The struggle is real.
Getting kids to eat healthy foods takes a lot of time and a ton of patience.
And in this day and age – that’s tough.
No one seems to have enough time. Everyone’s schedules are packed. It’s hard enough to plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner without having to think about training your kids to make healthy choices.
Not to mention the fact that getting kids to eat healthier foods is itself a struggle. Pre-packaged, chemical-laden foods are colorful, tasty, and come in some amazing, not-really-from-nature flavors. I mean, have you tasted grape soda or candy? That’s not what a grape tastes like off the vine.
But it tickles their taste buds and leaves them wanting more.
Healthy foods pale in comparison – until kids acquire a taste for them.
Like you, I know these parental struggles all too well. But the reality is that we have to take the time (and develop the patience) to teach our kids about healthy eating. It is only through our training that our kids have a fighting chance to become healthy adults.
With that goal in mind, I wanted to offer some suggestions. These are steps we’ve implemented over the years that have helped our kids develop an appetite for healthy eating. I hope they’ll help your family, too!
4 Struggles Modern Parents Face When it Comes to Healthy Eating
These are four parental struggles I’ve had to deal with over the years.
1. Perfection Doesn’t Exist
Ah, perfection. We all know it doesn’t exist, but it is so easy to demand it of ourselves. Am I right?
Personally, I’ve dealt with perfectionism plenty of times and in many areas of my life. But none have been as upsetting as wanting to be the perfect parent.
When our kids are born, we imagine being the perfect parent, providing our kids with nutritious foods and home cooked meals. Then life gets in the way. Thanks, life!
This is what we all have to remember: nothing is perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, a perfect diet, or even the perfect child. Though we struggle to accept this, everything has its good and bad points.
This can be really hard when we spend so much time training our kids about healthy eating, and then they go out with their friends and everything we’ve worked for is destroyed.
Ok, I’m exaggerating. But it can feel defeating when our kids want nothing but unhealthy foods.
It’s tough, too, when all their friends are eating these foods. Making the healthy choice almost seems like deprivation.
This struggle can be overcome with…you guessed it – patience, time, and education.
2. We’re Surrounded by Crap Foods
I may sound a little harsh here, but seriously, the stuff being sold in most stores is just crap. There’s no nutritional value and it does more harm than good.
And food companies are catering and advertising to kids. Have you ever watched a junk food commercial? Whether it’s candy, cake, pizza, hamburgers, soda, or any number of fast food joints, they’re basically putting food porn on TV.
The commercials, the packaging, even the color and texture of the food appeal to people. They’re drawn into the food and it becomes something they have to eat right now.
But we can’t let the junk food industry win. When kids (or adults for that matter) eat these crap foods with regularity, they end up dealing with obesity, diabetes, even heart problems.
I’m thankful that I come from a background in sports and that my kids are athletes, too. It helps me explain to them the benefits of healthy foods. I tell them that food is fuel, and if we want our bodies in peak performance levels, we have to eat the foods that give us strength and energy, not those that weigh us down and cause disease.
3. Life Is Crazy!
I know what you’re thinking: “Thanks, Captain Obvious!”
Seriously, though. I don’t know that there’s ever been a time in history when kids have been so busy.
Kids are involved in sports, music, after school activities, honor clubs, and more. And that doesn’t even take into account the amount of homework kids get, too.
The whole family starts each day in a sprint and it doesn’t end until bedtime.
With everyone so busy, it’s difficult to think about meal planning, food prep, or shopping.
4. Healthy Eating is Hard – Or is It?
What we should eat is totally simple.
Proteins: We need protein for muscle strength and growth. Good sources of protein are foods that are probably already in your diet: meat, fish, dairy foods, and (hopefully) plenty of greens.
Vegetables: Veggies contain most of the vitamins and minerals we need. The more vegetables we eat – especially dark, leafy greens – the more energy we will have and the healthier we will be.
Fruits: Yes, fruit has sugar, but it’s not the processed sugars that cause addiction, cravings, and disease. I’m not saying you should eat fruit all day long, but a piece or two of fruit is healthy. Plus, it makes green smoothies way more appealing to kids.
Carbs: We need some healthy, whole grain carbs, but they shouldn’t be the basis of our diet. And we want to limit simple carbs – candy, soda, cake, cookies, crackers, breads, and noodles.
Remember, your goal is not perfection. The expectation of perfection simply adds to the struggle.
The goal is to choose the healthiest foods possible, and to remember that healthy eating is relatively simple.
8 Steps to Getting Your Kids on the Healthy Eating Bandwagon
We’re all dealing with similar parental struggles, especially when it comes to getting kids to eat healthy foods.
What can be done to make healthy eating more appealing?
Try these eight steps.
