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5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy 5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy
June 20, 2019
by Olena

5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy

by Olena

5 ways to make kids eat healthy real food that worked for me, while living a real life of a busy mom. | ifoodreal.com

I realized the irony of the shirt and look later. Honestly, he likes green smoothies.:)

I have been wanting to write this post forever but honestly was a bit scared my Eastern European practices will be criticized by North American moms. I’m fully aware I’m different to many Canadian moms (“hi”, hockey and school moms) and you have to play by the rules of majority if you want to fit in.

The thing is that I stopped caring if I fit in and I kinda feel great about it haha. This year, I vouched to stop being scared of trolls and helicopter parents, and write what I want and think. It is my blog, at the end of the day. So, a big warning – this is not a judgmental post but rather an observational one. I think the fight against judgement has been taken too far – people are scared to say what they think.

Especially, immigrants like me, when often it is hard to predict a reaction of a person born in America because we grew up in a different society. Happened MANY times with both me and Alex. Blended societies are not easy. It is hard to be an immigrant, just kidding.:)

So, this post intends to help busy mothers to feed their kids simple real food. Only if they want to because, like many things in life, kids who eat healthy is up to you.

Yes, I feel qualified to share my experience re: kids eating healthy because I have never met kids in real life that eat better than mine, and simply because my kids’ friends are a nightmare to feed when they come over. Yes, it is hard!

So, this is what I did for the last 10 years and what has worked for me. Keep in mind we are talking about feeding entire family healthy food, including mom and dad. If, for example, my husband wouldn’t want to eat healthy, he would have to cook his own “garbage”, honestly.

Health of 3 people over 1 is more important, especially my kids’ health, and my purpose in life is not to be a caterer, cleaning lady and babysitter exclusively.:)

Instant Pot Spaghetti

1. You Are an Adult – Take Charge

I do feel that North American kids are catered to too much. Just too many options and too many wishes are being taken into consideration. Which is great because I definitely do not support communism’s stand on “doing what I said to do because I’m a parent”. But all in moderation and giving kids freedom should be to an extent. Hard to argue with this one.

When it comes to food, truth is that parents do know better what their kids should eat. There is no way a 2 or 5 year old can know that fruit roll up is full of added processed sugar and is not a fruit. At last, it is called “fruit roll up”. From day one with my kids I took a stand that I know better what they should be eating and as they grow, habits get created and junk food is history, trust me.

I do not have magic kids. I truly don’t. And I’m not “lucky” that my kids eat healthy. I have heard it so many times though! I truly am not lucky in many ways and I do not believe in luck, as a matter of fact, but rather hard work and choices.

I worked hard to create healthy eating habits for my kids. For example, when 95% of parents buy concession junk food when out and about, I take 2 minutes to wash fruit and pack nuts and bars before jumping in a car. And I have always been a working mom, always.

Healthy Banana Muffins

What you can do:

  • Put a poker face on and just place a plate of healthy food in front of everyone. You have no idea how many times I made and served meals that I was not so sure kids will like but I never showed my fears. And sometimes kids loved the food, sometimes so-so, sometimes they didn’t. Kids can feel how we feel, they are great face expression and body language readers.
  • Parents and kids eat same meal sitting at the table together. There are no special menus or meals. Kids are humans just like adults, they do not need special food. Just like dogs and cats don’t.
  • Think that being firm re: food doesn’t mean being a mean parent. It just means being a parent. DOing your job we are supposed to do. It is our job as parents to raise our kids with good habits, and if a kid grows up eating junk food there is nobody else to blame than his parents.
  • Think kids have no control over what they are eating as kids. Because they are kids without money or understanding what food he needs to eat. Being a kid is like being in “a prison”, in a sense that a kid is powerless re: circumstances he grows up in.

I have a very good friend who grew up on processed food. She says “Feeding children processed foods should be considered an abuse”.

I’m not telling you how to parent, and I’m not judging, just observing.

Making healthy food takes effort, not enormous, but it takes an effort.

Just like you wouldn’t let your kid play video games all day, why would you let him eat junk food all the time?

