The secret to getting kids to love whole and unprocessed foods is to start early. The most ideal time to introduce healthy foods is when you are naturally introducing solids to your baby.
Once your pediatrician gives you the all clear to start feeding your baby, offer plenty of fruits and vegetables to get used to the flavors. And as your baby grows, they can start eating the sliced and diced versions of the same foods.
If they like them as a baby and then as an older baby and then as a toddler, you’ve got a much better chance of your child liking these foods well into adulthood.
The Downside to Processed Convenience Foods
As children reach toddlerhood mild picky eating and resistance to try new foods is normal. However, there are things we “modern” parents today can be doing that can be contributing to our kids’ picky eating habits.
When you take a stroll down the baby and toddler food aisle there are so many choices to feed your little one. And that aisle is nowhere near the produce aisle! Most of the food there is in a package… made in a factory.
This makes feeding your kids abundantly easy! You could totally feed your toddler endless food choices that never once include a whole food option.
What is a whole food? It’s essentially any food that’s in its most natural and unprocessed form. An oversimplified example is offering your toddler a bowl of strawberries versus a pack of mixed berry fruit snacks.
When we load our kids up on the cereal bars, puffs, fruit snacks, toddler cookies, and so on our very new eaters can quickly lose the desire and taste for healthy and natural foods.
It’s not that you can’t ever offer convenience foods, but they should be treated as a “treat” rather than an actual meal.
My Biggest Feeding Mistake
I’m sharing this not as a nutritional expert but rather as a mom who unknowingly raised poor eaters out of my desire for a quick win. I bought into the lie that veggie puffs were just as healthy as offering my toddler steamed broccoli pieces.
I’m very guilty of starting out my motherhood journey over 13 years ago going gaga over all the amazingly convenient options for feeding my baby!
While my other mom friends were packing orange slices, peaches, and avocados for snacks I was constantly unwrapping a bar or opening a pack of puffs for my kids.
This overuse of processed foods left me in a serious bind. I needed to re-introduce healthy, whole foods to my much older toddler who by then wasn’t having it!
Please do not make the same mistake with your baby. But if you do find yourself staring down the barrel of a resistant toddler or child these tips will start the process of making things easier for you!
The Truth about Some Picky Eaters
Before I move on to my favorite tips to encourage kids to eat more healthy and whole foods, I want to address a serious issue with some picky eaters.
In all fairness to myself and other parents of picky eaters, there are forms of picky eating that are complicated and can be totally overwhelming for both the child and the parents.
This is when a child has a sensory processing disorder which is basically when a child’s senses are extremely sensitive. This means the sounds they hear and the things they touch, taste, and smell are highly sensitive.
My oldest daughter struggles with sensory processing and it’s something I was totally unaware of until she was almost a teenager.
She was sensitive to many things but was extremely sensitive to tastes and textures of both what she touched and put in her mouth.
So as a new mom, all the advice goes out the window when your precious baby girl won’t even touch those freshly chopped bananas and strawberries on her highchair. And would consistently vomit when offered mushy textured foods.
She even went on a few hunger strikes before the age of two! At the end of my rope, I looked to the “healthier” dry foods and found that eating cereal bars and puffs where the only foods she would actually eat!
So, if this sounds like your child, please ask your pediatrician about sensory processing disorders. I don’t recommend going it alone as I did!
My daughter is light years away from where she was!
Tips for Getting Your Kids to Eat Whole Foods
But the truth is, not all children are battling a processing disorder. My other two children are naturally great eaters but they too can be resistant to try new foods. Totally normal!
However, due to my first child’s needs I developed a habit of buying the foods she liked and offering them to my next baby and so on. Let’s just say, they both started to prefer the packaged foods over the fresh options I presented.
Once I realized what was going on, I had some work to do! I needed to reverse a lot of the habits I encouraged. The truth is, my other two children are really comfortable with foods and flavors but we all instinctively choose the path of least resistance.
The convenience foods were more “fun” and those were the ones they began to prefer. However with the following, very intentional changes we now have a house of kids who all enjoy eating whole and healthy foods!
Here are my best 3 tips to get kids to eat healthier foods:
1 | Be the Example
This one may seem obvious but it wasn’t for me. I too was addicted to packaged and processed foods. So while I was chopping up fresh grapes for my kids, I was snacking on a bowl of tortilla chips.
One day I had an epiphany, I never ate fruit… ever. Now, I have always loved vegetables but I never ate fresh fruit. Why does this matter?
Because what I was feeding my kids was never being modeled. This is one example of course. I ate in front of and offered plenty of vegetables to my kids but this was mostly at dinner.
My snacking habits were terrible. So I decided that I needed to be a better example and start eating more whole foods myself.
Now my kids don’t feel like I’m only giving them the fresh stuff while I sit in the corner eating my own cereal bar! This really does make a world of difference!
2 | Do the 1 for 1 Rule
I want to be clear with something, my home isn’t stuffed with all organic and whole foods. I do allow my kids to eat processed and “fun” foods in moderation.
Honestly, a lot of the organic brand snacks simply taste bland and are rather unappealing. And making my own homemade cheese crackers for my kids is not an option.
So they are allowed a bag of Cheez-it or Goldfish crackers in their lunch or for a snack. But they must follow the 1 for 1 rule.
This means if they are home and really want a packaged snack, they must eat one food that “used to live on a tree/vine.” That’s the easiest way for me to explain it to them! Lol
This rule does several things:
- Fills them up before the less healthy snack.
- Ensures they are getting whole foods in every day.
- Keeps their taste for these foods active.
- Sometimes causes them to not even want the other snack!
This is my absolute favorite tip and trust me, it really works.
3 | Make them Ready to Go
Finally, making healthy snacks and meals ready to go is enormously helpful to encourage kids to eat them.
If you can make those carrot sticks as convenient and simple as opening a granola bar, you’re already winning!
This is why meal prepping is wildly popular. We always gravitate to the easiest choices first. Kids are no different.
Try bringing your fresh produce home from the store and washing them before you put them away. Then make mini-snack bags or containers that your kids can grab and go!
Oh and get your kids involved in the packaging process too! That’s a double win.
Here are some fun snack ideas you can try!
Final Thoughts on Feeding Kids
I’ve always been jealous of the friends whose kid will eat adventurous foods like sushi. But the reality for many parents is that feeding your child feels overwhelming.
I get it! Just know that your child is a little human who has their own personality with their own likes and dislikes. And those aren’t your fault.
I was actually told by a close family member that my daughter’s issues with food was my fault. Talk about a slap in the face!
Yes, I did things to contribute to the problem, but it’s not my fault. It’s just the circumstances. And just like any other parenting challenge, we work with it and find workable solutions.
There is a solution and with much prayer, research, and testing we always find it! I’d love to hear your best picky eating tips or questions. Share them in the comments below!