Welcome to part 6 of our 7 part series exploring “healthy eating” issues. In case you missed it:
Part 1: Getting Started
Part 2: Eating Healthy When You Never Learned How to Cook
Part 3: Eating Healthy When Limited by Time
Part 4: Eating Healthy When Limited by Money
Part 5: Eating Healthy When Limited by Allergies
Part 6: Eating Healthy When Limited by Picky Eaters
Part 7: Eating Healthy When There Are Multiple Limits to Overcome
So you have decided that your diet needs to change. You are cooking new recipes but not everyone in the household is on board. Maybe it’s your spouse, or a child (or three). Perhaps the most difficult challenge for eating healthy is when everyone in your household is not on board.
Today we are going to talk about how to overcome this limit, and how you can establish healthy eating habits in your household.
Depending on the age of the picky eater, different techniques may work better. However, they often cross age boundaries, so feel free to try them all!
Check your mindset
Children, particularly before they can talk, will strongly pick up on your emotions and thoughts about something. If you aren’t sold on the idea, or are feeling guilty about making them eat this “gross” food, they are more likely to reject the food.
Instead, when you are cooking and serving food to them, think about the incredible nutrition in this delicious food you are making. Believe that this food is better for them, and delicious as well, and they will respond. It may take several days for them to trust your new emotions about this food, so be patient, and keep believing that you are doing the best thing for them.
This also applies to withholding junk food. If you feel like you are depriving your child of happiness because you won’t give them candy or soda, they will pick up on that and feel deprived. But if you call fake food what it is, declaring it “unhealthy,” “not good for our bodies,” and “not real food,” your children will learn to tell the difference between real food and food substitutes. They will also be learning that their food choices are important and worth considering.
Watch your body language
You can hardly expect a child to like a food if you grimace when eating it. You definitely can’t get them to eat something you clearly think is gross. As we just discussed, children are very observant and responsive to our subtle reactions—you probably can’t trick them. If you find yourself making a grimace, remind yourself why you are eating it, and then try to find a recipe you like better!
Talk about why it’s good for them (and you)
Children are smart, and it’s never too early to teach them why it’s important to eat healthy. Tell them why the food is good for them (it will make their body strong and well) and let them know that it may take a little while for their taste buds to believe that real food is delicious.
This is one of my favorite things to teach (how food affects the body, and how you can know what your body needs)! In fact, I wrote a book about it. Also, I am working on a children’s book to explain to them how food affects their body. If you want to be notified when that is published, sign up HERE.
Children innately know that they want to be strong and healthy. When you start teaching them about how their body works and what they can do to make it healthy or sick, they often accept it quickly. Usually far quicker than adults do!
Don’t let your biases influence others’ taste buds
Children will often eat things their parents don’t think they will. I have often had the experience of a child eating something for me that his parents swore he would never touch. Not just tasted… gobbled it up. This is especially true if it has butter on it! Some of their favorite foods are liver pate, sauerkraut, cod liver oil and fermented garlic. This is not the case for any child, but if you believe (and verbalize) that a particular food is “gross” or “strong,” you will have a much harder time getting them to eat it.
Introduce a no-thank-you helping
You are in charge of what your family eats. You are choosing food for them because you know it’s good for them. A standard American diet, full of chemicals and sugar, actually alters taste buds and causes cravings. Especially in the case of older kids and adults, it will take some time to overcome the taste preferences and cravings that come from processed food.
One way to do this is to introduce good, real food in small amounts. Consistent eating of just a few bites or sips of something really healthy will begin a gradual change in tastes. Make it a rule that everyone (adults included) must eat at least a no-thank-you helping of every dish served.
And remember, fat makes everything taste better. Put a little more butter on it!
Start a Clean Plate club
This fun mealtime game is almost magical in the way it cleans plates. A Clean Plate club is the idea that there is a reward (favorite food or activity like screen time) for eating everything on your plate. As the parent, you can decide how exactly this looks for each kid, and how much they need to eat. Some examples:
- If a food is disliked, then expect then to eat a small no-thank-you helping
- If they are saying they are full, then remove all but a few bites for them to finish. It’s important to take away the extra food, so they still need to clean their plate.
- Do not allow snacking in between meals if the meal was not finished (according to your discretion, see point above). You can offer the leftovers for a mid-day snack if the child complains of being hungry.
Serve the same food for everyone
Establish food and mealtime rules that everyone (adults included) have to follow. It’s not fair to expect children to eat foods they don’t like when adults are allowed to avoid them. Adults and older children may have a more difficult time changing their taste preferences, but anyone can eat a no-thank-you helping! Settle on rules that can be consistent across your entire family, and with older children (where it can be more difficult) remember that you are still the parent, and you know what’s best!
There are situations where it’s not possible to establish equal rules. In this case, talk to the older child, roommate, or spouse about respecting your rules. Compromises should be explored. Perhaps “un-allowed” foods could be eaten away from meal times. But in any case, respect is not negotiable. No person should be allowed to tease others, make fun of healthy food, or flaunt their un-allowed food in front of anyone’s face.
Picky Eater Limit: Overcome!
You don’t have to dread mealtimes! Implement these ideas and see which ones work in your family. Do you have any more? Share them with us!
We reached out to Amy to put together this series of blog posts that we are calling Beyond Limits to provide a little encouragement, and a lot of wisdom, for those of us going through a massive transition with food.
If you are struggling with food allergies, eating more healthfully, or a new way of eating that has been “forced” upon you, please join us:
Join us in Plan to Eat
Amy has put together 15 recipes that are available to you through your Plan to Eat account. Many of these recipes promote healing, some are designed to help avoid common allergens, and some of them are simply to get us in the kitchen cooking real food instead of pulling something out of a box.
All of these recipes are available through the desktop version of your Plan to Eat account by clicking on the Challenges tab and selecting “Beyond Limits” in the dropdown menu.
Join our Facebook group
Do you have a question for Amy? Or maybe you want to connect with others who are going through something similar to you? Our Beyond Limits Facebook Group is a great place to connect with others!
Hint: This is a great place to use the Friends feature to share recipes with other Plan to Eat users!