How We Get Our Kids to Eat Healthy
If you have a picky eater, you’re gonna want to learn these simple, creative ways to help your kids eat better!
This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.
Do you have a picky eater?
In our Cheapskate Cooks Facebook Group, I took an informal survey asking members what their biggest struggle is when it comes to saving money and eating healthy.
Our biggest struggle had nothing to do with saving money or eating healthy.
The fact is, we’re tired of fighting with our kids to eat good food. We are tired of hearing the complaining at dinner time and whining when we don’t buy their favorite cereal.
Saving money and eating healthy requires us to be creative, flexible, and to try new things. This is really hard to do when we have picky eaters.
Maybe we are willing to try weird, new, healthy foods, but sometimes our kids are not.
And that’s fair.
Kids are human. They have their own likes, dislikes, and voices. We love our kids and we want them to feel valued.
We also want them to eat their broccoli already.
I have a couple of picky eaters. The seasons and foods they like or dislike have changed and we’ve tried a million different things to help them enjoy their peas and at least try that bite of mushroom.
Picky Eater Tips
We tried a ton of classic picky eater suggestions. Some of them work better than others. Here are few classic tips:
- Creative presentation – Choose fruits and veggies that are brightly colored and separate them into little piles or fun designs.
- Show them you enjoy it – Has this ever worked for anyone, EVER?
- Turn off the TV and any other distractions – Honestly, sometimes the TV distraction helps my kids eat food they don’t normally like
- Don’t eat snacks too close to meals – This one is legit.
Today I want to share a couple of simple and creative ideas to empower and encourage our picky eaters to eat well.
Don’t worry. They don’t involve cutting sandwiches into cookie cutter stars or creating veggie stick smiley faces on their plate.
Because in the end, we don’t want kids who just eat whatever is put in front of them. We want to raise strong independent adults who know how to take care of their bodies.
I’m not a doctor, but I have tried about 5,642,391 ways to get my kid to eat well. I hope these ideas help you.
Is Mealtime a Nightmare?
Sometimes our biggest struggle with saving money and eating healthy has nothing to do with us.
Parts of this post is an excerpt from my eBook, The Picky Eater Playlist: 25 Tips & 55 Recipes to Bring Harmony to Your Table. Check it out here!
1. Picky Eater Parents: Take Care of You
I believe the first step to empowering our kids to eat well is to model good eating. When I say that, I don’t mean you need to eat your vegetables and watch your sweets.
Don’t just model healthy eating. Model a healthy relationship with food.
Think about this: how do you talk about food around your kids? What do you think about healthy food and junk food? How do you talk about all the issues surrounding food – your body image, dieting, sugar, etc.? Are you constantly guilting yourself about what you eat?
These are very important issues. If our kids learn more by example than by lectures (lots of experts say this is true), I have some good news. Maybe you don’t have to teach your kids how to have a healthy relationship with food. Perhaps the best way to empower their healthy relationship is to work at your relationship with food.
2. Picky Eater Snacks
How many times a day do you hear, “Mom, I’m hungry.”?
From the day I taught my 8-month-old son how to say “please” and “food” in sign language, I have heard this question roughly 2,863,952 times. So when my kids were still fairly young, we made the Snack Rule.
We established this rule during a season when we had a couple major things going on:
- 3 kids under age 6
- I was a full-time caregiver to my husband after a car crash (13 surgeries and re-learning how to walk several times)
- Our kids were gluten-free and dairy-free
During this season, my margin for snack prep was minimal – almost non-existent. My husband needed constant care, but we had 3 kids who were always hungry – or at least thought they were.
We had kids with food sensitivities and allergies, and we were on a budget. Allergy-free snack food is expensive. It is also not always good for you. Maybe those bunny-shaped cookies are gluten-free, but who decided cookies were snacks and not dessert?
Do you know how many times a day kids are hungry for bunny cookies?
All of them.
All of the times.
Our Snack Rule is this: in between meals, if you are hungry, you may have fruit, veggies, nuts, or raisins.
Our Snack Rule has 3 Goals:
- To help my kids decide if they are actually hungry (or just bored).
- To fill them with good food.
- And to help them be independent in the kitchen.
There are several interpretations of this rule that are fun and creative. You can make Ants on a Log with celery, peanut butter, and raisins. You can chop fruit and skewer it onto toothpicks. But for the most part, when my kids are hungry for a snack, they grab an apple.
3. Learn Your Picky Eater’s Eating Styles
Sometimes the simplest change makes all the difference.
Mary Voogt, founder of Just Take A Bite, has a fun quiz and some resources to help you discover your child’s eating style. These eating styles can influence how your kids eat their food, what they prefer to eat – even the order in which they eat their food! It is an easy way to adjust our expectations for our children and shift our perspective. Mary believes there are no picky eaters – just unique children.
4. No-Thank-You Portion
Some nights, I feel it even before I call them to dinner. I am trying a new recipe tonight, and I know exactly how the kids will receive it. This food is not drenched in cheese, it is not breaded, and one of my kids does not like tomatoes.
In a moment, my kid is going to come to the table, glance at his plate, and the fight will begin. In the end, I will swear off random Pinterest recipes for the hundredth time.
Why do I even try?
