not have qualms about eating animal products, there is no innate judgement or condemnation toward the idea. She wholeheartedly celebrates offal, dairy products and eggs knowing they will help her “grow so big as the roof” and “one day be big”. She shops with us in the local stores and at the meat market. She has touched more animal parts than most adult Americans.
We often talk about respecting and appreciating our food and treat it as nutrition not entertainment. We discuss the importance of stewardship over our environment and all living things around us. Her life is intertwined with ours as we explore the health possibilities of certain dietary changes and challenge modern cultural norms of eating. We are learning and experiencing together as a family.
Our daughter has a solid foundation of health foods in her diet, that she genuinely enjoys. I have found four different techniques to employ when I want to sneak in extra nutrition into her foods.
Allow your child to help make their food
In addition to the techniques listed below, it is important to allow children to experiment with making and preparing food. Set a welcoming environment for hands on exploration. This is a great opportunity to talk about where food comes from, how it affects the body and why certain foods are more important than others.
Free exploration with food and textures expresses the child’s will and is also a time of early learning and important fine motor development.
Ways kids can help prepare their food:
- cutting soft foods
- stirring in bowls or on the stove
- sprinkling spices, tasting different combinations
- measuring liquids and solids
- turning on and adding food to the blender/food processor
- picking out utensils, setting the table
The more children know how about their food, the closer their relation to it and to their source of nourishment.
Four Ways to Sneak Healthy Foods onto a Kids Plate
It is easy to pack extra nutrition into smoothies, dips and purees.
Our daughter likes fresh fruit smoothies, especially during hot summer days. We use fresh, organic local fruit like berries and papayas in a dairy base of yogurt, cream or milk. I like to add a small spoonfuls of quality green powder, spirulina, moringa powder or whatever other superfood powders I have around. Aryana’s favorite nutritional herb to add to smoothies is our adaptogenic maca powder.
Dips and purees appeal to children’s inquisitive need to explore sensory textures. Guacamole and pestos are classic dips to enjoy. Dips are fun finger food opportunities, leave some veggies out and let them dip away. I make purees from broccoli, cauliflower and squash and mix in cream, butter and nutrient dense herbs.
Lately I am gently food processing broccoli and mixing in herbs and butter. I pulse steamed broccoli a few times until it is crumbly, add in the butter and herbs, and chow down. Aryana goes for it!
Spread a thick layer of guacamole, avocado, cream cheese or butter onto flax crackers, veggie chips, and other kid friendly foods.
These healthy fats are full of fat soluble vitamins essential for healthy development. They also happen to make food taste extra good.
Aryana is a big fan of our homemade micronutrient flax crackers with a generous pat of butter spread across with just enough room for her fingers to hold on to.
A little melted cheese goes a long way! This is how we first convinced our daughter to eat mackerel. Melted cheese goes will with anything, distracted with the gooey strands of goodness your kid happily munches on what you want them to eat. It is a win-win.
I apply liberal spoons of butter to her hot foods like steamed or roasted veggies, meats and broths. Melted butter turns into juice and down it goes.
Nothing like good old fashioned, bribing. If melted cheese fails the trick, I can usually announce a piece of cheese will grace Aryana’s plate after she has all of its current food in her belly. A simple “first let’s have this” or “just finish half of it” and “this will help you grow more than that” usually suffice as encouragement to get my first choice food down to her belly.
Negotiating food has its merits but I am careful to not get carried away or overly forceful. If she is truly full of that food or really really does not want any more I do my best to respect her boundaries and trust that her body will guide her to the foods it needs.
Pine nuts are a rare and special treat we keep tucked away in our fridge. I use them in special times of added nutrient need. For example, “I’ll trade you a bite of this for a pine nut” or simply add a sprinkling of pine nuts over the food and mix it in.
Here is the last of my tips to get kids to eat healthy foods.
Excite the tongue. New flavors and textures can entice a young mouth to finish off their plate.
Generally I try one or two new spices at a time to gauge Aryana’s reaction and not overwhelm her palate. She consistently enjoys fermented foods so we share sauerkrauts, lacto-fermented veggie sticks and probiotic teas together.
We add a lot of anti-inflammatory spices to our food. Dulse is another fun flavor I add into her food every now and then. It is a seaweed that adds a funky salty touch to the food. If a dish comes out too bitter I use mesquite or lucuma to sweeten it up a bit.
What works for you? Leave your tips to get kids to eat healthy foods in the comments below!
Read more about the nutrient dense foods we feed our child.