Getting Healthy Foods Into Fussy Kids

A family having dinner together.

It is a common struggle for most parents to get their kids to eat healthy foods. (Image: Evgenyatamanenko via Dreamstime)

It is a common struggle for most parents to get their kids to eat healthy foods. According to a 2008 Australian study, 82 percent of moms with kids aged 1 to 7 described their children’s eating habits as “fussy.” The study also found that 80 percent of the mothers were unsure if their child’s nutritional needs were being met.

5 recommendations parents and caretakers can make to help fussy kids eat better

1. Set an example

Healthy habits start with good role models, as kids watch everything their parents and caretakers do. So if children never see their family snacking on a variety of fruit, vegetables, or whole grain bread, then it should be no surprise if they turn these foods down.

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Another study published in the Journal of American Dietetic Association in 2003 found that kids who were unwilling to try new foods often had mothers who were also reluctant to try fresh foods.

Kids will be motivated to eat good food if you make it fun.
Kids will be motivated to eat good food if you make it fun. (Image: Monkey Business Images via Dreamstime)

2. Be creative

Kids will be motivated to eat good food if you make it fun. For example, try making up funny names for their meals and create faces on their plates with foods like carrots, dip, celery, and tomato.

Reward kids with healthy food — but don’t tell them that it’s good for them — they won’t care! Instead, please encourage them to try at least one bite of their veggies or other new food. Giving kids what they need is essential, but not always what they want.

There are going to be times when no matter what you try, there is no way the little ones will eat what is offered. So don’t make a fuss; take the food away and re-offer it later when they are hungry. Experts advise refraining from providing them an alternative food at that meal but waiting until the next one.

Research shows that many kids may need to be offered new food up to 10 times before they accept it. If food is refused, it doesn’t always mean the child doesn’t like it — they don’t trust it.

The key is to persevere and stay calm and positive. Keep an eye on what your child eats throughout the day, as they may eat most of their food as snacks rather than at meal times. Allow them to build up an appetite, encourage them to drink more water, and eat only one healthy snack between meals.

3. Sneak in veggies

Puréeing food and hiding it inside sauces and meatballs is only a temporary fix. While you may get away with putting puréed “green stuff” or mashed chickpeas in their food to boost nutrition, will they learn to choose these foods as they get older?

It’s best to introduce a wide variety of healthy food as early as possible. It may be harder for them to adapt to different types of food the older they get. So “sell it” to them, like anything else, by thinking about what makes them tick.

In its many forms, sugar can be highly addictive, not to mention bad for the teeth.
In its many forms, sugar can be highly addictive, not to mention bad for the teeth. (Image: Keechuan via Dreamstime)

4. Minimize sugar

It’s a complete fallacy that kids need junk food. In its many forms, sugar can be highly addictive, not to mention bad for the teeth. Furthermore, junk food and soft drinks are always colorful and marketed as fun to eat, so much so that most adults are tempted just as much as kids.

The solution? Include a little protein at every meal to control their urge for sugar.

Parents decide what is eaten and when, while the kids control how much they eat. With a bit of encouragement and minimal distraction at meal times, they may eat a little more. Praise them for any little bit of goodness they get into their tummy.

5. Make healthy foods available

Always have fresh food in the fridge and pantry at the child’s height. Organizing healthy homemade food before going out will save a trip to Mcdonald’s if the kids get hungry. Remember, milkshakes, juice, or soft drinks are unnecessary, but water is.

Perhaps you can limit sugary drinks and foods to a set time or day each week and avoid keeping junk food in the house.

It is well known that kids share their food at school, but if they learn to exercise sound judgment at home, they will be less tempted by their peers. As they get older, involve the kids in the shopping and food preparation. This usually increases their interest in healthy eating.

Finally, good eating habits need to involve the whole family. Sit down to eat healthy meals together, bond, and socialize. With loving relationships, children understand that what their parents say is in their best interest.

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