3 Tips for Getting Kids To Eat Healthy (Hint: They All Involve Deception)

posted in: Food, Kids, Parenting | 44

When it comes to eating healthy, kids talk a big talk. But they usually walk the walk that leads them straight to the sugar high.

Case in point: I was recently at an elementary school reading my book, Absolute Mayhem, to the kids. At one point in the story, my character Milo is struggling to choke down his vegetables in as many unsuccessful ways as possible. I always stop and ask the kids, “You guys like vegetables, right?” I usually get a pretty resounding “Yes!” drowning out those few, *ahem*…darling children who always insist on giving the answer they know you don’t want to hear. However, when I turn the page to reveal Milo and his sister Lulu feasting on a sweet buffet that is the stuff of doctor’s and dentists’ nightmares, a wide-eyed, covetous look creeps across the face of every single child sitting on the reading carpet. It’s a look that says, Screw you, vegetables.

Fact: kids like treats. And given the choice, most of them would pick something neon and loaded with sugar over something nutritious.

Sure, we can talk to them about making healthy choices. We can model it for them. Those are both noble and responsible things to do as parents. And our kids do listen. Because they know the right answer when asked. Every kid in every class I have ever read to knows what to say when I ask if they like vegetables…well, except for those *ahem* few. Actually, they also know the answer, they just choose not give us adults the satisfaction of hearing them say it. Or maybe they are just speaking the truth.

My own children aren’t any different. Despite all my best efforts to train their taste buds from the moment they could eat solids to enjoy healthier fare, it is clear to me that I can not trust either of them to plan their own meals. While they *may* throw in an apple here or a carrot there for good measure, those would be mere appetizers for a main course of chips, soda, ice cream, fried anything, candy, and frosted baked goods.

So what is a mother to do? Trick the hell out of them.

I have a few ways of doing this, which I will share:kids healthy eating

#1 Hide, but never seek. I hide healthy stuff in my kids’ food all.the.time. I add vegetable purees and flaxseed to pasta sauce. I mix in small servings of avocado or spinach into smoothies. I bake applesauce, pumpkin and chia seeds into cookies and cakes. And it usually works. There was that one time I tried to sprinkle a bit of flaxseed on my son’s mac ‘n’ cheese. When he noticed the small, unidentifiable flecks, he refused to eat it, saying it “looked and smelled ridiculous.” Kid – 1, Mom – 0. But then I watched him down a smoothie laced with kale, and the score was suddenly tied up.

chobani kids yogurt tubes
Making lunchboxes across the nation happy.

#2 There’s only one holiday our food celebrates: Halloween. As in, disguise, disguise, disguise. Sometimes I am able to trick my kids into eating healthy food by making them think it is something else. How many times have I breaded fish and told my kids they were chicken strips? Um, a bazillion. (We eat a lot of fish.) Sometimes I get lucky and a company will actually do the hard work for me. Like Chobani. Putting their greek yogurt (full of real fruit, 100% natural, non-GMO ingredients, and protein to boot) into tubes that can be frozen to look like freezy pops tells me that the people who work there love their mothers, and every other mother who has ever had to feed a picky child. My kids eat frozen Chobani yogurt like it’s, well, ice cream. Cue the hallelujah chorus.

#3 I’m not a doctor, so I can tell you to bribe them. You know, sometimes there’s just nothing wrong with telling your kids that if they take four more big bites of squash they can have a cupcake for dessert. The way I figure it, everybody ends up happy. It may be under duress, but this way the healthy food actually makes it inside their little bodies to do its job of undoing all the havoc the cupcake will wreak. That’s what I call, in my completely un-medical opinion, a nutritional wash. It could be worse.

All in all, just do the best you can for your kids. The most helpful thing I have ever heard when it comes to kids and nutrition is to look at the big picture. You can’t focus on those small snapshots of the afternoon your daughter ate a snack of chocolate chip cookies dipped in marshmallow fluff or the time your son had two bites of garlic cheese bread for dinner. If they are getting their five food groups most of the time, or even most of most of the time, give yourself a gold star. Because it’s not like we parents are always pillars of healthy eating (*she says as she shoves the last bite of frosted brownie in her mouth*).

