5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy 5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy
February 16, 2018
by Olena

5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy

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. You might want to read my clean eating philosophy first – it is just about eating real food, no diets. 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.:)

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

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!!! 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 wasn’t “lucky” to marry a great guy – I picked him, I wasn’t “lucky” to have a business – I earned a business degree for 6 years, I wasn’t “lucky” to own a home – I saved and worked my butt off for it. 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’m not a stay-at-home mom with all time in the world, I’m not (by the way it is a myth – stay at home mom with young kids works harder than a CEO, for free). iFOODreal is a business that I took from ground up which was 50 hours of work for many years, and 40 hours out of those 50 were not spent cooking. I have always been a working mom, always.

When it comes to food, I highly recommend to 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. I grew up with the most unconfident mom and I can read her better than she can, her face and moves ALWAYS say it all.

We all 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. Only in America! Being firm re: food doesn’t mean being a mean parent, it just means being a parent. 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. And guess what? That kid had no control over what he was eating all his life because he is a kid 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, whose name I will keep confidential (going back to I do not know if it is appropriate to say her name or not because I do not know if her relatives are reading and will get offended – I have no idea), who was raised on junk food and struggled with extra weight all her life. For a girl to be overweight is memorable at school, we can all agree on that. She has developed multiple allergies etc. Now, she is one of the healthiest eaters I know! Her kids take second place after mine re: healthy eating. She completely turned her eating upside down and is doing amazing. So, what she said to me recently – I will never forget: “Feeding children processed foods should be considered an abuse”. This comes from a child who will never recover 100% from all the processed foods she was taught to eat and was force fed (yes, force fed) for 20 years. Just like I will never fully recover from the emotional abuse of my parents’ divorce and childhood, I never will.

I’m not telling you how to parent, and I’m not judging, just observing. When I see an overweight child, I feel extremely sad for him/her, I do. I want to take him/her home, feed good food for a week and return back to the parents, kinda a rehab. Because there is nothing he/she can do about it unless his/her parents decided to. And these kids already are feeling the consequences of such nutrition – emotional and physical. I do not think it is OK to mask a girl’s obvious extra weight under “she is just a big girl”. No, she is not, it is tens of lbs of extra fat. I have heard that excuse as well. It is like an ostrich sticking a head in the sand, basically an ignorance.

Making healthy food takes effort, not enormous, but it takes an effort. I consider parenting hard work. If I brought a child into this world, it is my responsibility, and no one else’s, to raise him as a well rounded human being. And I will be completely honest – many people are just lazy. LAZY to cook and to educate themselves about eating healthy. There is so much information out there right now, it is not a mystery anymore. You do not have to borrow a neighbour’s 897 pages encyclopedia to learn how to be healthy, come on! Google, just google and use common sense. You either chose to see it or you don’t, but it’s a choice. Again, ignorance.

Wait, but we can’t judge. No way. We can’t. This is the most mind boggling nonsense to me. Everyone wants to look good and be healthy, but very few people are willing to do something about it. We can’t even lightly touch on health and weight subject during conversation in a fear of discrimination and hurt feelings, and at same time “normal” movies and radio stations are full of completely inappropriate language and actions. Isn’t it sick? Did you notice what songs your child is singing or idolizes? How is that OK for a 10 year old boy to sing “That’s not a stripper, that’s my ballerina?!”?! WTF, 2017?! WTF?!

So, how about talking about it with like minded people or to help open other people’s eyes so they can become healthy? Yes, nailed it. So, we are not judging. So then I can say this – in my town there is a young woman with 4 kids, pregnant with #5, entire family eats processed foods 100% of the time, while the mom is selling and drinking Valentus (“slimming coffee”). How is this not ignorance and laziness? I’m telling you this because many will think about it but not put it in writing or will whisper about with friends.

And last thing, when coming up with a title for this post, I used Google keyword tool and was absolutely shocked to see there are articles and searches for “picky eaters disorder”. Huh?! Excuse me?! There is such thing? The answer is: NO. “Picky eaters disorder” is non-existent, it is a bunch of BS, another label for our kids. Did you ever think why East Indian kids eat spicy curry no problem and Ukrainian kids don’t?! And how did entire world survive on real food until America came up with processed food and snacks? Exactly, it is all about habits and being a parent means you are in charge of creating healthy habits.

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

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

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. Some kids are better eaters, some are worse, no argument about that. But they ALL can eat healthy. My 10 year old is much easier to feed than a 6 year old, but they pretty much eat the same anyways.

