How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy Food

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How to get kids to eat healthy foods
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At the rates kids grow, what we feed them matters greatly to their physical, mental, and emotional health. (Not mention their behavior.)

What to feed children is a somewhat controversial topic and a point of frustration for a lot of parents. This is one of the areas I used to get the most questions when I did nutritional consulting, and a hotly debated issue among moms.

Over the years my husband and I have developed our own food guidelines that we follow at our house, and it’s definitely helped. I’ll share what’s worked (and what hasn’t) in hopes it helps with any picky eaters at your house!

My feelings run high on this topic, so grab a cup of (organic, herbal) tea, this is going to be a long one …

Junk Food, Junk Food Everywhere …

It’s quite obvious, with a quick stroll down the perilous middle aisles of any grocery store, that a lot of food marketing targets children. (After all, silly rabbit, “Trix are for kids!”)

Not so subtle TV commercials and even blatant bribe marketing (Happy Meal toys) seek to educate our kids about nutrition. Call me old fashioned, but I’m not content to let a clown with big red shoes teach my kids what good food looks like. (And I don’t care if it does come with milk and apple slices, Ronald!)

It is also no secret that obesity and Type 2 diabetes rates are skyrocketing in kids and appearing at younger and younger ages… Could there be a connection? (hint: yes!)

While most parents (I hope) agree that basic foods like healthy proteins and green veggies are important staples for the little ones, the issue of child nutrition is hardly a clear cut one anymore. With soccer games to play, choir practices to attend, and a social schedule that would have made me dizzy at their ages, most kids these days (and moms!) just aren’t home at meal times much. This rapidly paced lifestyle makes it easier to justify quick food, even if it is devoid of nutrients.

Convenient portable options like squeeze baby food pouches (yes, there are actually real-food baby food brands that make these now, hallelujah!) can help, but what about older kids? How can we guide their food choices even when they’re older?

I have some ideas…

Don’t Offer Food as a Reward

Another factor that I have noticed with many children is the connection to food as a type of reward. From a young age we reward birthdays with sweets, school achievements with meals out, good deeds with ice cream, and even healthy eating with dessert (if you eat all 3 of your peas, you can have a piece of cake…)

Couple the above factors with the fact that most kids, once they escape the nutrient-devoid school lunches and finally get home at night, are too tired to get the benefits of going outside and play or chase a ball around for fun, and instead curl up in front of the TV or video games with a snack.

With the world against her, what is a health-conscious mom to do? This is a question I struggled with myself for a long time before finally reaching family peace! Before I get to the “how,” let’s talk about the “what” to eat!

Teach Them to Recognize Real Food

With the hubbub of daily life, it is easy to forget just how important our kids’ nutrition is. Like I said, while most parents agree on the benefits of veggies and healthy proteins, it is all the other things that seem to cause the debate. Is dairy ok? Should they drink fruit juice? If so, how much? Is sugar OK in moderation?

While there is certainly plenty of room for parental choice in a child’s diet, there are a few core food groups to build around (I’ll give you a hint … it doesn’t look like the regular food pyramid!).

The good news is, the basic rule of what to feed kids is simple:

The most basic way to test if a child should be eating a given substance is to determine if it is actually a food or not.

Any “food” that can sit on a shelf and not decompose for a year is likely not fit for consumption. (Try that with a salad and see what happens!) This “non-food” list would also include anything containing hydrogenated oils (peanut, soy, cottonseed, vegetable, canola, etc), anything containing MSG, anything containing high fructose corn syrup, anything containing artificial sweeteners, and anything containing processed grains.

This basically knocks out all the fast food, microwaveable food, “food” bars, and most drinks besides water.

So, what’s left? Plenty!

Show Them a Different Food Pyramid

If your head is swimming with the idea of all the things you shouldn’t feed your kids… don’t worry, the list of great foods is a tasty one!

The following foods are excellent, necessary sources of nutrition that every child should consume on a regular basis. If yours aren’t chomping down the Brussels sprouts just yet, stay with me… I’ve learned a few things (with lots of mistakes and experiments) raising six kids, and I’ll share what worked for their six (very different!) personalities.

1. Good Sources of Protein

Proteins (amino acids) are used in every function in the body and are absolutely vital for all of us, especially kids as they are still forming bones and muscles.

