Who in the world wants to eat Healthy? What did Healthy do to deserve such a fate?

Raising kids who enjoy eating healthy food puts them on the path to wellness. It is not enough to sneak vegetables into other dishes. Raising children who want to eat healthy foods takes education, creativity and ownership.

Food Is a Matter of Taste

Dinner table battles over Brussels sprouts and broccoli come as no surprise to most parents. So, how do you get your child to actually enjoy healthy foods when it seems as though everything healthy is “yucky”?

One thing to keep in mind is that taste buds change over time. Whenever my young children balked at trying something new, I would ask them if they still enjoyed the mashed peas they loved as infants. Inevitably, they would wrinkle their noses in disgust and shout, “No!” This gave me the opportunity to explain to them that they have taste buds on their tongue that change as they get older. Foods that tasted great when they were babies don’t taste good any more. Once they understood this fascinating fact about themselves, it was much easier to get them to agree to be willing to try new things. Some people never like Brussels sprouts and that’s okay. There are plenty of other ways to integrate healthy foods into the family diet.

One way to get children to try new healthy foods is to bring them with you when you shop for produce. Farmers’ markets are an excellent source of fresh food and most sellers are happy to offer samples and will tell you and your child about how they grow the plants. You can transform a food battle into a food adventure by making it fun and exciting to try new things. What 5-year old could resist tasting a Dragonfruit?!!?

Fix Your Own Diet First

Many adults mistakenly believe that they are eating a healthy diet when, in fact, they are not. The food pyramid many of us were raised to believe in has been shown to be far too heavily focused on grains, when protein and produce are far more valuable and important to a healthy diet.

The first step to raising children who love healthy food is to make it a priority in your own life. There are countless books and websites dedicated to healthy eating. Personally, I have found SparkPeople to be an excellent tool. You simply enter the food you eat each day and the website creates useful reports on how much of each nutrient you consumed. Having been a long time healthy eater, I was stunned to learn that, on average, I was eating only one-fourth of the amount of protein needed by my body.

According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, insufficient protein causes cravings for starch and sugar. When I corrected my diet to include enough protein, my cravings for chips, cookies, and ice cream simply disappeared!

Depending upon your child’s age, you can encourage them to enter their own food intake, or you can enlist their help in ensuring that you are eating a nutritious diet. By showing your child that you care about what you eat, they are more likely to do the same thing for themselves.

Build a Water Tower!

Most of us do not drink enough water. We know we should. We know it’s important to good health. And still, we forget.

When I owned a private school in Virginia (Children’s Academy), each new student was given a cup to decorate however they liked. Each morning, they would find their cup, washed and turned upside down, on the bottom shelf of the Water Tower. The Water Tower was simply a narrow bookcase with eight shelves. Throughout the day, they were expected to fill their personalized cup with water and drink it. After each cup of water, it was placed on the next shelf up. As students prepared to leave for the day, a teacher would check to make sure they had completed all of their schoolwork and their eight cups of water. It became a bit of a joke, because the other students started reminding each other if the saw that a student hadn’t been moving their cup up the tower.

Create Ownership By Gardening

While working as a Family Child Care Provider in military housing on Oahu, I overheard a conversation most parents would never imagine hearing from their 3-year olds. With six preschoolers (one of them my son), we created a small garden in the backyard. It wasn’t anything big or fancy. We planted a fort made out of sunflowers, along with radishes, spinach, and purple beans. Most of the seeds sprouted quickly, but spinach is a slow starter, so we had to wait an extra long time for the first leaves to show.

Once the spinach appeared, the kids were very excited about it ~ even though most of them had already decided that they weren’t going to like it. One by one, I introduced them to the delicate rich flavor of new spinach leaves. Most of them loved it! The unexpected conversation occurred when one toddler kept pulling leaves from the new plants because he liked them so much. Another tot wagged her finger at him, explaining that he was going to kill the plants if he took too many leaves off the plant at one time. The culprit’s father happened to be observing from the driveway, unseen, and his mouth was agape with surprise!

It is very simple to create a simple garden, whether you have a yard or not. Many foods can be grown indoors and in containers. You can learn more by contacting your local Master Gardeners office or take a look at The Daily Garden website. When children are part of the planting and gardening process, they will be far more excited about eating the fruits of their labors than grabbing another overly processed snack from a box. As an added benefit, gardening is an excellent way to stay active!

Create Menus Together

Most adults have fond memories of baking cookies or wrestling with the mixing spoon, making Rice Krispies treats. Unfortunately, many households feel too busy to spend time with their children in the kitchen. This is a big mistake. First of all, your children need to learn how to cook for themselves. Secondly, it provides an excellent opportunity to show them how you create delicious meals using healthy ingredients.

Working with your child in the kitchen creates many teachable moments. Considering a recipe incorporates reading, math skills, chemistry and even resource management! Do you have everything on hand? How do you halve a recipe that calls for three eggs? (Whip them, measure them and save one half for another recipe.) What happens to pancakes if you leave out the baking soda and baking powder? (Crepes.) Having fun in the kitchen creating healthful meals provides a wealth of skills to everyone involved.

Make Healthy Snacks More Available

One reason unhealthy foods are eaten so much is because they are easy. You open a box, a bag, or a can and get instant gratification. No muss, no fuss, and far too much salt, sugar, fat and processed grains. Baby carrots, whole grain crackers, avocados, fruit juice popsicles and beef jerky are just as convenient, but only if they are available.

When my husband and I were trying to lose weight, I started keeping a vegetable tray with low-fat dip on the coffee table whenever we were home. Carrot chips, celery sticks, broccoli, cauliflower, tiny radishes, jicama slices and whatever else struck my fancy at the grocery store made their way onto our Veggie Table. The end result, we ate far more crisp, refreshing and tasty vegetables than we had in months! By making healthful snacks easy to reach, your child will be more likely to make them a lifelong habit.

At the same time, many forward-thinking parents have swung the pendulum too far in the direction of healthy food. My aunt had a neighbor who eliminated candy from their home. The result, their young daughter would gorge herself on candy from my aunt’s candy bowl every time she came over to play with my cousin. My cousin, who had easy access to candy whenever he felt like it couldn’t have cared less about the candy. It was always there, so he didn’t feel deprived. He had also been raised to understand what is good for his health (my aunt is a nurse) and he was never pressured to eat things he didn’t like. Healthy food was simply a normal part of his life. If he wanted an occasional hard candy, he was welcome to help himself.

These simple tips will help your child learn to love eating healthy food!