Dear Jessi: My Kids Won’t Eat Healthy Food!

February 7th, 2011by Jessi Arias-Cooper

food artA reader says:

I have 2 children (ages 4 and 7). They’re very active and we’re always on the go. We’ve never had a problem with them not wanting to get out and play or hang out as a family, but meal times are a real challenge. I work very hard to serve healthy meals for my family, but I just can’t get them to eat the healthy stuff. They’d be totally satisfied with pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches every day, but I think that would be irresponsible. My friends say that as long as they’re eating, I shouldn’t worry. I just don’t see it that way. I’m afraid if I only let them eat those “fun” foods, I’m enabling a poor lifestyle choice that will have a negative effect on them for the rest of their lives. Am I being ridiculous?

Jessi says:

You’re not being ridiculous at all. Wanting the best for your kids is a completely normal part of motherhood.

As for getting them to eat things that are more nourishing for their growing bodies, there are few things you can do.

Dress up the food: Rather than sticking to plain steamed veggies and grilled chicken in neat sections on their plates, try making the food look more fun. Arrange the food so that it appears to be a picture. For example, the grilled chicken could be a “rocket,” the mashed potatoes could be puffs of smoke coming out the bottom of the rocket and the mixed veggies could be starts and planets. With a little creativity, you can make all sorts of delicious food art like animals, people or landscapes.You can even use toothpicks to make 3D sculptures. The added bonus is, your artwork can be a conversation starter, too.

If your kids are older, let them pick what the picture will be and allow them to make it themselves, with the understanding, that whatever they pick, they have to eat. “You want broccoli trees…you eat broccoli trees.”

Serve the fun stuff as a reward: Set up guidelines for what your kids should eat every day (like something from each food group). Make a chart for them. If they eat all the good things for a certain percentage of the time (nobody is perfect), then on Saturday, they can have homemade pizza with natural, healthy ingredients. It’s important to set the bar somewhat high, like (80% of the time), but not to flip out if they don’t meat the goal. Let the reward, or lack thereof, be the driving force behind the program. If one doesn’t meat the goal and misses out while the other is enjoying some delicious pizza, an impression will be made.

Don’t concentrate on the food, go for color: I’m going to be completely honest. I LOATHE peas. The taste of them literally makes me gag. When my dad used to make me eat them, I would cry. I did however like spinach, salads and green beans. If I’d been given some options, things probably would have gone down a whole lot more smooth. Tell your kids they have to eat three different colors. This may sound silly, but it’s amazing how much brown and tan food we eat. If they are having a variety of colors, they are getting a variety of nutrients.

Ask questions: This is a step we have a tendency to forget, myself TOTALLY included. Ask them what exactly they don’t like about the food. When I was little, I hated the consistency of cooked carrots, but LOVED them raw. Their aversion may be as simple as something like that. Maybe they don’t like red meat, but love white meat. Ask them what they don’t like about certain foods and see if you can find a compromise that will make everyone happy and healthy.

Jessi Arias-Cooper is the senior writer and an editor for She is a work-from-home mother of 3 boys and has been married for 10 years. If she had time for hobbies and interests outside of parenting and keeping house, they would be jewelry making, baking, watching bad B-movie horror flicks and creative writing . If you have a question for Jessi, click here.


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