How to get kids to eat healthy? Moms have probably been asking this same question for over a hundred years. I mean, even before clean eating was a “thing” I think moms instinctively knew that good nutrition was vitally important to raising healthy kids.
Of course the idea of what constitutes good nutrition has certainly changed over the years. But still, regardless of which food trends have come and gone, common sense has prevailed for at least three of the most basic nutrition guidelines:
- Eat less sugar
- Eat more vegetables
- Eat more fruit
It is hard to argue those three.
But, in real life, how do you actually get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables? And how do you get them to not eat cookies, cake and ice cream? That has always been the ultimate challenge for moms everywhere…
If you know my story, then you know I started my clean eating lifestyle as the result of a health crisis back in 1998. By the time our son, Blake, was born in 2001 I was already fully committed to following an anti-inflammatory, whole foods diet. After he was weaned, I just started Blake on real food. I used the Super Baby Food book as a guide and introduced foods one at a time. By the time he was a year old, Blake was basically eating the exact same thing as me and my husband.
Obviously it is easiest if you raise your kids to just eat clean right from the beginning. It may seem more difficult in the beginning, but in the long run it makes life a lot easier (especially when they don’t get sick!)
But I know it is not easy to do. I also realize my story is very unusual. Most young moms don’t have autoimmune diseases that motivate them to radically overhaul their diets. I know a lot of parents don’t even start to think about how to get their kids to eat healthy until they are toddlers or preschoolers or even middle-schoolers.
The later you try to change a child’s eating habits, the harder it becomes. But it is NEVER too late!
2 Simple Tips for How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy
A mom of four emailed a few weeks ago saying she and her family were new to clean eating. She was looking for ideas on how to introduce healthy meals to her kids. After thinking about it for a while, here are the two things I think would help the most…
Tip #1: Get the Kids in the Kitchen & Garden (or Take Them to a Farmer’s Market!)
Anyone who has ever worked with children can tell you that if they make it or grow it, they will almost certainly eat it.
I wish I can say I had a vegetable garden when my son was growing up. Although I didn’t garden, we did go to the farmers market though. I got my son involved and even excited about the process of picking out the fruits and vegetables. This may seem like such a simple thing, but it really does work.
Research Shows Kids Who Cook Make Healthier Food Choices
It is not surprising that research actually shows getting kids involved in the kitchen may make them more likely to choose healthy foods. If you get kids involved in the entire process of making a meal or recipe, they are 100 percent interested and want to do more.
It is also very important to expose kids to healthy foods on a number of different occasions. The more exposure they have to a food, the more comfortable they become with the idea of eating it.
Parents who say “My kids will only eat French fries and chicken nuggets” are often only serving their kids French fries and chicken nuggets.
Tip #2: Introduce Kids to Clean Eating with Cleaner Remakes of Classic Favorites
My second tip is to start with cleaner remakes of classic and familiar favorites. Serving cleaner versions of dishes your kids already recognize will almost always be better received rather than serving something radically new and unfamiliar.
And just like Jessica Seinfeld proved in her bestselling cookbook, Deceptively Delicious (photo left) you can sneak vegetables into everything from Mac-n-Cheese to Spaghetti Pie. (As you can see from the photo on the left, my copy of Deceptively Delicious has been well-used over the years!)
Here are some of our family’s favorite kid-friendly clean remakes of classic favorites below. Many of them have hidden fruits or vegetables and all are made with nutrient-dense whole foods.
Clean Kid-Friendly Remakes of Classic Favorites:
- Gingerbread Spice Cake (with hidden butternut squash)
- Wheat-Free Fluffy Banana Pancakes (with 2 whole bananas + flaxseeds)
- Gluten Free Waffles (with hidden butternut squash)
- Hidden Vegetable Sauce (this is basically like tomato sauce except with 8 different hidden vegetables)
- Turkey Meatballs (with hidden Tabbouleh)
- Vegetable Chowder (tastes like corn chowder, but has 5 different hidden vegetables)
- Shepherd’s Pie (with lots of hidden vegetables)
- Vegetable Chili Recipe (just omit the chipotle pepper if serving to kids)
- Best Blueberry Muffins (these whole grain muffins have a lot more fruit than most and no refined sugar)
- Chocolate Donut Holes (these wheat free, whole grain donuts have no refined sugar!)
- Gluten-Free Banana Muffins with Pumpkin (these taste just like regular muffins but have fruit, veggies and no refined sugar)
- Caesar Salad (Caesar salad was one of the first salads my son ever ate and he absolutely LOVED it! This clean version is mayo and egg free)
- How to Make Egg Salad without Mayo (you won’t believe the secret ingredient in this one!)
- Slow Cooker Bolognese (with lots of hidden vegetables)
- Mayo Free Spinach and Artichoke Dip (pureed pine nuts take the place of mayo in this one)
- BBQ Pizza (this is a whole grain, VERY veggie-rich and dairy free remake of the BBQ Pizza at California Pizza Kitchen)
- Cauliflower Tots (Ok, so they may not taste just like Tator Tots, BUT they are a great way to get kids to eat their cauliflower!)
- Cauliflower Stir Fry Rice (This one tastes just like Chinese style stir-fry rice but is made with cauliflower instead of rice)
- Fudgesicles! (Dairy free and with no refined sugar, these Popsicle taste just like the original Fudgesicle but sneak in a superfood ingredient—beans!!)
- Creamsicle (A dairy free remake of the classic Creamsicle, this recipe has no refined sugar. It can be served as a smoothie or Popsicle)
- Frozen Pumpkin Pie on Stick (These Popsicles taste just like classic pumpkin pie, but are dairy free with no refined sugar)
- Strawberry Ice Cream (This dairy free / no refined sugar treat is so nutritious you could serve it for breakfast as an alternative to yogurt)
- Banana Ice Cream with Peanut Butter (Just like the Strawberry Ice Cream above, this one is dairy free with no refined sugar. Serve it for breakfast or snack with #NoRegrets!)
- Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream (Here’s another ice-cream-for-breakfast option. Just like the others, this one is dairy free with no refined sugar)
- Recipe for Twice Baked Potatoes (Kids always seem to love potatoes—this version is dairy free and works in roasted red peppers too!)
- Easy Pad Thai (A clean version on a take-out favorite, this one is made with oodles of veggie noodles)
- Homemade Pasta Recipe with Spinach (I mean what kid doesn’t LOVE pasta? This one is whole grain and also made with spinach. And it’s way easier to make than you might think!)
- How to Make Alfredo Sauce without Dairy (The perfect topping for any pasta, this clean Alfredo sauce is dairy free and made with super nutritious nut puree)
- Clean Spaghetti Pie (This meat and dairy-free version also has a surprise vegetable –spaghetti squash!–that blends right in almost undetected)
- Easy Enchiladas (Made with lots of beans, vegetables and sprouted corn tortillas, this is a super easy, nutritious and filling Crock-Pot meal the whole family will love!)
- BBQ Chicken (Unlike convention BBQ sauce, the sauce that goes on this chicken is sweetened with whole food dates and has no refined sugar)
- Healthy Turkey Meatloaf (with lots of hidden veggies)
Want to Get Your Whole Family On Board with Eating Clean?
Be sure to check out our Clean Cuisine book! The book outlines an 8-Week program that the entire family (including the kids!) can follow together.