Healthy Turkey Burger

2. Consider a Few Items Kids Don’t Like but Keep Offering

Some kids are better eaters, some are worse, no argument about that. But they all can eat healthy.

When I read my older posts, I was frankly surprised to see that at certain point my kids didn’t like mushrooms or kale because now they eat these two items no problem.

What did I do?

Again, poker face and I just kept putting a plate in front of them. It worked, not overnight, but it worked.

However, there are still certain foods my kids do not like and I’m willing to work with them for now, while keep trying.

Here are a few compromises we have agreed upon right now:

  1. No mushy cooked zucchini but raw zucchini are fine.
  2. Oldest one doesn’t eat cooked carrots in soup, so he picks them out. Raw are fine.
  3. Youngest one does not eat squash.
  4. Both kids do not eat beets or sweet potato.

K, fine. This is all my kids do no eat. That’s it.

I’m respectful of these choices. Sometimes I make dinner using these ingredients only for me and Alex, and kids eat Annie’s mac and cheese.

My kids are not deprived of anything, they are not suffering because we do eat treats occasionally like pizza and hot dogs.

So, I would recommend taking your kids’ wishes into consideration, just not too many, and keep offering and serving. Eventually someone will win.

Healthy Zucchini Brownies

3. Do Not Bribe or Entertain

Again, I’m not telling you how to parent. I chose not to use any sorts of bribes for anything while raising my kids. I didn’t grow up with them and I consider it a good practice.

To me, using bribing methods creates issues. Once compensation system is in place, it is hard to get rid of it and we will be completely dependent on it.

I also do not believe cutting food in fun shapes because what busy mom has time for that?! Again, it is creating another habit for a child and another chore for a mom.

I also do not agree with the concept “don’t force your child to eat” and “don’t force your child to finish”.

Clearly, I’m not talking about dad holding child’s head while mom is pushing a forkful of food into the child’s mouth. OK, all this is good in theory but real life isn’t like that. Our rule is “you are not leaving this table until your plate is empty”.

Yes, sometimes it took Adam to eat dinner about 45 minutes, 30 of which when we are at the table and last 15 when we left the table and ignored him. Now it’s 15 minutes. And often it is “go to your room” for 3 mins, back and all eaten in 2 minutes. Bam.

It is a proof that picky eating is a show for parents.

Healthy Chicken Stir Fry

4. Cut Back on Snacks

Would you be shocked if I told you that the amount of snacks North Americans eat is outrageous?! You probably know it.

I have never seen so many aisles of boxes and bags of “food” until I came to Canada. I never knew the concept of couch snacking.

We eat 3 full meals, filling meals, we rarely snack. After dinner nobody is sitting on a couch munching on chips. Nuts, frozen or fresh fruit sometimes yes. But if you ate a good wholesome filling meal, you shouldn’t be snacking much.

I make it clear to kids that there will be no snack if they don’t finish their meal. Sometimes they come back and finish their cold food in an hour and sometimes I’m so tired, I give up. I do, rarely, but I do say “f%$k it”. Then it’s his lucky day LOL. Real life.

Now, my kids constantly want snacks because they are surrounded by them everywhere. And because they are 2 active boys who play hockey. So, I get that. Again, if they ate a healthy meal and still want a healthy snack – no problem. But there is no constant snacking happening in my house. Snacks are empty calories.

Also, a rule I grew up with that is genius – no snack an hour before main meal. That would kill anyone’s appetite. If kids are really begging, I give them veggies or apple to snack on. Even sweet banana can reduce their appetite, so nothing too sweet. Yep, parenting is hard work!

Chicken Tostadas

5. Reduce Activities

Getting my shield and armour on this one.

Both of my boys play hockey. So I’m constantly around sports parents.

In North America, there is this sense of importance playing sports, multiple sports at same time. It prevails over the importance of education or healthy living, unlike in Europe. Many kids run from one practice to another practice or game, late nights or all day on the weekend, while both parents work full-time.

