But Mooom! I don’t like what you’re fixing!
If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard those words in my household, I might still be writing, but I’d probably be doing it while I sipped Bahama Mamas and soaked up the sun on a white sandy beach somewhere.
To say my children are picky eaters is the understatement of the year, but I had a revelation a while ago. I looked in the mirror, saw how much weight I’d gained from eating the way they preferred instead of following my cravings for healthy food, and took a moment to consider how bad I felt, physically.
I also thought about how much work goes into growing the food we eat around our homestead, only to have two out of our three children hardly touch any of it.
That was the moment I said, “No more.” I’ve been doing a few things differently since my epiphany, and things have begun to change around our homestead. If you struggle with picky eaters too, here are some tips to help you overcome:
How to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy
1. Get the Kids in the Garden
This first option is one we’ve followed since we began homesteading. I love getting my children involved in gardening. We work hard to grow our food, and it’s important everyone be a part of the process.
The theory for getting your children in the garden is like getting your children to help with cooking. If they have a hand in raising or preparing the food which they eat, they’ll be more apt to try it. Our youngest child will eat the food he grew himself because he’s proud of it.
In our experience, this is a great way to introduce your children to food before it even makes its way to the table.
2. Ditch the Junk
When I made up my mind I was done with following along with poor eating habits; I made a conscious decision to remove any junk food from our house.
Meaning, I stopped bringing any candy or chips into our house. We aren’t huge grocery shoppers, because we preserve most of our own food. But when I make a store run, I usually came back with some of these items as a treat for the kids.
But when I’d do this, they’d stuff themselves and wouldn’t eat anything healthy until they had to give in. I’m not sure if everyone’s children are this stuck in their ways, or if it’s only my kids. Either way, this is the battle we were facing every time we’d bring home any junk food.
Knowing this, I decided to remove the temptation.
3. Keep the Sugar
It may sound strange, but even though I stopped bringing junk food into the home, I didn’t get rid of sugar.
At first, I would make drinks such as tea or Kool-Aid and use sugar substitutes. When I realized all of the dangers associated with the substitutes I stopped using them.
Now, I’ve gone back to using regular sugar for baking and drink mixes, only much smaller amounts than previously. This made my kids feel like things were moving back to what they were used to, but I was still reducing their sugar intake without them realizing it.
4. Tweak Their Favorite Meals
Before I was sure on how to introduce a healthier lifestyle to my kids, I’d try to introduce these super healthy meals which weren’t the least bit familiar to my kids.
Naturally, I was met with complete rejection. It would leave my kids complaining and having a poor attitude, and I’d have a sour mood because I had worked hard on a meal only to have few people eat it.
With time I realized my kids weren’t pushing back on the healthy food as much as they were pushing back over the change. Kids like consistency all the way down to their meals. When you mess with their familiarity, you’re going to be met with hostility.
Keeping this in mind, I made a list of their favorite meals. One of their favorites is cheese quesadillas. I decided to add small amounts of sautéed veggies to their quesadillas a little at a time.
At first, I received some pushback, but with consistency, they began to eat the meals prepared. They started requesting certain vegetables be removed because they genuinely didn’t like them all (which is fine.)
Yet, they ate the other veggies with no problem and began enjoying certain familiar dishes I’d tweaked by adding vegetables.
5. Always Cook the Veggies
Some kids have a texture issue. My oldest is this way. He’ll look at a salad and find it visually appealing.
When he goes to try it, he’ll physically gag because of the texture of lettuce and tomatoes. How food feels in your child’s mouth matters to them.
Which is why it’s important to make sure you cook vegetables when introducing them to your kids. They’ll be less abrasive when included in recipes if prepared.
Therefore, you could slide them in certain recipes without anyone noticing or tasting a difference in texture in the recipe.
If you keep things familiar to what they’re used to and don’t add a sudden ‘crunch’ to the meal, kids tend to be more open-minded.
6. Think Ahead
It’s difficult to throw healthy and kid-friendly meals together in a flash when you’re new to this way of cooking.
Until you become more familiar with what foods your kids enjoy which are healthy and which foods they don’t, it’s an excellent idea to meal plan.
I realize meal planning is quite a chore. If it doesn’t bother you, meal plan for a week or two at a time.
If you despise meal planning, try to plan meals for only a day or two at a time. The point is when you wake up in the morning you need to know what your meals are going to be for the day.
This will keep you from being in a hurry and having everyone breathing down your neck looking for food, and you fold and throw together what you know your kids will eat though it isn’t developing healthy food habits for them.
