100_3142aOne question I routinely get when posting our weekly menu plans is how we get our kids to eat healthy foods.

Before I explain, I want to give you a bit of background about my experience with food growing up as well as my husband’s. (If you really don’t care about our experience, go ahead and skip to the last section of this post to get to the meat of how we feed our kids healthy foods. You won’t hurt my feelings, I promise!)

My Experience with Food Growing Up

I was a fussy child, as was my mom, so the foods I ate growing up were rather limited.  We had the basic fruits like apples, grapes, and bananas, but we only had peaches and pears out of a can because my mom didn’t like the way they felt; specifically she didn’t like the fuzz on the peaches.  I didn’t even try kiwi until college.

Our meals were simple homestyle meals like macaroni and cheese, scalloped potatoes with a cheesy sauce, roast with mashed potatoes and carrots–you get the idea.  Standard American fare.  Our vegetables came from freezer bags or cans.

We didn’t eat out much, so we did eat at home, but it wasn’t the healthiest fare.  My guess is that my experience is not unique among those in my generation. While I was not fat during my childhood and teen years, I was always chubby.

My doctor guesses that I probably had trouble with dairy all of my life and never knew it.  By my teen years, I was having trouble digesting some foods like pizza, but I thought that was due to the fat, not the cheese.

My Husband’s Experience Growing Up

Sometimes I think my husband’s mom is Wonder Woman.  She worked 6 days a week, often 10 to 12 hour days, and then she would come home and spend an hour or two making several small dishes to serve at dinner.  Her meals were always very heavily concentrated around fresh vegetables.

Even now when she calls to talk to my husband and kids, she will routinely urge them all to eat their vegetables.  “Eat well, sleep well” is her mantra, and my husband is fond of reciting it too.

You can imagine that when we married, there were some food conflicts.  I began to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, and my husband begrudgingly began to eat one dish casseroles.

A Dairy Intolerance Begins to Change the Food We Eat

Of course, everything changed in 2010 when I discovered I couldn’t have dairy.  A few months later we discovered our daughter couldn’t have it either, and then the next year that my son couldn’t.

If you look back to early food posts in this blog, you will see that the recipes I shared were heavy on cheese and processed foods like canned cream of something soup.  I also loved my carbs.

The funny thing is that I thought we were eating healthy, and I guess we were compared to what I used to eat, but we still had a long way to go.

Once we cut out the dairy, we began to eat much healthier.  Of course, kids love junk food, so it has been a bit of a struggle with my son who wishes he could still eat things like Cheetos, but he can’t thanks to his dairy intolerance.

How We Get Our Kids to Eat Healthy

For the most part, my 8 year old is a great eater and will eat almost anything put in front of him.  He only has a few foods he doesn’t like such as squash and beets.

My 4 year old was our fussiest, but now she is learning to eat her food without complaining.

The 2 year old is also generally a good eater, but if she doesn’t like something (like blueberries), no amount of persuasion can get her to eat it.

Having said that, here are our strategies to get our kids to eat a wide variety of foods:

1.  Make them take a certain number of bites of the food.  You may have heard that a child might have to try a food 20 times before he begins to enjoy it.  If we have a food the kids are reluctant to try or don’t like such as beets, they are required to take a certain number of bites, such as 5 or 10 bites or they don’t get dessert.  (Our kids get one dessert a day at night such as a dye free sucker or a fruit strip.)

2.  Serve them their vegetables first.  We ran into a problem where our kids would eat all of the food they liked first and then say that they were full before they ate their vegetables.  To combat this problem, for awhile we served them vegetables first, and they had to eat those before they got the rest of the meal.

3.  Let them help prepare the meal.  All of our kids like to help in the kitchen, so as time permits, I let them help me prepare the vegetables and the rest of the meal.

4.  Get their input.  My oldest child likes to browse cook books and pick recipes he likes.  He also sits beside me and browses Pinterest for snack ideas.  We have found some of his snacks and sides for his lunch by doing this.  The more vested kids are, the more likely they are to eat the food.

5.  Expose them to how food grows.  Our kids all help us garden in the summer, and each week when I go to the farmer’s market, I take one kid with me.  It is a special time for them, and they become more in touch with the natural state of food.

There you have, how we get our kids to eat healthy.  Luckily, my kids haven’t grown up with much processed food, so they are better about eating simple, frugal meals than kids who grew up on boxed macaroni and cheese (like me) may be.

What is your favorite technique to get your kids to eat healthier?

I shared this post at Waste Not Want Not Wednesday #18

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