How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy: 5 Tips From Food Experts
Last month, five incredible food experts came together on MomsRising radio to talk about junk food, school lunches, better food, and more. They shared an incredible wealth of information---trust me, this list could have been the top 100 tips from food experts on eating healthy. To hear the rest of their incredible ideas, and to learn more about the new USDA school foods guidelines, CLICK HERE to listen to the episode and to check out other episodes of the "MomsRising with Kristin Rowe Finkbeiner" radio show!
Before we get into the tips, let's meet the experts:
- Dr. Janey Thornton, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.
- Sam Kass, Assistant White House Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives
- Jessica Donze Black with the Kids Safe and Healthful Foods Project at the Pew Health Group.
- Alison Crockett, blogs as MsDivaBlue and is also a well- known musician.
- Cynthia Liu, with K-12 News Network and popular blogger.
1. Get Kids in the Kitchen
When host Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner asked Dr. Janey Thornton for good tricks to get kids to eat healthy food, she shared this easy tip: "Make it fun! Make it kid friendly. It can be really healthy and be fun for kids at the same time. My children used to love to help me in the kitchen. If they prepare it, they’re more likely to consume it."
Sam Kass agrees. "It’s critical to get our kids involved," says Kass. "Kids are curious and open minded and if you engage them in the process, be it having them help you plant a garden or even go to the grocery store and let them pick out a couple vegetables, or having them get in the kitchen and cook, then kids start taking ownership and they start taking pride in what they're producing, and their likelihood of actually eating it is dramatically increased."
2. Set an Example
Dr. Thornton shared that they've found that student leaders help encourage kids to try new healthy foods. If the kid at the front of the line takes a food, it's more likely that the kids behind them will follow their example.
So, how do you translate that lesson into your home? Take Alison Crockett's advice and set an example for your kids by incorporating more healthy foods into your own diet. "If you don't eat it, why do you expect your kids to eat it?" asks Crockett.
3. Make Fruits and Veggies Delicious
"Our goal is to not only offer healthy foods, but to get the children to consume those healthy foods," says Dr. Thornton, discussing the new USDA school food guidelines. She says parents may see a food in their cafeteria that they think is unhealthy, only to find out that it's a very healthy food being presented in a kid-friendly way, like a pizza. Try this at home by turning kid-friendly standards into healthy treats through including whole wheat, fruits, or vegetables.
The experts agreed that one of the most important ways to get your kids to eat healthy is to show them that fruits and vegetables are delicious. Cynthia Liu saw first hand that kids will fill up on veggies if you turn them into an appealing snack. At her son's cultural school, Cynthia noticed that the snacks were frequently junk food.
"I noticed kids snacking on you know, Oreos and all kinds of sugary snacks in between little breaks when they had class and I thought, “Well what if one day I bring in some vegetables and some dip.” You can just buy those pre-made crudite packaged things at your supermarket. It doesn’t have to be pricey. It doesn’t have to be organic...as long as it’s a vegetable that crunches, you’re probably in pretty good shape." Her experiment ended up being a huge success. "I brought it in and lo and behold, these children that had been sucking down bright blue beverages and sugary cookies went crazy for the carrots, the celery, the dip," says Cynthia.
Keep flavor and preparation in mind for both raw and cooked vegetables. “Don't cook vegetables within an inch of their lives. That's unappetizing, and unpleasant to look at," says Alison Crockett.
Not sure how to cook greens and make them delicious? Try this easy recipe from Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass: Try cooking greens with a little bit of lemon juice, a little bit of chili, a touch of honey, and maybe some sauteed garlic. You can use this on anything green, from chard to kale to green beans. (I’ve tried it and it’s a huge crowd-pleaser.)
4. Small Steps Can Create Big Results
“I would say start small,” says Sam Kass. “You know, don’t try to overhaul everything. Go to choosemyplate.gov. There you’ll find really simple tips and it’s little things like choose water over sugary drinks or fill half your plates with fruits and vegetables, or choose low-fat dairy.”
When it comes to picky eaters, you might have to do those small steps many, many times. “I have a finicky eater,” says host Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, “and my pediatrician told me that sometimes you have to introduce foods 30 times before they’ll actually for real eat them. On some of the foods, I’m on number 300 or maybe 3,000.”
"None of us are perfect," says Alison Crockett, "and our kids aren't going to eat everything. But if we keep serving it, eventually they will eat the way that we would like for them to eat."
5. Get Involved with School Foods
"...[Parents] recognize that when the children are at school, they’re making their choices independently and so to the extent that all of the choices they have available to them are healthy choices, that really reinforces what we’re trying to do as parents and ultimately parents are happy to see that," says Jessica Black Donze. "I think parents have a tremendous voice in their school and the vast majority of school nutrition directors are really working hard to get all of this implemented, but it’s not always easy. They’re operating on really small budgets and in some cases, with limited equipment and materials available to them. So to the extent they have the support of parents and the community and that they’re working collaboratively to troubleshoot some of the hurdles and help serve the healthiest but also most delicious food possible; that’s going to be a positive."
"There is no voice more important than the parent voice, and both in schools without a question, but for everything," says Sam Kass. "We’re seeing businesses step up and fundamentally change the way that they’re doing their business because they’re hearing from parents. We’re seeing grocery stores changing what they’re offering, trying to reduce the price of healthy options. We’re seeing restaurants, like Darden restaurants, completely overhauling their kids’ menu making a fruit or vegetable the default option, and reducing calories and sodium by 20 percent over 10 years. Why? Because they know that parents are calling for this stuff."
Get involved in your school and learn more about what foods your kids are encountering during the school day. "...I think [parents] need to start out by talking to people in that cafeteria, and then if they see no result there, go to the director in the district," says Dr. Thornton. "[The new USDA guidelines are] a great opportunity for parents to get involved, talk to their nutrition director and say, “Gosh what are we serving? What’s on the menu? How might we be able to creatively offer some different opportunities to kids and expose children to some different things?”says Jessica Donze Black.