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

  1. No mushy cooked zucchini but raw zucchini are fine. Now we moved on to eating al dente zucchini like in my Tex Mex rice and beans no problem.
  2. Oldest one doesn’t eat cooked carrots in soup, so he picks them out. Raw are fine.
  3. Both kids do not eat squash (except for spaghetti squash boats and pureed in slow cooker butternut squash soup), turnip, sweet potato (except Alexia fries), brussels sprouts, beets (except in Ukrainian borscht), papaya and oysters. Right now not happening. OK, fine.

This is all my kids DO NOT eat. That’s it. I’m respectful of these choices and sometimes 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. Kids do, me and Alex very rarely because we don’t want to. They eat it a bit as a treat and they are good. To take them to a place like McDonald’s, Burger King or Taco Time is equivalent to a punishment. No way they will eat there BUT they will eat soup or a wrap at Tim Hortons. See the difference?!

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

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

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 (despite many other things I wish I grew up with). Kids in North America have everything they can only wish for, they don’t need anything else. To me, using bribing methods with money or treats is like voluntarily agreeing to another addiction and an extra chore. Once compensation system is in place, it is hard to get rid of it and I will be completely dependent on it. I do believe that my kids are part of my family and are supposed to help around the house and eat healthy food for their own benefit.

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. What if you can’t make food fun one time? You child won’t eat it then? I also think it is a waste of food. I do not see anything wrong making Mickey Mouse pancakes for fun sometimes, but creating veggie animals and making fruit skewers on a regular basis is unnecessary. My kids love when I cut up fruit: banana slices, cored and cut apples or segmented oranges. No problem, but no fruit art.

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. These 2 concepts result in issues I covered in point #1 – too much freedom for kids and all they will eat is junk. Listen, if we lived in a world without processed foods (which would be A DREAM) then no problem – eventually your kid would eat something else that is healthy. But in our American reality it doesn’t work. I know there are many “specialists” in all fields nowadays, but when it comes to eating real food all we need is common sense – at the end of the day we were born humans to eat real food to nourish our bodies. What science do we need about it?! PLEASE…

Our rule is “you are not leaving this table until your plate is empty”. Yes, sometimes it takes 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. It is proof that picky eating is a show for parents. Yes, sometimes I have to raise my voice and spoon feed my youngest one, I do. I’m a real parent and the result is that I have a healthy eating happy child. To me, parenting is not being friends – first of all I’m a parent who should be treated with respect, and not like a buddy-buddy friend. And it is possible to be best friends and a parent with your kids. My boys are like my tail all the time, give me constant kisses and hugs, they tell me everything and they genuinely love me. I’m not an idiot, I know it. So, I guess I’m not that “mean”. At the end of the day, I realize that my boys shouldn’t celebrate their birthdays with gluten free chocolate avocado cake but rather their absolute favourite – ice cream cake. Hello, common sense.

It is one thing, to learn nutrition at university and afterwards write articles about feeding kids, and another thing is to live a life of a mom day in an day out. It is equivalent to my mom visiting once a year for a week and judging my parenting skills. Haha, a good one.

Experts are a health hazard.

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

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 Adam (Kyle eats everything) that there will be no snack if he doesn’t finish his meal. Sometimes he comes back and finishes his 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!

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

5. Reduce Activities

Getting my shield and armour on this one. Both of my boys play hockey in winter and ball hockey in spring, so I’m constantly around hockey 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 Johnnys will not become professional athletes. They will stop playing in a minor league when they graduate high school and real life takes over – college, part-time job, girlfriends, family etc. Sport career is over, if it ever even has started.

It is great to play sport but, in my eyes, it is only for physical and personal development, and to keep kids away from screens and trouble. 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, I do pick my battles in life. And another thing – that poor mom who did it to herself re: sports. She eats that processed food and feels “blah”, I know she does. She already sacrificed so much for Johnny and here comes more. I honestly don’t get why because the most important thing that Johnny needs is a healthy and happy mom no matter what her age is, 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 in all other countries except in America. 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 clean food 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. Oh wait, not true, we will all pay for it by making monthly medical insurance contributions.

Whether your child will grow up eating healthy is COMPLETELY UP TO YOU!

About Olena

Hi, I’m Olena and this is my healthy family recipes blog. Originally from Ukraine, I now live on magic Vancouver Island in British Columbia. I’m here to help you with “What’s for dinner?”.

Made a recipe? Tag @ifoodreal or #ifoodreal on Instagram. I would love to share in the “Look what you made” stories.

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20 comments on “5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy

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  1. 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.:)

  2. 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!

  3. 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

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.;)

  8. 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!

  9. 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.