Healthy meats, especially, offer complete proteins that children desperately need for proper growth (the tofu just won’t cut it here). I’ve heard all too many parents state that their kids “don’t like red meat” and then have their kids test positive for a B-12 deficiency. So what are healthy meats?

Kids need real, untreated, chemical-free sources of protein, and chicken nuggets just won’t do! Regular, daily consumption of pure, organic beef, chicken, turkey, and eggs will ensure that kids’ protein needs are being met. Most kids will eat healthy meats willingly once they have tried well-prepared sources. (Check out some recipes here).

Proteins to Try

Proteins to Avoid

  • processed meats
  • chicken nuggets
  • deli meats (with nitrates)
  • meats that are served with processed foods (hamburgers, pizza, etc.)
  • any non-meats like soy nuggets
  • commercially raised beef, poultry, or fish

2. Veggies and Fruits

Maybe you noticed I said those in a reverse order than that which you are used to (“eat fruits and veggies!”). This was intentional.

Studies show that Americans eat much more fruit than veggies, a trend we could stand to reverse. While fruits are wonderful and have their place, veggies are equally (or more) important, and have much less sugar.

Even though fruits contain natural sugar, fructose in large amounts (even from fruit) can be damaging. Besides this, kids will usually choose fruit over veggies if given the choice, and many parents are happy to make this concession as long as the kids are “eating fruits and veggies.”

The top-consumed veggies among Americans are potatoes and tomatoes (french fries and ketchup, anyone?). In addition, many of the “vegetables” on kids’ plates are not really vegetables at all: corn (a grain), potatoes (a tuber, high in carbs and low in nutrition compared to other veggies), and peas (a legume).

Most kids receive a majority of their “vegetable” intake from tomato-based products like ketchup or pasta sauce. Despite the widely acknowledged fact that veggies and fruits reduce risk of almost every disease, we still aren’t eating them! The good news? As parents, we have much more influence than we think in our kids’ diets (more on that in a minute)!

Veggies and Fruits to Eat (Tons Of!):

  • organic leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, mixed greens, kale, chard, turnip, mustard, etc.)
  • colorful fruits and veggies (peppers, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, squashes, carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, cucumbers, avocado, berries, bananas, grapes, etc.)
  • unusual fruits and veggies (leeks, fennel, okra, olives, artichokes, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, sea veggies, beets, parsnips, radishes, asparagus, kohlrabi, etc.)

Veggies and Fruits for Treats

Call me crazy (and people have) but most fruits, for my kids, are natural treats. While berries are in season, they feast with reckless abandon, but during most of the year, veggies come first and fruits are the “dessert.” After some adjustment, kids really do learn to love the natural sweetness in fruit, even over processed sugar.

The higher sugar content fruits to eat in moderation are: apples, oranges/other citrus, melons, mango, papaya (organic, or its GMO), pears, pomegranates, peaches and the like. Dried fruits (prunes, raisins, dates, dried cranberries, etc) are also higher in sugar and are usually given as treats in the form of natural energy bars.

Veggies and Fruits to Avoid

Fried ones like french fries, potato chips, onion rings, and other non-foods, “veggie” chips, “fruit” roll-ups and “fruit” snacks, fruit juices (even the no-sugar-added types as they all act as pure sugar in the body and don’t compare to the nutrients in real fruit), any “fruit” or “vegetable” product that has ingredients besides fruit on the label.

Try homemade recipes like homemade gummies or real fruit roll-upsif your kids are missing these foods.

3. Healthy Fats

Sadly, the low-fat trend in America is being passed on to kids also. We tend to surf the extremes, letting them eat fast food or junk food but giving them “healthy” low-fat alternatives at other times.

While some parents, with the best of intentions, restrict fat in their kid’s diets to prevent weight gain, a restricted fat diet in kids can lead to health problems, vitamin deficiency, and ADHD. Dietary fats carry the necessary vitamins A,D,E and K into tissue and allow for uptake. Breast milk, considered the most complete food for babies and toddlers is over 50% total fat and 40-50% saturated fat. It seems odd to me that children would suddenly go from a dietary need for this much fat to a much smaller need for dietary fat.

