Mama T’s Tips for Encouraging Healthy Eaters


1} Stop using the phrase “picky eater.”  

Guilty as charged. But when I saw how the phrase was starting to effect not only my own pre-schooler’s perception of food, but my own ideas about what she should be eating, I stopped saying it. I stopped thinking of her as a picky eater. She was simply going through a stage where control was important. Just because she wanted everything white and carbalicious didn’t mean I had to serve it. Turns out, she didn’t starve. And I stopped gazing longingly at the next door neighbor choosing kale and figs.  It was freeing.

2} Water.

Make it available at all times. Many kids won’t care what temperature it is so just leave it on the counter, in the playroom, wherever you don’t mind it being spilled. (Because it will.) When my kids are crazy thirsty they sometimes confuse that with hunger and really, really want to get their hands on all things junky. “Oh, maybe your body is telling you it needs water! Try that and wait a few minutes and see how you feel then.” Tired of water cups all over your house? Try this brand spanking new product by Puj which may very well change your life.

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3} “Fruit, vegetable, nut or dairy.” 

This rule is sacred in our house. If my kids choose a snack like Pirate’s Booty or graham crackers and report that they’re still hungry after consumption of said “snacky food”, the next food that they eat must fall into the category of fruit, vegetable, nut or dairy. It’s important to differentiate what kind of foods our kids are eating. They want to know. They want to learn.

4} “Our bodies need lots of different foods to be healthy.”

I stole this brilliant  beauty from a friend in CT years ago. It’s a gentle reminder and a good way to open up conversations about eating a variety of food. We talk about vitamins and minerals, carbs and sugars, protein and fat. Ask age-appropriate questions. How do you think your body would feel if you ate nothing but chocolate chip cookies tomorrow? Or What kinds of food would be good choices to pack for you to snack on during your 17 hour swim meet tonight? Talk! (And listen.)

5} Let them sit in your lap.

Most nights at dinner, I do not want a child on my lap. I want to get through the meal as peacefully as possible and it’s irritating to have someone bouncing all over me. But there’s a benefit. It provides some closeness and snuggles that a tired child may be needing. Before you know it, they may start sneaking things off of your plate.

6} Sit down when you eat.

Talk about your day. Think about plans for the weekend or an upcoming vacation. Although it may not be possible for every family member to be present at every meal, make it count. Take the focus off of what’s on the plates and bring it to the faces around the table.

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7} Dessert Rules.

This is a biggie. So important that I wrote a separate blog on it.

8} Witching hour munchies.

Just as you begin to cook dinner, your little one is STARVING. FAMISHED. Needs to eat THAT SECOND. Problem is, dinner’s still at least 30 minutes away. Before you start prepping dinner, throw a plate of some healthy things on the counter. Raw veggies, fruit, dips, nuts. If it’s sitting there when your child comes moaning in, and better yet, they see you snacking on it, there’s a good chance they will go for it. Don’t point it out, just let them discover it. Sneaky, sneaky.

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9} This is what’s for dinner tonight.

Period. This one is the hardest of our food rules to adhere to. Because I love food and I hate when my kids are hangry. (Where ever do they get THAT from?)  But, it’s mostly a battle of wills.  I’m a short-order cook for breakfast and the kids get colorful custom-packed lunches. But that’s where it ends.

Sorry kids, mama was raised in the 80′s and we didn’t get Cheerios as an alternative supper choice.

10} The rule of three.

If you’re in the throws of a hard stage, remember the rule of three. If there are foods that you just know your little one won’t touch, give them three anyway. Enough so that it’s not overwhelming the plate but still has a presence. My eight year old still complains when I put certain items on his plate but I simply shrug and say, “one day you might find that you like that. And when you do, it will be waiting for you.

11} Know Your Farmer.

We are so incredibly lucky in Vermont because of the wealth of local food. Whatever local products you love, include your kids on the action. Our favorite way to do this is by participating in a local CSA. Every week from June to October, we visit Farmer Dave at StonyLoam Farm in Charlotte for our bounty of organic, fresh fruits and veggies. We get to swing on the tree swing, pick flowers and herbs and talk to our neighbors and especially Mr. Dave. Mr. Dave has the kindest eyes and the friendliest smile and is always ready to offer a recipe or a story. He talks about the work he does, and my kids listen. They will also listen when you are crunching away on the lettuce he harvested that morning or when you ooh and ahh over using some fresh spinach in a smoothie that you prepare together. Show them that you enjoy knowing where your food comes from, that you enjoy making relationships that relate to food and hopefully the appreciation and healthy love for food will be passed down.

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12} Have fun with your food.

Surprise them with cake for breakfast! Take it outside! Once in a while say YES to a soda at the movie theater. PLAY with your food and have a Nacho Night.

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13} EVOO, S & P.

Think of a vegetable. Got it? Okay, now prepare it by tossing it with a hint of EVOO, Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Throw it on a baking sheet (stoneware rocks) and roast it in the oven. Roasting vegetables does something magical. Broccoli goes from bitter, #1 enemy to something delicate, crispy and mouth–watering. Temperature varies, depending on the veggie and desired result but I am a big fan of 425. Toss often, consider parchment paper if you have no stoneware

 14} Cook together.

This is huge for us, always has been. My kids can crack eggs with no shells left behind, whisk the muffin mix only until moistened and smash avocados  like nobody’s business. They are totally aware that the lasagna has parsley, spinach, zucchini, peppers and carrots in it. Because they helped. They’re part of the process and feel proud of the result. And that makes them hungry.
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And if you totally are not in the mood for that extra kitchen “help”? Turn on the music and bust a move while you cook together. Laugh together and remember that food made with love tastes that much better.

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