Do you have a fabulous tip for getting healthy foods into your kids, with or without them knowing it? Share it in the comment section! Then go buy Chobani. They did NOT pay me to say that (sadly).  

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44 Responses

  1. I remember my mother having a hard time convincing me to eat healthy. If her methods failed she would point at a random man in the street and say “that’s mr so and so, he eats little children but don’t worry he only picks the yummy ones that have ice cream and chocolates in their tummies and not healthy vegetables”.

  2. I always keep healthy snacks at the kids’ eye level in the fridge: hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, cut up veggies, and fruit. Also, the kids love accompanying me to the farmer’s market. I find that if they help me pick out & cook whatever meal that veggie is in, they are way more inclined to eat it!

  3. Guilty of all of these…I put spinach, elderberry, avocado and chia and flaxseeds in their breakfast smoothies. At least ONE meal a day is good!

  4. I’m going to be that hated mom for a second who brags “my kids eat everything”…because they do. I look back to see what I did to make this miracle happen, because I was a bit of a picky eater as a kid, and it is hard to pinpoint the ONE thing I did…but I guess it would have to be not allowing them to develop a taste for sugary snacks early on? They are now 8 and 5 and LOVE to eat green peppers and carrot sticks at lunch, guacamole with crackers, they ask for asparagus and broccoli with dinner, they adore eating fish and shrimp… I know, I’m the devil right now. But when they were little I made them try such a wide variety of tastes and foods that I don’t think they developed ‘favourites’ or preferences, or a sweet tooth. don’t get me wrong, they love the occasional Nutella on toast, and this easter will be a chocolate feast, but when they look in the fridge or the cupboard they have veggies, fruit, yogurt, crackers, cheese, pickles, olives, granola bars and milk staring at them. We don’t keep pop, chips or cookies in the house and we buy ‘desserts’ (or make them usually) on special occasions. Dessert happens when it is special. They don’t ask for it and are super excited when I say ‘let’s make cookies tonight’. Ask my kids what their favourite foods are: Marshall, 5, will say Chicken Corn Chowder; Abby , 8, will say shrimp and crab! Ask me, and I’ll say hot fudge brownies! 🙂

    • That is awesome! I certainly can’t hate you for that. It’s nice hearing there are kids out there who appreciate the good stuff. Your kids will surely benefit from that as they grow. Unfortunately, best laid plans don’t always work for everyone. I always fed my kids healthy foods when they were little. It did translate with my daughter, who is an adventurous eater and actually pretty healthy when left to her own devices, most of the time. But my son…he’s a different story. He refused food from the get go, and somehow developed a taste for sugar without having much as a little one. I think some kids just turn out to be stubborn picky eaters no matter what. He’s getting better and better each year, and I feel confident he will grow into a teenager to who devours everything. But for now, I need a few tricks up my sleeve for him to make sure he is getting what his body needs. But I will say, you kids sound like great dinner guests! I would love some shrimp and Chicken Corn Chowder right about now!

  5. Love this…. 🙂 Thanks for posting!

  6. Tracy@CrazyAsNormal

    I use frozen Chobani to bribe myself all the time! It’s yummy. Um…I meant my kids… bribe my kids all the time.

  7. I am super guilty of the compromise. If C doesn’t want to eat whatever we’re having for dinner (and that is, sadly, pretty often), she can always just eat a carrot, the one vegetable that she always loves. I swear she’s going to wake up orange some day.

  8. thejillist

    I love throwing black beans or garbanzo beans into my homemade brownies. It adds a ton of fiber and protein and negates the need for flour. Kids love them and would never ever know that they aren’t the real thing unless you clue them in. I feel better about eating them too!