7. Only Make One Meal
This was a big one around my house. I used to say I wouldn’t be one of those moms who was a short-order cook.
Well, I stuck to this philosophy until my youngest turned two. He went from being a great eater to a picky eater overnight.
Anyone who has had a child knows there is no comparison to a two-year-old who wants his way! Eventually, I grew tired. I was tired of the crying, tired of the toddler tantrums, and tired of every meal being a fight.
Now, I understand nutritionists say, “Keep introducing the food to them. They’ll eat it.” My pediatrician said the same thing.
When we went in for his six-year-old check-up, she became exhausted at this point and realized my child wasn’t going to follow the standard pattern.
Finally, she told me to keep giving him a multi-vitamin and keep doing what I was doing because I couldn’t force him to eat. Some kids are merely particular about food.
With this, I breathed a sigh of relief and kept cooking 12 different meals a day.
With time, this method of living gets old too. Cooking becomes a huge chore, and you feel defeated. I finally said, “no more!”
Now, I fix one meal at each meal time. There are multiple items to choose from which means no one should walk away from the table hungry, but you do have to try what is put in front of you. My kids are trying the food without as much pushback, and I’m no longer cooking myself to death.
8. A Family Routine
Routine is important to kids. They like to know when they’re eating, what they’re eating, and what’s coming next during most moments of every day.
This is why setting times to eat is important. I used to be guilty of letting my kids snack around the clock. The problem with this is if they know they’ll be able to snack all day, they don’t care to skip a meal when they don’t like (or don’t think they’ll like) what’s being served.
However, when you tell your kids the times for eating breakfast, a snack between breakfast and lunch, lunch, a snack between lunch and dinner, and dinner they soon learn they’ll have plenty of opportunities to eat, but they may get hungry between those opportunities.
This encourages them to take advantage of the food set before them during the set meal times.
Keep in mind, some kids (like my own) will try to outwit this process. They won’t eat a meal and come back five minutes after dinner is cleaned up swearing they’re starving.
When this happens, I offer them more supper. If they eat it, great. If they don’t, this is their choice, but I don’t give in to their snack food demands when they try to get around fixing what has been prepared for them.
9. Don’t Forget the Sauce
My youngest used to say how much he hated meatloaf. He wouldn’t even try it, and it made meal times difficult.
The other day, we had meatloaf, and my son wasn’t happy about having to try it. It occurred to me we had extra ketchup and a few other dipping sauces he could put on top of the meatloaf.
When I offered him the sauces, he took the extra ketchup. This was enough to push him over the hump of not wanting to try the meatloaf.
Do you know the child now absolutely loves meatloaf? When we allow our kids to use dipping sauces or added sauces (without being excessive), it allows them to cover up what they assume they won’t like.
10. Treat the Kiddos
One valuable lesson I’ve learned is if I look at my kids and say, “You can’t have this. It’s bad for you.” They instantly feel deprived and want it even more.
The issue with this is when they get older they’ll think, “Now I can have everything I couldn’t have when I was living at home.”
Most people in these scenarios don’t know how to practice portion control. From there, it’s easy to spin out of control into an unhealthy lifestyle.
We don’t want this for our kids which is why I don’t say, “You can’t have this.” I try to use terms where it sounds like healthy foods are being added, not where unhealthy foods are being taken away.
For instance, we had quesadillas for lunch today. I put cheese on whole wheat tortillas and added an array of vegetables.
My youngest said, “Mom, when can we have cheese-rollups again?” (This is his way of asking for plain cheese quesadillas.)
I said, “Well, we have those quite regularly. These quesadillas have everything plain cheese-rollups have. These have only a few added ingredients to give our meal some color.”
He was satisfied with this answer and went on about eating his lunch. It’s all in how you word things.
Make healthy foods a part of their life. Don't let them feel like healthy food is stopping them from enjoying the things they like in life. These are important parts of getting your children to eat what you grow.
11. Make Meals Festive
Did you know if you make meals fun your kids might be more prone to eat it? I found this great recipe at SuperHealthyKids.com. It’s a healthy option for chow mein, which my kids wouldn’t touch.
However, I decided to include fortune cookies as our dessert. This wasn’t a big thing, but my kids thought it was cool because we didn’t have to go to a Chinese buffet to get fortune cookies.
Who knew something this small would put my kids ‘in the zone,’ and they’d eat and enjoy this meal? If you want to introduce a festive Mexican meal, consider adding chips and salsa as an appetizer.
If you want to have an Italian night, put some music on to set the mood. There are multiple ways to make meals festive and fun for kids.
