Meal time often feels like a battle zone.
“Yuck, I don’t like that.”
“What’s that green thing?”
“Can’t I just eat cereal?”
These are all things I’ve heard from my kids. I haven’t always lived the clean eating lifestyle I do now, and the more I learn about how food affects our bodies, the more I want to share it, especially with those I love most. Even though I plan meals and encourage my family to make better choices, it’s not always easy, but I have found a few things that help.
Get the kids involved
If you involve kids in meal planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation, they are more likely to be open to trying new foods. Ask your kids about their favorite meal. Have them come up with ideas to add to the weekly meal plan and then take them to the grocery store. One thing that has worked well in our family is to let each of the kids pick whatever they want from the produce section. If they’ve picked it out, they are usually excited to eat it.
Give them choices
Like all of us, kids like to choose. Try planning meals with a variety of options such as a salad, potato, taco or pizza bar, and let kids choose their own toppings.
Introduce new foods in a fun way
Instead of giving your child a plate of sauteed zucchini and expecting them to be happy about it, start off with something like zucchini muffins. Once they’ve been introduced to a vegetable in something that was yummy, they’ll be more likely to branch out and try it other ways.
There’s something fun about adding fruits and vegetables to a blender and turning them into a smoothie. Start off with just fruits, yogurt, milk and ice. Slowly start incorporating vegetables such as spinach, kale, carrots and cucumber. Add them a little at a time to allow your kids to become accustomed to the taste. We make smoothie freezer packs ahead of time. The kids have fun helping put the ingredients in baggies and then they are excited to drink the smoothies.
Make easy snacks
I’ve found if I have snacks ready that are better for the kids to eat, they are happy to eat them. Sometimes it’s even overwhelming to me to see the fridge full of vegetables that need to be washed, cut up and prepared before I can eat them. Instead, cut them up, put them in snack size baggies and have a special container in the fridge where they are easily seen. Good choices include fruits and vegetables, whole grain crackers, nuts, raisins, string cheese and natural protein sources. My family has been loving NATURAL CHOICE® deli meat. It’s so simple to throw something fun together that the kids will love to eat. My kids like to use the lunchmeat as a wrap of sorts and put their favorite things inside. Ham and string cheese or a pickle is their go-to choice for a quick snack. Turkey wrapped around apple slices is also yummy!
Make meals they already love more nutritious
Make nutritious swaps to meals you know your kids love. For example, we use wholegrain pita bread and top it with marinara sauce, ham, pineapple and mozzarella. It’s super easy and a quick, last minute dinner when you don’t have anything planned. We also love spaghetti at our house. We use whole wheat or brown rice pasta, and I’ve been known to sneak some grated carrots and zucchini into the pasta sauce and nobody even knows.
Eat together as a family
Sit down together as a family to enjoy a wonderful meal and take the opportunity to share the day’s experiences with each other. Taking the focus off the food and making mealtime a happy experience will make it easier on everyone. It also gives you an opportunity to model appropriate eating behaviors. Encourage your children to eat slow and savor the experience to allow them to recognize when they are full.
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way to encourage your family to eat clean. Start slow if you need to. Rather than trying to make a big change all at once or eliminating all your children’s favorite foods, start by adding in better choices. Before you know it, some of the junk food is being crowded out, and your family will be well on their way to a clean eating lifestyle and have habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.