How to Teach Your Kids to Eat a Varied Diet

“How do you get your son to eat that?”

That’s something I’ve heard a lot in the last 12 years. Whether it’s Indian food, vegetables, or whatever else he’s eating, many of my fellow parents are amazed that my son almost never raises a fuss about his food, and he usually cleans his plate.

So, what’s our amazing secret?

It’s not that secret. We’ve always expected our son to eat what we give him. And, while he’s pushed back on occasions, we’ve remained firm about consequences such as no dessert, having to finish what wasn’t eaten at dinner for breakfast the next day, or sitting at the dinner table until bedtime if you don’t want to eat.

Since we’ve shown that we’re serious about our son eating a varied diet that includes healthy choices, and we don’t let him get away with eating something different to what we’re eating, he’s not a very picky eater.

These thoughts about food and parenting came to me as I read an article from Canada’s National Post the other day. The article is about how our kids have been fed so many foods full of salt, sugar, and fat that it’s all they want. It also points out that many of us simply prepare something different for our kids than we eat ourselves in order to avoid unpleasantness. Since our son has been eating what we eat (for the most part) since he started eating solid food, we just don’t run into this problem. It rarely even occurs to him that it would be acceptable to ask for something different (unless we’re at a restaurant, where everyone is eating something different).

As with all families, we do have times when what we eat is questionable when it comes to nutrition. We’ve got emergency meals in the freezer that can be fixed on the stove or heated in the oven in 20 minutes while I make a salad and prepare apple slices. But, even then, my son doesn’t get to opt for potato wedges instead of the salad, or a syrupy fruit cup instead of the apple slices. I’m eating salad, dad is eating salad, and our son is eating salad. That’s the way it is.

So when people ask me how it happens, I tell them it’s more about how you teach your kids to eat from a young age than it is anything else. If kids grow up with a varied diet, and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, they will be more likely to continue those habits later.

Teach Your Kids to Eat Better

Part of the reason my husband and I have had success with our son has a lot to do with the fact that he’s an only child. We don’t have multiple children to manage, so it’s easier to focus on him and enforce good habits. But, even with this advantage, there are strategies that I’ve seen translate to bigger families. Here are some ways you can teach your kids to eat a more varied diet:

  • Have more varied foods available: Make sure you’ve got a variety of foods in the home. My husband gets seasonal produce, in addition to some of the non-seasonal produce, so there are different items to try. In fact, he’s always bringing home something different to try, whether it’s a kind of fish we haven’t had before, a different spice for us to try in our cooking, or naan instead of pita bread.
  • Encourage them to help you prepare the meal: When my son was younger, he helped set the table, or we’d let him add an ingredient (pre-measured) during the preparation process. Now that he’s 12, he can actually participate more in making meals. My son regularly helps me with dinner, including using the stove and oven. He often prepares his own lunch on the weekends — and he usually gets himself baby carrots and a banana to go with his sandwich. He likes doing it for himself, and he also knows that if he isn’t responsible and appropriate, he will lose the privilege. Children who help make their own food are often more interested in eating it.
  • Set the example: Your eating habits are the best way to teach your kids to eat better. Show them that you eat a varied, healthy diet, and they will be more interested in doing so.

You can also enforce rules by requiring them to try everything on their plate, or even eat everything. We used to give our son purposely small portions so he could succeed at cleaning his plate. Another tactic is to lead with the vegetables and fruits so that they are required to eat the healthiest items before they get too full.

What do you do to teach your kids to eat better? Do you have a strategy for stopping them from being picky eaters?

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