A lack of necessary dietary fats, especially saturated fats, can cause reduction in the myelin sheath that coat kids’ brain cells, causing uncontrolled or rapid fire impulses in the brain, which presents as ADD or ADHD. It will be a paradigm shift for many of our generation to stop demonizing fats, but for our kids’ sakes, we need to make this jump.

Kids under 14 especially need adequate amounts of fat (including saturated fat) and this intake should comprise 30% of their total diet. Be careful, of course, in choosing healthy fats: avoid trans fats and engineered fats like vegetable oils, hydrogenated oils, and shortening.

Great Sources of Dietary Fat:

  • coconut (raw, or as oil, shredded, flour, milk, butter … all coconut is great)
  • avocados, olives/olive oil
  • butter/ghee (as long as organic/grass-fed)
  • eggs
  • fish
  • organ meat
  • wild game
  • nuts and seeds

I also recommend supplementing omega-3s and vitamin D.

Sources of Dietary Fat to Avoid

  • polyunsaturated oils (liquid at room temp like peanut, soy, canola, vegetable, etc.)
  • hydrogenated oils
  • shortening, trans fats, and any other engineered forms of oil or fat (p.s. These are the oils and fats used at restaurants and in most processed foods.)

Teach Them What They Don’t Need

Anyone new to the blog may be wondering when I will mention the “healthy whole grains” and dairy products. The truth is, you don’t need them and neither do your children.

Particularly in processed or pasteurized forms, these two “food” groups are responsible for a lot of childhood allergies and are just not the superior nutrition sources that they are made out to be. Studies (and personal experience) prove that kids who can’t eat either of these sources due to allergies receive just as much (or more) nutrients as those who eat these regularly.

Why Grains Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up to Be

The water-soluble proteins like gluten and lectin present in processed grains can do damage to the digestive system over time, and these particles can then pass through the small intestine and move into the blood stream where they are seen as a pathogen. The body creates an immune response and an allergy is born. (Not to mention you would basically have feces floating in your bloodstream!)

The good news here is that in many cases, and especially in children, the body is very capable of healing itself if given real food!

Even those who recommend intake of “healthy whole grains” for “fiber and nutrients” will acknowledge that meats, veggies, fruits and healthy fats have a much higher nutrient profile. Grains should be a small part of a child’s diet. And if you do eat grains, stick to actual whole grains (rice, oats, etc) or other starches like quinoa (technically a seed).

Dare You Dairy?

The issue of dairy in the diet can be an even more controversial one! While we don’t do much dairy, and only in raw, unpasteurized form from an organic farmer, dairy is a staple in many children’s diets at the recommendation of their doctors.

Statistically, kids who go without the dairy by choice or by allergy still receive adequate calcium and other nutrients. However, dairy is the main source of dietary fat for many children. In some cases, even though dairy isn’t necessary, until this fat is replaced with more healthy sources (see above), removing all dairy can do more harm than good.

How to Get a Picky Child to Eat Real Food

Kicking old food habits is hard for adults, let alone a picky toddler. So even with all this information on what to feed your kids, the question becomes: how the heck do you actually get them to eat this stuff?

Some practical suggestions for the switch:

1. Make Up Your Mind First!

When it comes to dietary shifts, you must present a confident front, and believe the information you are telling your kids! Research, meal plan, and commit to making this positive change for your family.

2. Be Gradual But Firm

While your kids won’t make the jump from happy meals to veggie smoothies in a day, they will adapt faster than you expect, and they will learn to love healthy foods. To start, put one small bite of each food you cooked on each child’s plate. (One small piece of chicken, one leaf of spinach, one piece of squash)

Tell the child that he/she may have more of any of the foods you have cooked once he or she eats just the small amount of each. This way, the child is motivated to try new foods, but the amount is not so daunting that he or she refuses it altogether. Even the pickiest of eaters will eventually be willing to take one bite of a hated food to get to one he or she likes.

After introducing foods like this for a while, slowly add more of each at meals so that after a few months, your kids are eating full portions of all the healthy foods.

WARNING: Your kids will test you on this for the first few days! They might even go without eating for a meal or two. Don’t be alarmed. Stay calm, don’t push them, and just calmly explain that they don’t have to eat, but that the food they were given is what is being served and that is all they will get. This is the toughest 3 days!

