Rules for Raising Healthy Eaters

My Three Rules for Raising Healthy Eaters

Rule #1: Make sure your kids are wearing helmets for dinner. Safety First.

No but really, my little girl is quite opinionated on her helmet and there are some nights where she wants to wear it all the time and I have zero issue with that plan, especially if she insists on standing on a damn bar stool during dinner.

I spend a lot of time thinking about dinner time with kids. After all, I’m writing a column for Simply Recipes on exactly what it takes to get dinner on the table that kids actually eat. I think most parents would agree that it’s a constant brain struggle.

I’ve made a loose strategy though that seems to be working with our kids and so I thought it would be fun to share it and see what you all think!

Before I get to the rules, two disclaimers!

Disclaimer One: My daughter is a terrible eater right now. I’m the first to admit this. My son, who is two years older, is a great eater.

In fact, it’s so bad that recently when my daughter refused dinner my son actually sighed and said, “Oh no, not again!”

So yea, we have some work to do. But I do believe that we will get there.

Disclaimer Two: I break these rules all the time. They are in my mind, but parenting is hard and some nights you just have to make it to 8pm. Don’t be too hard on yourself or your kids during dinner.

Okie dokie! On to the rules!

Rule 1: Persistence Not Insistence

I’m a firm believer in gentle nudges to correct behavior. I think there’s very little to be gained by forcing your kids to eat everything on their plate or trying to force them to like things. If one day, my son doesn’t want sweet potatoes (who knows why – sweet potatoes are delicious), then that’s fine. I don’t make a big deal of it. 

I ask that he try the sweet potatoes, but I don’t make a pain point out of it.

I also try to talk through what he doesn’t like about them. Is it the flavor? The texture? Oh… so you don’t like mushy sweet potatoes but maybe you will like sweet potato fries?

Mentally though, I bookmark to make sweet potatoes the next week, and the next, and the next. Maybe I’ll make them in a slightly different way, but I keep exposing them to the thing they apparently don’t like.

Believe it or not, this actually works and my son has grown to be a very good eater through this strategy. He will try almost anything and likes most things because he’s been exposed to them over and over again.

Rule 2: Don’t Dangle Dessert

This one is hard for me, but I know that it’s right. If you want to create healthy eaters, it doesn’t help to make certain foods reward foods because that makes it seem like the non-reward foods are somehow worse.

You have to eat this bad pasta if you want that good cake.

The better way to approach dessert is to announce before the meal if there is a dessert. Everybody will get some regardless.

Of course, there are limits. If my kids eat absolutely nothing, then I’m not going to be giving them a huge bowl of ice cream, but the goal with this rule is to not hold dessert on some sort of pinnacle. It’s just a part of a meal and can be a part of healthy, realistic eating.

Mentally, this one is very hard for me because I’m always personally slightly offended if my kids don’t swoon over my cooking and I want to PUNISH them for their poor tastes. But, I know it doesn’t help.

Rule 3: Remove Media

Having time as a family is a great way to make healthy eaters. It gives kids a chance to see what you are eating and you can talk about food along with things like your day! It creates routine.

Yes. That means we eat every night with the TV off.

Yes. That means we eat every night with our phones put away.

Yes… we sometimes break this rule also. (Movie nights, for example!)

But, healthy eating doesn’t just mean the food you are eating, but the environment in which you are eating. Putting down the media for an hour every day should be doable.

What do you think?

If you are a parent, what do you struggle with when it comes to dinner time? Are your kids good eaters? What’s your secret?! Leave a comment!

Rules for Raising Healthy Eaters

7 comments on “My Three Rules for Raising Healthy Eaters

  1. These are so in line with what I’ve heard and read. Our Parents as Teachers educator told us last week that it can take 15+ exposures to a new thing for a toddler/pre-Ker to try it. Put it on the plate, don’t make a big thing of it, but encourage what we call a “no thank you” bite or two. We make sure there’s an option they really like and enthusiastically eat (which has translated to the holiday menus as well). We fight our instincts to negotiate “eat some of this and you’ll get that” and we don’t push for clean plates. We avoid saying things are good or bad, but sometimes call the healthy things “grow” foods. Some days they try things, some days they don’t. But they aren’t starving and they’re learning to listen to their bodies about how much they eat.

  2. I try to do the same things so I’m glad I’m not alone in my kid loving something one day and hating it the other. I ask that he take 1 bite…tell me what he doesn’t like and tell him Thank you for being willing to try new things. We actually sing a song that says “we have to try new things cause it might taste good.”

  3. One other tip. My son was a wonderful eater, I made all his baby food & it was perfect….until he turned 2 and then he stopped, ugh! I had him up on a stool, with his own cutting board, “helping” prepare dinner. He would snack on all the veggies while
    “cutting” them up (don’t worry, it was pretend no knife involved). So while he didn’t like them all cooked, he would eat them raw and seemed to eat more if he helped with dinner. Also, this started a raw veggie tray with a little dressing as dip. Always ensured lots of vegetables were eaten even if the cooked ones were not. Great suggestions Nick!

  4. Love these! My daughter is a terrible eater right now but I keep telling myself that I’m responsible for what I OFFER to her and not whether or not she eats it…so that helps – sometimes!

  5. An additional strategy we used for encouraging the kids to try or eat more of the less favored dishes was to put those on the table first. We would deliberately walk back to the kitchen and leave the hungry kids alone with the food which would usually result in them sneaking a few bites due to hunger. Alternatively perhaps the Brussels sprouts would be done 5 minutes before the rest so we gave the kids the option to begin with what was available.

    My parents used to exclaim how wonderful everything tastes with a bit of hunger sauce and I have become my parents.

  6. I’ve found that if they can help with dinner (easier with 4-year-old than 2), they’re more likely to dig in because they did it. Kuhn Rikon makes a cool set of kids’ kitchen tools, including a little knife that’s great for small hands and actually cuts! We’ve also encouraged them to talk about how something isn’t their favorite, rather than straight up “I don’t like it.” This seems to help with the yucky faces at meal times!

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