Guess what?! Of course, there is “no time to cook”. Of course, if you have 2 kids in multiple sports and have to spend 3-5 hours per each game driving, waiting and watching, of course who has time to cook?!

So, I can’t help but wonder how parents do not realize that little Johnny’s sports make all family eat processed foods?! And what is the point to play sport, just to come home and eat chicken nuggets?! The after effects are for life.

What is the point to play so many sports and so hard anyways? 99.9% of Johnnies will not become professional athletes.

Baked Salmon in Foil

I believe in moderation in everything in life. No sport is worth eating junk. Health and family’s happiness prevails over sports, and I always consider that when I pick what activities sign up my kids for.

And another thing – that poor mom. She eats that processed food and feels “blah”. I know she does. She already sacrificed so much for Johnny and there goes more.

The most important thing that Johnny needs is a healthy and happy mom. I know it first hand.

The bottom line is that time is like land – they do not make any more of it. So, we have to work with what we have and pick priorities. And eating healthy does prevail over baseball, hockey and soccer. Playing sport is very temporarily but having an unhealthy body is for life.

This is what has worked for me so far to raise kids who eat healthy. And if other methods worked for you that is great, as long as it worked!

Because every family’s tastes are different, I recommend to browse my recipes and pick a few simple ones to start with.

Be healthy and take care of your kids because nobody else will! And you and them will be the only ones dealing with consequences of unhealthy eating.

Whether your child will grow up eating healthy is completely up to you! You can do it!

Recipes Your Kids Will Like

29 comments on “5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy

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  1. You parent the way I did; my son grew up to be the sanest man I have ever met! He, at 35 years old, eats more high fat foods than I think is healthy, but he’s a grown man now and can eat what he likes. When his friends came over, I only served them healthy foods, well prepared and after a few visits, they came to prefer them! Their mothers often hated me for it because they demanded the same at home, but my conscience was clear about it and actually taught them how to cook! Great job m! Keep it up.

  2. I thought we ate well but when my husband was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer without a cure I had to do better.

    I revamped everything over two years ago, kids still catching up, honestly has been hard. We stopped all processed foods, eat organic GMO free, grass fed, pastured, ect.

    I loved your zucchini brownies, used sprouted spelt flour, all of our grains and beans are soaked. That takes planning to another level as we don’t microwave, got rid of it.

    I have 2 special needs children and am disabled.

    Any tips to make our foods easier to make? I also try to incorporate as much lactofermented food as possible.

    Thank you so much for your ideas.

    1. Hi Kim. I’m sorry to hear about your situation. Of course it is hard and it is only fair you admit it has been. Cannot even imagine what you are going through because I’m a mom and a wife…I’m sending you lots of virtual hugs and positivity.
      I don’t have a microwave either. I find it is fine although sometimes for reheating food I miss it.
      Yes, I have an idea for you. Do you have an Instant Pot? If not, you need one asap – it will make your life so much easier! I share here about how it works and which one to buy just in case. Also here are all my healthy IP recipes. I’m obsessed with it because I literally throw everything in and walk away.

  3. Hi, thanks for this post! I 100% agree that we parents are the adults and since we have more information than our kids, we have to make their food decisions for them as far as what is offered in the home. I can’t control the snacks/treats my kids teacher’s hand out, but when my kids beg me to get them goldfish crackers or cookies, I can cheerfully remind them, “Oh, you get those at school or parties, those aren’t “home snacks”. They accept this pretty easily.

    Some dinners can challenging. I try to have a poker face too, but often times I resort to my rules about rudeness. It is rude, plain and simple, for someone to refuse to try a dish you put time and effort into preparing. This does not also work in the moment, but overtime, I’ve gotten disgruntled nods of agreement from my kiddos. My 3 boys eat pretty much all that is offered and are usually willing to try new things, although if left to their own choices, would live on chicken nuggets and goldfish crackers. This has not been the case with many of their friends!

    I also think it is imperative in a two parent home, that BOTH are on the same page. I had to have frank conversations with my husband about some of his choices but when I presented a (calm!) reasonable reason for why I thought we should have certain rules, he was able to agree to make small changes that were better for himself. He also really appreciates rules about good behavior so he was totally on board with just reminding our kids about rudeness (sulky faces, arms crossed, refusals, etc) at the table.

