5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy

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.:)

5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy- instant pot spaghetti

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.

5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy- healthy banana muffins

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?

5 Ways to Make Kids Eat Healthy- healthy turkey burger

Turkey Burger Recipe

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.

plate of zucchini brownies

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

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

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

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

5 Secrets to Easy Healthy Dinners

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About Olena

Welcome! I grew up in Ukraine watching my grandma cook with simple ingredients. I have spent the last 11 years making it my mission to help you cook quick and easy meals for your family!

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  1. Wonderful article. I am first generation in this country. My mom fed us healthy meals. As I had two children years ago, I was very intent to serve healthy foods. Lots of soup, no sugary cereals, farina. I baked and cooked all meals. Was fortunate to stay at home. I loved that they saw and appreciated all that I’ve done for them. They cook now healthy and I’m so grateful that we are healthy and not on any medications. My upbringing is what made this all happen. Your children will thank you later on.

    1. That is so true! Thank you for sharing your story. Since I wrote this article my kids are now 13 and 17 and eat quite healthy and can cook basic meals themselves. Yes and no medications for anyone in our family either. So it does pay off!

  2. Hi, Love this post as a mom who makes her families food and we do not go out to eat because one….nothing tastes as good as home cooked and 2 outrageous prices for not good for you food. We make suppers and enough for lunches. I have a hard time planning meals as feeding 7 is getting expensive so gardens are growing but having a large variety of recipes helps. You do just that! Thanks …and tolerance is being able to have your own opinion whether you agree or disagree but I totally agree with this one

  3. Great post! I agree with everything you said. And the lady who typed SAD( sad American diet), creative and unfortunately true. Keep it up Olena! Congratulations on moving forward with writing down how you see things and not focusing on others opinions.

  4. I completely agree with you on how kids get conditioned to eat. My two daughters will pick healthy over junk food 99% of the time. When we go grocery shopping I will only indulge my kids in the produce area. I let them pick whatever they want if they eat it or want to try it. It was hard with them when they were about 4-6 years old but they grew to know dinner is what is on the table and nothing else will be made. A few meals were not good and I came up with a rule about eating the healthy meal once and not having it again (no leftovers or remake of recipe). I don’t force them to finish their plates but at night snacks are limited. Most of the time they just are thirsty and ask for just bubble water from the soda stream. Now that they are older they are very good about eating and I know what is their absolute no items are (fish). The worst part is their dad. He is a junk food king. At first the kids wanted what he ate while the 3 of us ate the healthy but the kids quickly learned about whats healthy from talking about what foods do in our bodies. Now the kids pressure him to eat healthy and he is slowly coming around and eating better. LOL only 16 years of me trying. People always are amazed what my kids are eating and no it wasn’t easy but we as parents have a job to be the authority. Not mean parents but ones who want their kids to grow up with a healthy mindset. I loved all the points you made in this post!

  5. Thank you for this post. I have a seven year old that eats junk all day long and it’s all my fault. All of his friends’ moms feed him junk because they care more about activities and sports than cooking good healthy food. My 7 year old son got COVID and was on the couch feeling super tired and what did our neighbor bring him. A cute get well card from his best friend and a sugar filled cookie! The card was cute, but the cookie, really?! Like that will make him get better and heal his body. This nonsense that Americans and Canadians do to their kids has got to stop! This is the same mom whose 2 year old daughter has got eczema all over her poor little body and she is scratching herself all day long while eating cupcakes for lunch and dinner. I tell her that her daughter has a food allergy to sugar probably and she laughs it off and says its genetic and not treatable. She won’t even consider food as the reason for her eczema. We Americans need to wake up and see that the SAD (Standard American Diet) is killing us! This summer I will be throwing all the junk food away and cooking like you do for your kids. This has to stop and it will make sure it stops with my family. It will be hell with my older son since I waited too long to start, but he will get on board as long as I don’t give in. Thank you for this beautiful website and for inspiring me to do the right thing for my kids! I would love a post on how you handle grandparents and other moms who feed your kids junk. They look at me like I’m crazy for wanting to cut junk food out of our lives.

    1. Nothing surprises me anymore. We are conditioned and our children are taught in this society not to question anything. It’s convenient for them. Just do your own thing and you don’t have to report to anymore what you feed your child. With age I learnt to just ignore and not react and do my thing. ALso if grandparents feed him junk in their house so be it. I wouldn’t lose sleep over it, as long as majority of time he eats healthy. Good luck!

  6. I appreciate your article so much, and agree with your philosophy. Can’t wait to put these tips into practice when I have kids 🙂 Thank you for sharing your wisdom and recipes with us!

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