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. Excellent advice! I totally agree and used some of these methods myself with my own children many years ago. I also used to chop really tiny the veg the said they hated (eg aubergine) and ‘hide’ it in a meal they liked (eg spag bol) and tell them afterwards!!
    I also made them wait at table the same way – it soon cut down to normal eating times
    I never had processed food much as a child of Irish parents in England – then I married a Turkish man – each of whom were all about fresh food. This was my advantage I realized later.
    Well done Elena – excellent website I have passed to my family and friends

  2. Hi, Olena. I know this blog post is aimed at parents, and is older (it is now 2022!)…and I am not a parent…but, at 43, I have cut myself off from my family of origin, and am “re-parenting” myself, due to the narcissistic abuse I’ve dealt with for far too long. I am not a parent because of this abuse…but reading through your blog overall,

    I, as a North American woman raised in the US, agree with sooo much of what you have said so far, especially about the over-emphasis on sports. Mind you, I love martial arts, and Tae Kwon Do is the sport I’m mostly good at. Otherwise, I am very much more musically and artistically inclined, and I do *not* understand North America’s obsession with pushing kids to be in several different sports activities at once, combined with all the junk food around. As if lots of physical activity is going to make up for the junk. Unh-unh.

    I once heard that the human body is like a walking chemistry set: so many different reactions doing this or that with hormones, proteins, fats, etc. I think this comparison is apt…if you put junk into a body expecting complex carbs, lean meats, whole grains, veggies and fruits, etc, the body isn’t really going to know what to with that junk, except turn it to fat and store it…and cause our hormonal systems to go out of whack. Add to that a sedentary lifestyle (I didn’t exactly have the best example growing up, unfortunately, so I am having to try and reverse it), and bada-bing, bada-boom: health problems galore.

    The things I have learned since my journey away from my narcissistic family would probably fill a book (or a blog space of my own), and I don’t want to take up precious space here. But I will say this: your blog overall is fabulous, and once I get an Instant Pot (a crockpot is not quite so diverse and functional for this busy school bus monitor who looooves to cook budget-friendly meals), I am coming back around for more of your awesome recipes!

  3. 5 stars
    Toally agrere. I´m a Brazilian living in Germany and know exactly how it is! I´ve also never met any kid that eats like mine, maybe yours 😛 When we were away on vacation and my boy came back to Day Care the first thing someone said right away was “Finally someone who will eat everything and not complain is back!”

    My mother was very “tiranic” with food, we were never allowed desserts and HAD to eat everything with zero complaints. It caused the three of us to have eating disorders for a while, but some control over food is something parents must have, of course.

    Your recipes are the proof we can all eat nutricious and delicious food at the same time. I try to be like you. Thank you so much, I´m a fan!

  4. I love your comments about getting children to eat and eating healthy food. This is the way I grew up and the way we fed our 9 children. I find out after they’re married but there were a few things they didn’t like but they had learned not to complain and just eat it anyway. I did take it into consideration if I knew that there was something that most of them didn’t enjoy. But with the family are size you cooked and everybody ate! You are doing a great job. We now have 43 grandchildren and our first great-grandchild and I would say they are all healthy. Praise the Lord.

    1. Wow, 43 grandchildren! Thank you, Carol! Yes, respect adults who sourced food, cooked it and respect food. How we grew up and how we raise our kids. Too often in our society respect has been lost for each other, for elderly, for adults these days.

  5. 5 stars
    Good for you! I applaud you and your parenting skills. I was very lucky a little over 40 years ago when I met my future husband at school. He was Iranian and for one of our first dates, he invited me for dinner in his dorm room (International House (everyone cooked in their rooms). He made me fresh baked trout (in his toaster oven), basmati rice in the 1 little pot he owned (cooked on a hot plate that they use in a lab to stir solutions), and cucumber & yogurt w/garlic & dried mint on the side. OMG! It was fabulous and until his death in 2020, he kept cooking and his cooking just got better – no recipes ever. Over the years, our children’s friends would come over and eat dishes such as cherry rice with chicken and their parents would be shocked because they wouldwere pocky eaters

    But re: children, dinner was to be together, and I remember one evening my son who was 7 decided he didn’t like the dinner (which he had always liked), and then his 4yr old sister announces she didn’t like it. Oh boy, the $#$t hit the fan! My son we realized was just pushing boundaries, but to do it over the food his father cooked – not smart, especially when his little sister who idolized him followed suit. Never again did that happen! Food was too important – especially for my husband as he had little growing up and it was how he showed his love. Keep up the fabulous work! I tripped across your blog because I had 3 bananas that were begging to be made into banana bread and I had a bag of Almond flour from Costco I wanted to use. I cannot wait to check out your recipes and start cooking again!

  6. You are so right! I reared my 3 daughters on healthy home cooked food. The fruit bowl was kept full for snacking. I was the mean mother who would not buy fruit roll ups! I insisted on family around the table for meals! We were considered weird and old fashioned by the helicopter moms and that was 30 years ago! So happy to see your post and love your meals.

    1. Imagine how “weird” I am considered behind my back nowadays. 🙂 I am used to not having a popular opinion and not fitting in in this society. A price any immigrant pays for better life. Oh well. My family is happy, healthy and I am grateful for my life every day. Who cares who thinks what?! Good for you, Sharon, health is wealth. I never bought fruit roll ups because for that amount of money I can buy 10 times more fruit my kids love and that offers more health benefits and no environmental waste. It’s pretty simple.

  7. Olano
    In all seriousness
    I find I can’t disagree with anything..
    If only most would adopt
    Your healthy approach to
    Rearing your children
    Mine are adults
    When mine were young
    It was entirely up to me to provide meals
    I was separated from their father
    Thank You
    I used a lot of fresh vegetables
    Sometimes I must admit I used processed food too!
    My thanks

  8. I completely agree! Sometimes I feel like tone of very few moms who wants to feed healthy kids, who eat full meals, so it’s nice to read this. Thanks!

    1. Today is hard to have an unpopular opinion, you are judged right away. But family first and we need to remember to stay true to our own believes and not society’s. I remind myself every day and you do to and do you. 🙂

  9. Dear Olena and family, I am immensely thankful that I found your recipes and your site! My “children” are now 26, 24, 21 and 17 but I care for my wee niece, she’s nearly 2, all day. Once my niece could chew, I let her have whatever we were eating and she indeed eats everything and loves to help me cook.
    I found your site out of a desire to prep dinner more quickly using my InstantPot- in line with the attention span of a 2 year old who wants to help. I couldn’t be happier with all of the receipes we’ve tried.
    Finally, do you have a recipe for Torte Napoleon that you would share?
    Many thanks for doing the work so my family can enjoy yummy meals and I can be calm and happy at dinner time!

    1. Hi Melissa! Your comment means a lot to me. I am so thankful to be able to help people enjoy cooking and eating healthy food with their loved ones:) sorry I don’t have a Torte Napolean recipe.

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