    1. Totally agree. It is not black and white. Can’t control every step. But healthy habits are definitely created at home with majority of meals.
      Some dinners ARE challenging. Just like there are good and bad days.
      And I completely agree that it’s rude. I told my kids it is impossible to love every dinner, accept that. Even for me lol. Just life.
      To have calm conversations about parenting with a husband takes lot of patience lol.
      Sounds like you are doing a great job and be proud that you instilled healthy eating habits with your kids. We were talking yesterday that no kid is born with a habit to clean their room or to really try harder to do better job at cleaning let’s say. It’s our pet peeve with 2 boys right now. It’s us nagging them all the time to do better and that’s how they will learn. We were the same. Sure rooms can be covered in clothes and dirty dishes but that will do no good to the kids for life. It’s all just work being a parent. All good. Have a great week!

  4. The struggle is real. My husband tends to cater to our 4 children and allows them to have junk that I refuse to buy. It is a point of contention. He and I eat a much healthier diet because of our struggles with food addiction and weight. Also, I have a very difficult child, a 12 year old son who has many issues. I refuse to buy junk food and he refuses to eat what I have provided that is healthy. He would skip breakfast and go to school hungry and would pack almost nothing in his lunch, maybe some nuts. If I pack him a healthy lunch he’ll refuse to eat it, leave it at school until it is rotten (so he doesn’t have to eat it when he comes home) or throws it away. He has several friends at school whose parents buy/pack 100% junk in their lunches. Those friends share their food with him. He’ll come home with multiple wrappers of Pop Tarts, Oreos, multiple Fruit Roll Ups, fruit snacks, candy, Little Debbie’s snack cakes, etc. on a single day. I talked to the school and “food sharing” isn’t allowed. But, it continues to happen. If he doesn’t like what I’ve provided for dinner he will go to bed hungry, even if it means sitting at the table ask night or being alone in his room and going to bed hungry. He will refuse to eat until he has an opportunity to eat junk again, like if there are cookies at church he’ll stuff his pockets or will sneak food in the night which is usually food high in natural sugar like fruit and has been known to drink maple syrup or honey to get a sugar fix. When my kids were young I could get them to eat every healthy vegetable and they enjoyed them. Now that they are older and away from me more they are much more difficult to deal with and I truly don’t have the ability to control everything they eat. Any advice?

    1. Hi Celeste. I definitely sympathise with you and will be honest to say this is hard. I can’t give you advice on your family because I just can’t, you know what I mean…I can tell you a reason why your 12 year old does that. It’s because he knows one of the parents will give him what he wants. Kids are smart that way. Maybe there is a way to educate your husband about junk food? To work on him more instead of on a 12 year old and everything will work into place…Just an idea.
      I find parenting one of the reasons for fights with my husband too. I think it’s for many couples like that. Besides driving lol.
      What I also know from my own life experience, sometimes today there is no answer and no end in sight. But eventually the situation resolves itself for the better if we keep working on it. Lots of patience to you and remember you are doing amazing!

  5. This is amazing!! Can’t wait to try it! It is very important that our kids stay healthy and actually grow up to be aware of what they eat. Education is the key! Thanks for the article:)

  6. Hi Olena! I’ve read this article a couple times now. Do you have some table discipline tips you can share? I also have two boys 7 y.o. and 4 y.o. and when I serve something new healthy meal it takes almost an hour to listen to their complaints and whining. I confess that sometimes I bribe them with a treat after a healthy dinner, but there are still negotiations how many bites they have to eat before they are done (even before they start to eat at all!) We are making progress on healthy eating, but it is slower than I would like to. Thanks!