We want our kids to try new foods, and we want to make food that the adults like too. What are we supposed to do? Make macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets until our kid moves out?
As much as I love macaroni and cheese, this is where I use the No-Thank-You Portion.
The No-Thank-You Portion is a slightly smaller portion than I would normally give them. This works for both new foods they are not so sure about and food I absolutely know they don’t want – like that creamy mushroom alfredo I have been craving for months.
A No-Thank-You Portion gives my kids the option of being more in control of their choices. They can choose to just have a taste of a new food or just a taste of the food they do not normally like. This way, they are still trying new flavors and textures, but they are not eating a whole helping of something they don’t like.
Some kids will fight the No-Thank-You Portion. I can’t blame them. If someone serves me mashed potatoes, I would rather have a No-Thank-You Portion too. Learning to try new things or doing things that are uncomfortable but ultimately good for us is part of growing up.
Every kid is different, so maybe this will not work well for them. The No-Thank-You Portion worked great for some of my kids. Others, it did not. As parents, we listen, we learn, we try new things, and we use our best judgment for each child.
5. Make Them Part of the Budget
While trying to save money and eat healthy, I think it’s important to bring the kids into the process. Why are you trying to save money and eat healthy? Are you paying off debt? Saving for a new house? Trying to support your body through an illness or food allergy? Tell them that. Kids can be very understanding when we treat them like a person who can empathize.
Perspective makes all the difference. If I did not understand the bigger picture behind what we eat, how much it costs our budget, and how it affects our bodies, I would want pizza and ice cream every day too.
When I plan our menu with my kids, we talk about our grocery budget. We talk about how keeping our budget small helps us save more money so we can do other things that matter to us. Maybe for your family that means paying off debt, saving up for a home, or saving money to travel. Every family member is part of that process, whether we are making the money, cooking the food, or eating it gratefully at the table.
6. Teach Picky Eaters to Cook
I’ve talk about this so many times, and I honestly believe it.
As my picky eaters get older, I’m teaching them how to cook real food for a few reasons.
1. I want to empower them to make their favorite food.
My kid loves pizza. That’s great. When they’re grown up, they will probably buy plenty of frozen pizza. However, I want them to at least have the knowledge and skill to make a better, homemade version of pizza as well.
2. I want them to appreciate the work it takes to cook.
I am not a genie or a chef in a restaurant. It is not my job to make whatever they like. It is my job to give them good food to fuel their bodies.
Thankfully, my older kids are beginning to understand that cooking meals takes work. It takes planning. It takes real money.
3. Sometimes cooking a food helps them enjoy it more.
My son does not like onions or feta. But his favorite salad is a Greek cucumber salad with onions and feta. Every time he makes it, he tells me how weird it is that sometimes when you make food yourself, you end up liking the food you didn’t expect to like.
Our favorite kids cooking resource is the online course, Kids Cook Real Food. It has saved me so much stress and frustration in the kitchen.
Get their free download, 10 Healthy Snacks Kids Can Make here!
The best kids’ real food cookbook I have found is Chef Junior. It is written by kids and loaded with simple real food recipes kids love.
Does Your Picky Eater Need Outside Help?
Sometimes, it is more than just picky eating.
Sometimes we mistake picky eating for something more serious. If mealtime is a nightmare, there might be something else going on. If your child has any of these symptoms, I encourage you to bring this up with your doctor.
Talk to your doctor if your child:
- Gags on, avoids, or is very sensitive to certain food textures, food temperatures and/or flavors.
- Frequently coughs when eating.
- Gags and chokes when eating.
- Has difficulty chewing foods, possibly swallowing food in whole pieces.
- Has difficulty swallowing.
- Refuses to swallow certain food consistencies.
- Struggles to move food around in their mouth or struggles with chewing and preparing to swallow food.
- Is fussy or irritable while trying to eat.
- The child looks or sounds congested during feedings or after.
- Typically vomits during or immediately after eating or drinking.
- Refuses or rarely tries new foods.
- Pushes food away consistently.
- Refuses to eat anything but their favorite foods, and their favorites list grows smaller and smaller.
- Eats great at school or daycare but not at home.
- Refuses to eat at restaurants.
- Meal time is a nightmare – throwing food on the floor, spitting food out, etc.
- Hasn’t grown much – but is not diagnosed as failure to thrive.
- Or you just have a hunch that there might be something more going on.
Some picky eating is perfectly normal. Some might need outside help, including therapy or working with other professionals. As parents, we want to empower our kids to live whole, healthy lives. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Picky Eater Help
Saving money and eating healthy requires us to be creative, flexible, and try new things. Sometimes our kids just aren’t on board with that.
Kids are human. They have their own likes, dislikes, and voices. We love our kids and we want them to feel valued and heard. We also want them to feed their bodies well.
I hope these simple, creative ideas help you save money, eat healthy, and empower your kids to eat along with you!
If you want more simple, creative ideas and recipes for picky eaters, check out Picky Eater Playlist here!
What You Can Do Now:
Do you have picky eaters? What has worked for you?
Slash your grocery budget and feed your family real food! Get simple, frugal, real food menu plans every month for FREE in the Cheapskate Cooks’ 1-Min Email. Get your first one here.