  9. My daughter is only 1 and I’m very careful about what she eats but she does get plenty of yummy sweet snacks when she goes to Mimi’s house or when she is home with her daddy and I’m not there to say anything 🙂 Ha. So she has started to develop a sweet tooth. However, she’s still eats her veggies like a champ. I think this is because I make them different every time and use LOTS of seasonings (I try to stay away from salt as much as possible though). So instead of just plain steamed broccoli, I’ll do baked broccoli or cauliflower with parm cheese. Or steamed green beans sauteed in garlic butter. Makes them much yummier for her and the rest of our family. If I just put plain veggies in front of her she pretty much just looks at me and laughs. And as a last resort I’ll just mix them into whatever she’s eating so that whenever she takes a bite she can’t help but eat the veggies. I’m sure she’ll catch on eventually but for now it’s working 🙂

  10. Such great ideas and I use some of those with my two-year-old. She loves eating candy and treats, ahh!! She does think that yogurt is ice cream, sneaky sneaky but she will soon learn the joys of ice cream with summer approaching. I love your son’s response to the Flaxseed, I could see my daughter saying that too! She is noticing smells and how things look. Great post!!

    • And ice cream IS a real joy. Yum! And yes, many times it is simply how something looks that keeps my kids from eating it. They won’t even give it a try!

  11. Hi, i do a lot of grating for my kids, grated carrots and courgettes in baking and pasta sauces etc. The courgette is the one that gets found out if anything! I also make a lot of smoothies. I can get avocado, strawberry, mango and all sorts down my son by presenting it with big straws and ice. I think it makes it look like something more adventurous… But yea he’d pick a slush puppy any day 😉

  12. I have learned that if I cut up fruits and vegetables and just put them out on the table, my kids will pass by, pick up a carrot or a grape and munch it down without even thinking about whether it’s healthy or not. I don’t know about other families, but I think the convenience of treats and other junk foods trumps having to wash, cut or peel something healthy. Hungry kids, especially teenagers, want food fast, so they grab whatever is available.

    • That is good to know for when my kids are teenagers! And you’re right…it is harder to prepare the healthy stuff. I’m as guilty of wanting to grab something super easy as well.

  13. I’ve been saying that the good food cancels out the bad food for years! Genius 😉

  14. Love it and am going to use these tips before my 2.5 year old turns into a chicken nugget. 😉

  15. great tips!! will try these when my sons older!

  16. Great ideas! I need to start hiding healthy stuff for my 3yr old daughter.

  17. I don’t have kids but I have a 2-year-old niece and a 4-year-old nephew. And yes I would sneak in veggies in his spoonful of rice or pasta. To my dismay, one time, he didn’t see it but tasted it. lol. He said the food tasted bad and he almost stopped eating the pasta altogether. But his mom puts barley juice in his milk and they think it’s a nice green drink for kids. =D The rest of the time, it’s just darn too hard! LOL.

    • Barley juice?? I may have to look into that! And darn those kids and their super sensitive taste buds!!

      • I know right? About barley, it’s a powdered version (brand is Sante) they mix in milk. I tried it, not bad at all! I drink it too with water but bleh! I might try to drink with milk soon. haha. I’m not sure though if you can try that with moringga 🙂 Pesto milk… hmmm

      • Speaking of tastebuds. My mom used to persuade me to eat the sliced squash which was part of a dish we cook at home. I didn’t like it but I liked potatoes. So I really wanted to obey so I tried to convince myself that the squash is potato by cutting it into the size the potatoes in the same dish are sliced. (whew long story.) I eventually deceived myself and finished the whole thing. lol. I deceived my own tastebuds. I don’t know why it’s so hard to deceive my nephew’s. 😀

  18. Your tips are fantastic! I always encouraged my kids to try new vegetables, they were pretty good about it but I always worried that they weren’t getting enough. I wish I had access to JuicePLUS chewables when my kids were little! Check them out on my link http://www.virginiaunderwood.juiceplus.com it’s a little insurance, not a substitute. I’m all about bribery!

  19. Reblogged this on Virginia's Easy Living Solutions and commented:
    Some great tips to make sure your kids are getting their five-a-day! Still concerned? Try chewable fruits and veggies http://www.virginiaunderwood.juiceplus.com

  20. “But then I watched him down a smoothie laced with kale, and the score was suddenly tied up.” … I’m giggling imaging you watching him down that smoothie and feeling sooo victorious 🙂

  21. I once heard a story where a little kid heard the ice cream truck and said, “Oh! That’s sad. My mom says the driver only plays the music when he’s out of ice cream.”

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