Getting your children to eat healthy at home is challenging enough, but to get them to eat healthy in school can seem virtually impossible. You have no idea what is going on in the cafeteria…lunch swaps…trashcans…the team mascot…you name it. If a child doesn’t want to eat what is in their lunchbox, they won’t. They’ll find a way to deep six the uneaten food and will do so as not to leave a trace of evidence.
If getting your kids to learn healthy and nutritious habits is important, it pays to find creative ways to get them to “buy-in” to the idea. Here are some tips:
- Set an Example: Let’s face it…kids are smart. If you don’t eat healthy, they won’t see why they should eat healthy. Don’t be hypocritical…set an example by eating healthy at home. A few things to keep in mind:
- Don’t keep a lot of junk food in the house. Instead, load up on fruits, nuts and other healthy snacks that the family can enjoy in-between meals. The less unhealthy foods they have in the house, the less likely they will look for them outside of the home.
- Don’t reward good behavior with treats and don’t punish bad behavior by withholding treats. Instead, treats should be enjoyed independent of behavior and on occasion to instill healthy moderation.
- Educate Them: Demanding that your children eat healthy without any explanation as to why isn’t very convincing. Teach your children about healthy nutrition and do so from a young age. Make it a natural part of their lives and one of the important life lessons you would want them to follow. Don’t make the topic big and scary, however, because using fear could actually turn against you if they want to rebel.
- Get Them Involved: Get your kids involved in the grocery shopping, meal planning and growing a vegetable garden. The more you involve them, the more likely they will buy-in to your master plan of getting them to eat healthier. Giving a child ownership of the decisions that are made around food will give them a sense of independence and the idea that they made the choice to eat what they eat…not you. If your child needs some direction in understanding what are healthy choices, provide them with options that they can choose from as opposed to letting them name things from scratch.
- Incorporate What They Like: If your child doesn’t like Brussels sprouts and won’t eat them with you around, then it doesn’t pay to send them to school with Brussels sprouts in their lunchbox. Instead, capitalize on the healthy foods that they DO like. Sweeter vegetables, such as carrots, celery, cucumber, snap-peas and peppers are far more palatable to young discerning taste buds, as compared to more bitter vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. If you aren’t sure about what your child likes, ask them.
- Make it Fun: As a very young child, I was beyond a picky eater…I didn’t eat. I remember a friend of the family who would always make “McDonald’s Chicken” and somehow she got me to eat the dinner she prepared. Also, steak was “snake” in my book (although you have to wonder what little girl actually wanted to eat snakes). Nonetheless, these little tricks worked. Granted, I’m not an advocate for getting children to want McDonald’s, but the point here is that children don’t want to eat grown-up food, they want to eat “fun” food. Here are a few ideas to make healthy eating fun:
- Aliases: Some vegetables and healthy foods just don’t sound very appealing to a child. For instance, spinach doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as Spiderman Salad. Or, if your child’s name is Sam, you could call it Super Sammy’s Salad. Use names that your child can identify with and they may be more inclined to like the food.
- Fun Descriptors: Children love descriptive words like “cheesy” and “yummy.” Moreover, they love things that rhyme. Turn the lunch into a rhyme and they’ll be asking for it in the future.
- Shapes and Things: A very grown up meal that I love, that uses a very kid-friendly name is Tuna Boats. This is tuna served in a halved, peeled and seeded cucumber.
- Meal-time at Home: The more enjoyable you can make healthy meals at home, the more likely your child will associate healthy eating with positive things.
What tricks do you use to get your child to eat healthy at school?