    1. Hi Olya. Oh yes, I do. My 11 year old is golden at the table, but my 6 year old talks non-stop, negotiates and whines. He gets better with every few months and here is what worked for us:
      1. No talking while eating, otherwise you go to your room upstairs.
      2. The faster you eat, the sooner you can talk again – lately it works like a charm.
      3. Or if you are eating, you can be talking – works like a charm right now because all he wants to do is talk (I interchange these 3 strategies depending on how tired I’m that night LOL).
      4. Sometimes we leave the table and he sits there by himself with his food – that is when he eats fast because all audience has left.
      5. We ignore a lot of whining, which I get is hard to do. When we can’t handle it, we send him to his room – the best advice I can give you.
      6. He left half of his split pea soup bowl last night. Then asked for banana, I didn’t give it to him. He went to bed like that. This morning he ate just a bit of oatmeal – went to school like this. He will survive, if hungry – he will eat. Before this he was eating non-stop for 2 days. No day is the same.
      By NO means it’s a fast process but your kids will get there if you keep being consistent. We still have our struggles with a 6 year old but he got MUCH better within last year. He is almost perfect and I notice how every month he likes at least one food item he didn’t like before. Just keep doing it, you are on the right track. The most important thing is to be firm, they KNOW when you mean it. Don’t listen to whining, send them to their rooms a few times and they will stop whining. Even as much as it might seem fun being in the rooms at first, eventually they would want to be with the rest of the family. I can tell you they won’t like it much.:)

  7. Great inspiration. I’m struggling with picky eaters and I know it is my own fault. Trying to get brave enough to flip the switch…to Clean out the processed foods and cut out so many snack times. I have one who even says “I don’t like to eat lunch. I only like to snack.” ugh!

    1. You have to look at flipping the switch this way – what is the worst thing that will happen? How old are your kids? The worst would be they will eat very slow, complain, scream, tantrum or be hungry for a while. At the end of the day you are an adult and as a parent aren’t you used to it already lol?! But eventually they will eat it and love it.:)
      Snacks are an addiction. Even my super healthy eating husband struggles – when he gets a hold of bag of chips, he can’t stop. Costco size, organic but still…I take it away. Kids can live off of snacks, I know. And mostly it is because main meals in North America ARE NOT nutritious. If you eat wholesome meal, you are not snacking constantly, it fills you up.
      Honestly, don’t be scared. It’s just another parenting chore.:) I took away iPad from my 11 year old for the summer – I’m still alive LOL. Eventually, with right support and approach they will eat what you want them to eat and still love you. The key is balance. Good luck!!! The fact that you realize that you are responsible for this and willing to change is half of the battle!!! Many parents are not willing to do anything about their kids poor nutrition blaming it on kids – it’s their fault they are “naturally” picky eaters, there is no such thing. So be proud of yourself already!

  8. Wow just found your blog, I’m so excited!! Love it and it’s exactly what me and my family need. Thank you!! From the Sunshine Coast, Australia xx

  9. I can’t even remember how I came across your blog, but I somehow found this post and with every sentence I read, I thought “YES!!” “Yes, that is me. Those are exactly my thoughts. Thank goodness, somebody finally said what needed to be said!”
    I was born and raised in Germany and had pretty similar rules (no snacks an hour before dinner).
    I can’t tell you how excited I was to read this post. I agree 1000%
    So, so good! Screw judgmental parents and all that crap. My kids are 4 and 7 and they try 1 activity at a time. Yes, I have time to cook healthy because I don’t have to shuttle my kids to 5 different places. But that’s because I chose our health over peer pressure and society’s expectations of what a kid should be doing after school or on the weekends. If they want to try soccer or karate, yes! I’ll sign them up tomorrow. But you bet your a&& that I’ll make sure they still eat real food.
    OK, sorry for the rant, but I had a feeling you will understand and it’s okay. Totally love your site. I’m bookmarking it and am putting kasha on my shopping list. XOXO Ulla

    1. Hi Ulla, I totally understand. No judgement here, it is totally OK to say how you feel and be different from many school moms. North American pace of life is insane and I honestly can’t believe how many people choose to live in a mortgaged mansion they can’t even keep up with, spend 5 days a week in a cubicle until 65 (to pay for the same mansion) and eat crap that makes them sick.
      I could care less what others think and I know many moms don’t get me because I’m different. But they never lived in a different society so they do not know anything different. American lifestyle is a result of processed foods because convenience gives people so much time to do anything but cooking. And then we pay the price for this convenience. I can’t imagine leaving a house without having a meal ready to eat for my family, and I’m not a housewife or stay at home mom only. I can’t imagine not having real food cooked. Anything that gets in a way of us eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle is simply dismissed – extra sports, extra friends, extra anything. I’m not willing to go camping or boating and eat crap for days, or put my kids into 4 different activities. No way!