12. Get on Board
The old saying says, “Practice what you preach.” Your kids may not listen to a word you say but bet a dollar to a donut they’re watching every move you make.
If you put healthy food in front of them, and you pick at the meal yourself, don’t expect the kids to buy what your selling.
Which is why it’s important for you to be onboard. The whole family should eat healthier and enjoy what you produce on your homestead.
If you can your own food but eat out all the time and rarely crack open what you preserved, your kids see this. You must embrace the lifestyle you want them to grasp on to.
13. Stick to Your Guns
Another tough step to getting your kids to eat healthily. Kids are amazing. They’re smart and extremely funny.
However, kids can also wear you down. When they want to argue their point, you might as well get prepared because they’ll bring a better case against your cooking than Ben Matlock every could.
Which is why you must stick to your guns. Even when you’re tired after a long day, you have to stand firm and let your children know you’ve fixed what you’ve fixed, and they must try it.
It can be difficult at times, but eventually, they’ll know you’re serious about your decision to eat healthier, and the bickering can stop.
14. Praise Your Kiddos
It’s easy as parents to get wrapped up in all of the things we’re supposed to teach our kids and forget to point out the things our kids are doing right.
This matters, even over something as trivial as eating their vegetables without griping about them. I realized today over lunch my younger son was eating and not making much of a fuss. This is unusual as he’s our most picky eater.
It occurred to me I should tell him what a great job he’s doing eating his lunch. It sounds minor, but you should’ve seen the way his little face lit up. He cleaned his plate at lunch and didn’t say a word.
Kids may be small, but they are very intelligent. If something gets them fussed at 24/7, they won’t want to do it.
However, if something gets them praise, they’ll be on board with it. When your kids are eating (whether they’re enjoying the meal or not) make it a point to thank them or praise them for eating well and making mealtime a joy.
15. Food Isn’t a Reward
If you’ve turned on the TV, you’ve seen a food commercial where the person in the commercial is rewarding themselves with delicious food because they’ve had a hard day.
When our kids are good in school, they’ll come home with candy as a treat for being well behaved. It’s a natural thing in our world to be rewarded with food.
The goal of homesteading for many people is to lead a healthier lifestyle. We want to grow our own food to ensure we’re eating to meet our nutritional needs. This leads to a healthy relationship with food.
You want to instill these values in your children. When food becomes a reward and something to eat to feel good, you have a problem. The foods which comfort us are usually the foods which aren’t good for us.
If you want to support a healthy diet for your children, you have to do your part to give them a healthy mentality when it comes to food. Food is for nutrition, not for comfort or as a reward.
Trust me; I know this is a hard cycle to break. I can’t tell you the years it took me to realize this about food, but I’m doing my best to get it through to my children to keep them from having the same unhealthy attachment to food I’ve had.
16. Sit Down Together
One of the most important things you can do to encourage healthy eating in your family is to sit down and eat a meal together.
When you eat on the run, mealtime isn’t enjoyable. Fast meals are unhealthy many times as well.
If you make meal times a time where you can enjoy your family and enjoy a good meal together, this could take away many temptations to eat unhealthy foods instead of healthy foods you grow.
17. Three Bite Rule
A rule around our table is everyone has to try at least three bites of everything on their plate. It takes taste buds a while to like healthy foods when they’re used to tasting salty and sweet unhealthier food options.
Even if your children don’t want more than three bites of certain foods, they at least tried it. Keep rotating healthy food options. You don’t know when it might click, and they begin to like different foods.
18. Caves Are for Bears
My final tip for getting your children to eat healthy on your homestead is not to cave in. Sticking to your guns at mealtimes is one thing, but caving is different.
When you cave, you decide the fight is too much, and you don’t give in at one meal. Instead, you give in to everything and stop battling unhealthy food habits all the way around.
I understand getting kids to eat healthily is difficult, especially if your children are strong-willed.
However, repeat these words to yourself, “I’m not a bear. Caves are for bears, not me!” It sounds crazy, but sometimes repeating motivational words to ourselves gives us the boost we need to keep doing what we know is best for our children, even when they can’t see it.
You now have 18 different tips for getting your children to eat healthy foods on your homestead. I know this isn’t an easy parenting battle to fight, but with consistency, you should hopefully see results.
But I’d like to hear from you. Do your kids eat what you produce around your homestead? What do your children love to eat and what do they dislike? Do you have any pointers to get your kids to eat better?
We love to hear from you. Leave us your thoughts in the space provided below.