1. Believe What You’re Doing Is Right
Making healthy choices and training your kids to eat healthy is the right thing to do. Convince yourself of that. Avoiding unhealthy junk foods is not deprivation. Providing them with the healthiest foods possible is a gift.
Remember this and convince yourself of it, because if you’re unsure about doing this, your kids will pick up on it and they won’t be on board.
Convince yourself and it will be easier to convince them.
2. Gradually Introduce New Foods
One mistake us parents often make is trying to change overnight. That’s a human thing, I guess – not just one of the many parental struggles we deal with.
I don’t think there’s anyone in history that’s been able to change their diet 100% and stick to it. That’s just too much change for our brains to handle.
We like routine and comfort. Changing our diet – even if it was the “perfect diet” – is going way outside our comfort zone. And you can bet that your kids feel the same way.
So don’t try to go from chicken nuggets to kale salads. That’s just a disaster waiting to happen.
Gradually introduce healthier foods, and make each meal a little healthier than the previous meal. Eventually, you and your kids will be eating a healthy diet and actually sticking with it.
3. Stop Using Food to Reward Your Kids
We’ve all been guilty of this from time to time. Our kids do something that makes us proud and we want to reward them. Crack out the ice cream Timbits or the ice cream scoop!
We really have to stop doing this. Rewarding kids with food of any kind, but especially junk food, is training them to form an emotional attachment to the foods. They’ll end up using food as a reward when they’ve grown up, or even to comfort themselves when they’re dealing with anger or sadness.
Don’t wait until your kids do something great to think of a reward. Come up with a reward system now and you’ll be less likely to fall into the habit of using food as a reward.
4. Educate, Educate, Educate
You don’t have to go into the details of why macro- and micro-nutrients are important with a five year old. But food education should begin at an early age. Make it age appropriate and fun. Explain why certain ingredients are healthy and why they’re so important. Likewise, tell them about the negative things about junk food.
Remember, too, that this is an ongoing process. The more you educate your kids at home and while at the grocery store, the better chance you have to counteract the junk food commercials they’re bombarded with on a daily basis.
Something that my wife and I’ve done with our kids is watch age-appropriate documentaries, like those by Jamie Oliver.
Can you believe there is hair in some ice cream?!?!
5. Freedom of Choice
When kids are little, you’re going to make most of their decisions for them. As they get older, though, they’ve got to start making decisions of their own, including those around food. If you don’t allow them to do this, they’ll feel like they’re being policed. And that’s never fun – for the kid or the parent.
Occasionally, let them decide what they want to eat. Hopefully the choices will be healthy ones. If not, don’t panic, just help them see why that wasn’t the healthiest option and what they should consider eating the next time.
6. Lead by Example
This is a biggie, folks! Kids learn more by what we do than by what we say. Make sure your video matches your audio! When you make healthier choices, your kids are more likely to make those choices, too.
7. Cook More Real Foods at Home
Because we’re unbelievably busy, it’s easier to order out or cook quick, unhealthy meals. Each week, try to cook one more real food meal. You can do this by looking up awesome real food recipes, doing the shopping, and then prepping the meal. Or, you can order the ingredients from a food delivery service.
The goal here is to add more real food. Remember: you don’t need to change 100% overnight. Take it step by step and you’ll be successful.
8. Add Superfoods to Smoothies
It’s going to take some time before you’re eating all of the healthy foods you want. My recommendation is to start off with a daily green smoothie. This will up the nutritional ante of your family’s meals. Plus, they taste great, so kids don’t mind eating them.
In addition to leafy greens and other vegetables, be sure to add a green superfood supplement to the smoothie for even more nutrients.
Bonus Tips: Get Support and Make Healthy Eating Fun!
Getting kids to eat healthy foods can be a struggle. We’re all short on time and crap foods are super tempting.
Let go of the idea of perfection. Healthy eating – heck, life in general – is a work in progress for all of us. Whether children or adults, everyone is in the same boat: we’re learning as we go, and it’s usually by trial and error.
And that is perfectly ok. Make it an adventure. Enjoy the learning process. Along the way, get the support you need. Join my Facebook page and others for parents who want their kids to make healthy eating choices. You’ll get tons of support from me and other parents.
Hire a coach, hire a personal chef, order ingredients from HelloFresh or another healthy food source every once in a while. Believe me – getting support and healthy tools is totally worth the investment.
Above all else – have fun! Release the pressure to do everything perfectly and just enjoy the process. You and your kids will both benefit from doing this. And when you make healthy eating fun, you and your family will be more likely to stick with it.
What have you done to incorporate healthier foods into your child’s diet? What struggles have you encountered? List them in the comments below or on my Facebook page. The more we share, the more we all get the support we need!