Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

Winning the Food Wars: 6 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat Well


Patricia Purcell knows how hard it is to get kids off junk food. Her 6 tried-and-true ideas bring the family together around fun and nutrition!

Most parents today are concerned about feeding their families healthy food on a budget. With all of the sugary, chemical-laden treats marketed to children, it can be a real challenge to get them to make good choices.

With a little ingenuity, and some small changes, even children who would rather live on a junk food diet can begin to eat healthier and enjoy it.

As a mom of three more-or-less healthy eaters, I’m here to tell you that eating well can be done, and here are my favorite tips.

1. Make it Fun

Kids like to be a part of things, whether it’s shopping or planning meals. Involving them in the meal process can make them more willing to eat what’s on the table.

When shopping, let children seek out one new fruit or vegetable to try. My own children have picked everything from Star Fruit to purple potatoes to Santa Claus Melons. Sometimes they discover a new favorite and others not. Regardless of the outcome, my kids are always eager to find another new food to try.

It’s all in the presentation. Try making a smiley face out of fruit, or a sailboat out of a sandwich. Kids love having fun with their food.

Give it a funny name. Food companies know this trick. Young children may be more willing to gobble up a ‘tiny forest’ on their plate rather than broccoli, or devour a ‘mountain’ rather than rice or potatoes.

2. Learn Together

Look at labels. Point out food labels to your kids and show them exactly why a food is healthy or not. Gather some nutrition guides and learn about the nutrients that our bodies need and what foods they are found in.

Play a food game. There are some fun interactive tools online that help to teach kids about nutrition.

Use the Food Pyramid. Keep a copy of this posted on the fridge where the kids will notice it.

3. Get Kids to Help

When it comes to putting healthy meals on the table, there are numerous ways to get youngsters involved.

Grow a garden. Start seeds indoors and have the kids involved in the whole process. Caring for the plants is a great hands-on science lesson too.

Teach them to cook. Even young children can be shown how to wash and peel vegetables, or help to stir batter. Gradually let them try harder tasks.

4. Don’t Eliminate Treats

Most of us love a treat once in awhile, so don’t eliminate them for good. Instead teach your children to enjoy them sensibly.

When baking, try to tweak the recipe to make it healthier, but still tasty. Eliminate sugar about ¼ cup at a time, and replace half of the white flour with wheat. Your family may not even notice the difference.

Have ‘sometimes’ foods. Soda and chips are delicious and addictive, so don’t keep them in your house. When they are offered at a party, allow the kids to have them without guilt.

Go out for a treat. Taking the family for ice cream (or another treat) is exciting for kids, but also keeps the junk out of your house.

5. Make What They Like

Make the foods that your family likes to eat; just be sure to find ways to make them as healthy as possible.

Find healthy add ins. Look for little nutritional boosts that blend in. Mix couscous and quinoa together, or add shredded vegetables to meat loaf. Sometimes what they don’t know won’t hurt them…it may even help them.

Make healthy substitutions. Choose brown rice instead of white, and wheat pasta instead of regular. Look for lean meats and low fat dairy products instead of higher fat versions.

Make it at home. You might be surprised at how easy it is to make certain commonly store bought foods. Bread, yogurt, and oatmeal, to name just a few, can be made with very little effort. By doing it yourself, you can control just what goes into them.

Another bonus is that often it is cheaper to make it homemade!

6. Don’t Give Up

There is nothing like a picky eater to wreak havoc with even the best planned diet. My own daughter went through several years when she would have been perfectly content to live entirely on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (and dessert too of course). When a child is stubborn about eating, there are still a few steps that parents can take to ensure that overall nutritional needs are being met.

Supplement the nutrition where you can. My daughter ate her sandwiches on whole wheat bread, with a glass of milk on the side. Offer fruit (or even unsweetened applesauce) along with meals.

Try new ways to introduce foods. If your children turn up their noses at vegetables on their dinner plates, try offering an appetizer of veggies with a low fat dip.

One bite rule. When my children were small, our rule was that they had to try at least one bite of each item on their plates. With frequent exposure, even picky kids can become used to a food and enjoy it.

Be open yourself. Try not to turn kids away from healthy foods that you yourself don’t like. Since I’ve been a mom, I’ve had to make a super effort not to let my true feelings about green beans show.

Make Eating Well It Your Lifestyle

To encourage kids to grow up with healthy eating habits, making healthy choices can’t be a temporary diet change. It must be a family lifestyle that lasts over time. By taking simple steps such as keeping healthy foods in the home, limiting poor choices, and educating children about nutrition, they will begin to understand that a healthy diet leads to a healthy body.

With patience and time, even picky eaters can learn to enjoy good nutrition.

Do you have any tips about child nutrition to share? I’d love to hear them!

About Patricia Purcell

Patricia Purcell
Patricia Purcell is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. She now lives in New York state with her very patient and handsome husband and their three active, homeschooled children. After teaching and shuttling kids to activities, she spends her time writing, reading, attempting to garden, and cooking. Not content with turning only her own children into bookworms, she manages book clubs in hopes of turning their friends into booklovers too.

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