Finding a way to incorporate healthy ingredients into our children’s diets, especially when they're not fond of vegetables, is an issue that crops up frequently on Circle of Moms. With almost 8 years of parenting behind me and access to great cookbooks through my work, I’ve been introduced to practically every approach. But after all this time, I’m still happy with my philosophy. I prepare recipes that my husband and I like, then make a few small changes to ensure the food is more age appropriate for my kids.
And why do I do it this way? I want my children to learn how to eat at our level and not the other way around. Call me altruistic, but I truly believe we can teach our children to eat the same nutritious foods we adults like to eat. Also, when I cook the same meal for everyone in our family, it creates less work for the cook, less cleanup, and it shows my children that mealtime is about coming together. And most importantly—get ready for it!—I’ve found that my kids actually will eat healthy foods when given the chance.
If this sounds impossible to you, don’t fret. Whether your children have settled on eating the same three things for dinner every night or if they hardly ever try new foods, I have a few tips for encouraging your children to try healthier ingredients.
- Find 5-10 healthy ingredients your kids love, then look for new ways to prepare them. As babies, my kids loved green veggies, sweet potatoes, and fish and meat, so as they’ve become older, I still turn to those ingredients. I’ve gone from pureed sweet potatoes to Baked Sweet Potato Fries. Green beans are now sauteed with shallots and lemon juice. Plain fish is now Fish in Parchment Paper.
- Get them involved in the healthy choices. If you have the chance, take your child to the produce section or the farmer’s market and tell them they can choose any fruit or vegetable they’d like to eat. You’ll be amazed how allowing them to have some control over the choices promotes buy-in like nothing else. And maybe you’ll try a new food in the process!
- Take requests. When I find a healthy recipe that my kids like, I’ll make it over and over for them. In our house, this means lots of turkey meatball minestrone, pinto bean and sweet potato chili, and Oven Roasted Broccoli. It even means lots of pizza and pasta, but I make versions with healthy ingredients, like pasta with chicken apple sausage and broccoli or Pizza with caramelized onions and mushrooms.
- Remove an ingredient or two. I certainly don’t expect (or want!) my young kids to eat spicy dishes like Kung Pao Chicken or salsa with jalapeno. If I want to make something spicy for the adults, I simply leave the heavy spice out of my children’s meal. They’ll get the experience of the actual recipe, and you won’t feel like you’re a short order cook.
- Only offer healthy choices at dinner. This is some of the best advice I’ve ever been given. If your child isn’t offered less healthy choices at the table, they’ll eventually choose better options. If this is a totally new way of thinking for you, remember that it takes time! Start by offering 3 different foods at dinner (say chicken or fish, a veggie, and a starch like roasted potatoes or baked sweet potatoes). Now here’s the hard part… try to stay calm if they don’t like all of it. When they like something new, I really compliment them for trying it, but I also try to not make a big deal out of it when they don’t like something. I usually ask my kids to try one bite of everything, but then I just don’t sweat it if they eat all of one thing and nothing of the other two choices. Eventually, kids tend to balance out their diets and get what they need.
- Make it pretty. I’m not the cool mom who cuts my children’s food into great shapes, but I do take 30 seconds to arrange things on their plates.We all eat with our eyes, so taking that extra minute to make food look appealing makes everyone want to eat more of it!
Every child is different and reacts differently to new foods. Some might be on board right away, and others might take weeks to try new things. But each time you have a success, make a note of it so you can try it again. As your children begin to broaden their palettes, you’ll be able to expand the list of recipes you’re using.
Amanda Haas is a cookbook author, teacher, cooking video host, and the founder of One Family One Meal, a website that helps families menu plan, grocery shop, and cook on a budget. She's also on Twitter and Facebook.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.