Monday, September 21, 2009

Getting kids to eat healthy

I will be the first to admit, I'm a lazy mom. I'm not a short order cook. I firmly believe that if mom makes it, you need to eat it. Unless the majority of the family votes the meal is vile, then everyone is free to make sandwiches.

Food has always been an adventure in our home. We have made a conscious effort to expose our children to a variety of ethnic foods. You never know what you're going to like.

DH lived in Japan for two years and brought a love for Japanese foods in to our marriage. We cooked a lot of Asian-inspired foods, heavy on the veggies. It's what was normal in our home. When we first moved to the south, I was determined to make authentic southern food in the form of fried green tomatoes, pulled pork and collar greens.

I found a recipe on the internet and set to work on the greens. I followed the directions exactly. We sat around the table and the children looked skeptical about the food. We each took out one spoonful of greens and on the count of three, we all took a bite. And, by the count of four we had all spit it out on our plates. It was awful! Later, a friend informed me that you need to thoroughly wash greens in a salt water solution to get it clean or else it tastes very bitter. No kidding!

When I told my mom about this latest food adventure, she was so surprised (as usual) about how adventurous my kids are when it comes to food. My dad is a very picky eater. And it always amazes me how parents think kids think veggies are a bad word. In fact, that's a blogging topic of the day from to sneak veggies into kids. More and more parents are looking for ways to trick their kids to eating healthy foods. The latest is putting them in to yogurt by Littleblends.

I learned a valuable lesson when I prepared the greens for my family...properly cooked foods taste better and that goes for veggies, too! Veggies are not supposed to be mushy. Mushy vegetables are overcooked. Overcooked foods do not taste good. People (including kids) do not like overcooked foods.

Here are some additional tips for getting your family on board with vegetables:

  • Start young. Contrary to pop culture, babies don't need to eat pureed foods. They can go straight to table foods if you delay solids. Give them mushed versions of what you are eating. Don't hold back on the flavors unless it is exceptionally spicy. My kids were eating curry before they were a year old. I had another that was eating cucumber and octopus salad at 7 months.
  • Expose them early and often to a variety of tastes. The more normal you make unusual foods, the more likely they are to eat them, this goes for veggies, too. Don't dumb down foods! Just because they are kids doesn't mean they can't enjoy strong flavors.
  • When it comes to introducing new foods, give it to your kids as a challenge. Don't ever tell a child they won't like something! Instead, ask them "Do you think your taste buds are grown up enough for this?" If they don't like it, then say "We can try again later when your taste buds are bigger." What kid doesn't want to be like the big people?
  • Get kids INVOLVED in meal planning and cooking. Watch Food TV together, look at cookbooks, cooking magazines, etc. Kids are much more likely to eat something they prepared. The food becomes familiar and less scary. It also is a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time together.
  • Toddlers especially love to help in the kitchen. Have them dump ingredients in. Use it as time to teach counting and the importance of following directions. Big kids can learn FRACTIONS by helping you cook, too!
  • Learn to cook it properly. I know I already said this, but it bears prepared properly just tastes better. Watching some Good Eats. Entertaining and Educational.
  • If all else fails, cheese makes everything taste better


  1. I love this post. How true! We doing many of the same things and have had great results. And yes, my mom is shocked too. She's shocked that I like so many things too because I was labeled a "Picky eater." I wasn't. I just didn't like the 5 meals she always made. When I tried a wider variety, I found I like lots of healthy foods. I just never knew it.

    My husband is the same way. Years ago, when we went out to eat with his family, my MIL said, "You never liked broccoli as a kid." To which my husband replied, "No, you just always told me I didn't." :-)

    Thanks so much for this. So many people never even consider it.

  2. kudos for the post. I always cook and never ONCE hid food. I detest that idea. If you do that, what is that saying about trust in your home? My kids know I will not lie to them...not even about something stupid like food. I've NEVER dumbed down meals...nor had to. We have 1 rule that stands at meal times and I've done it since they were toddlers:
    you MUST try it. If you hate it, spit it out discreetly in a napkin and try it again within 4-6 months.
    That is it. And it works. My kids both have ALWAYS eaten well and can tell you WHY they don't like something. They've never been big fast food eaters and tend to eat balanced meals.

  3. Great Post! I feel sorry for mom's who allow themselves to be short order cooks, not in my house! Take or leave it. I remember having the conversation about picky children with a friend, and she was saying babies have to learn because they dont have any taste buds, they have never tasted anything. I completely disagree, the baby tastes all kinds of things in utero, and when your breastfeeding, they taste everything you eat. I think it really makes kids alot more picky when they are on bland formula, then being switched to foods, they dont know what to think. My toddler likes almost everything. We got sushi the other night, and he was so happy, he kept saying thanks and kissing my husband and me. He's so sweet!


Thanks and have a great day!