  10. Thank you so much for writing this. I couldn’t agree more. For the most part, kids’ palates will adapt to what you give them. Give them real food, and they will likely enjoy and savor real food. And yes, sometimes real food takes a bit more effort and time than opening up a box of frozen food, but that extra 15-20 minutes of prep means a HUGE difference in lifelong health and habits. Totally worth it. I have two daughters, and while they don’t love every single thing I serve them, they eat and enjoy the rest of it. They are now teens, and they have observed for themselves the difference in how they feel eating real food versus junk food. One family, one meal – no short order cooks in my kitchen. Bravo.

    1. Every day can’t be a holiday, and every meal can’t be amazing and loved. If majority is healthy and tasty it is a success. I agree with you. Many times I wish I could open a box but it is very unhealthy and very expensive, and life doesn’t work like that. We were designed not to eat from boxes and this is why so many sick people. We basically are paying the price for our laziness.
      I had no idea your daughters are teenagers. You look so young. Thank you for writing this comment here i addition to Instagram. I prefer to communicate through blog that lives on much longer than social media.

  11. I got hooked on eating vegetables as a kid because my parents had a small garden. Seeing where it came from, picking it, cleaning and helping make salad did wonders to curb the veggie phobia. But kids are weird though. One day they’ll love something and the next, they’ll turn their nose up at like it’s the plague.

    1. Honestly, I didn’t have both of my kids turning their noses like it’s the plague at something they used to love and now suddenly they hate it. Yes, one stopped eating avocado, tomatoes and bananas for a few years, but he is back now. Other than these 3 items it has always been love or hate from day one like with beets or brussels sprouts. Me and Alex eat everything and we never turn our noses at any food, so I think it is one of the reasons we have kids who respect all food. I have seen MANY parents turning their noses at food – this is where their kids get it from. Let’s start with picky parents.
      And #2 reason why kids keep turning their noses is because they are allowed to turn their noses by their parents – too much freedom of choice at a very young age. Like I said above, it’s OK not to like a few food items, but to be drastically changing food preferences is just too much choice is given. Here is your plate and eat what you see. I worked hard to make money to buy this food, it is tasty and I’m not wasting it. When you grow up and make money – go buy your own food you want. Kids are smart, they know what buttons they can push and which they can’t. North American lifestyle makes parents catering to their kids already enough, and I am not willing to run a restaurant with a menu or look like crap because of kids’ wishes. In Ukraine, as kids we ate everything because we knew there was nothing else to choose from.

  12. I agree that it does take more effort to create healthy meals. It is important to feed kids healthy. Thanks for a good post. It’s a great reminder that it’s worth the effort. I struggle with this at times. I’ve come a long way from a few years ago but this post was motivational.

    1. Good for you and glad this post served as a reminder. We all need reminders in various aspects of life at certain points. It is called “life”.:) My never ending struggle is the never ending cycle of laundry, cooking and cleaning. Many days I struggle with “what’s the point?” but the point is raising kids – the end result.;)

  13. Loving all of this advice! And it’s MUCH needed! Time to get my lazy butt in gear and get these kids’ eating habits in shape!

  14. Can I add another one? Telling your kids “oh, you wouldn’t like that” when they ask to try a new food. I work at a “healthier” grocery store and kids always want to try sushi, curry, stir fried veggies, etc. and their parents pull them away claiming they wouldn’t like it. Let them try and decide for themselves! These are the same parents who pull their kids TO the sweets saying “oh, I bet you’ll like this!” to get them to stop throwing a temper tantrum or whatever.

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