3. Let Kids Decide If/When They Are Hungry

This is not to say, of course, that you shouldn’t set limits or that you should allow access to foods 24/7, but if a child is truly not hungry (or using this as an excuse to not eat healthy foods), don’t force the issue or resort to junk food just to get them to eat something. Kids are born with an amazing ability to know when they are hungry and when to stop eating when they aren’t hungry anymore. This ability gets skewed by the chemicals in the food system, but it comes back quickly to kids.

Realize too that kids don’t always get hungry at meal times, and that skipping a meal, occasionally, is not going to harm them, especially during this adjustment. This is another reason for serving small portions of each type of food. The child will become more in touch with when he or she is hungry and how much food he or she needs if only given a small amount of each (he or she can always ask for more!).

Alternately, if kids get hungry between meals, provided they have eaten healthy foods at those meals, let them have healthy snacks like nuts, veggies, fruits or chopped meats.

4. Give Rewards Besides Food

This is an important step to take with kids. We reward everything from good grades to good behavior to birthdays with food of some kind, creating a feeling that eating certain foods is associated with being special or doing well. While eating is certainly a social and family activity and many important events involve food, it is important to break the association with food and a feeling of achievement or happiness.

Let family dinner time be the time of bonding over food shared, and let other things replace foods as rewards. Rewards can be a family outing, a bike ride in the park, a new book, the chance to have a friend over, etc. Breaking the cycle of associating food with fun and achievement will help ensure the child does not ever become an emotional eater and give the child a strong, rational, foundation to base dietary choices on.

5. Explain It To Them & Get Them Involved

Kids are brilliant little creatures with a God-given ability to learn much faster than we can. Too often we dumb down explanations of why they must do things or exaggerate them. (Come on, honey, just eat one bite of this yummy, yummy broccoli that tastes so wonderful and will make you super strong!)

Most kids respond extremely well to a logical and calm introduction to new (or disliked) foods. When we make a big deal out of getting them to try something, they learn that (a) dragging on the ordeal will result in more attention and (b) it must not actually be that good, or we wouldn’t be making such an ordeal about it in the first place.

Put the food on their plates, tell them what it is, and answer any questions. Don’t bribe, cajole or beg. It is healthy food, it is good for them, and it tastes good too. They are expected to eat it, period. If they ask, explain why the food is healthy and that making good eating choices is important for a healthy body. If they balk, stay calm! They will likely find that they actually do like many of the foods they previously shunned for their pasta or PB&J.

Also, use this as a chance to get them involved in the kitchen. In my experience, children are much more likely to eat foods that they helped prepare. We love the Kids Cook Real Food Course, which has helped all of our kids (even the littles) be able to prepare different types of foods.

6. Let Them Make Choices, But Healthy Ones

While the adjustment to healthy eating can be tough, I’m not advocating becoming a food fanatic. Whenever possible, let the kids make their own choices on healthy options for food. Not only will they feel better about trying a food they chose, but it will help break down their perception that you have hijacked their ability to eat what they want.

Learning to eat healthy is more about empowering them to understand and choose healthy options, and this won’t happen if you never let them make choices. After about 3-4 weeks of good eating, you can even let them choose unhealthy options at a party or someone’s house. Likely, they will notice that they no longer feel good from eating the junk, and this will help them learn to make good choices also.

7. Model It Yourself

This might be the hardest part of getting your kids to eat healthy. Many of us carry perceptions of certain foods from childhood and don’t like to eat many veggies ourselves. Besides the fact that eating healthy is proven to reduce the risk of practically every disease and condition imaginable, we now have the added incentive of doing it for our kids’ sake.

Parenting experts agree that children pick up behavior based much less on what they are told and much more on what they observe. If they see you routinely eating veggies and enjoying them, they will start to choose it themselves!

If it helps, try lots of new veggies and find ways to involve lots of variety and color. The more visually appealing foods are the more likely they (and you) are to enjoy them. As a last resort, just remember that you can make yourself like any food if you eat it long enough.

8. Make Home Cooking a Priority

This can be very difficult with all the commitments and activities we all have, but this will be one of the most rewarding things you can do for your family. Not only will you get to spend quality time together, but your chances of eating healthfully drastically increase when you cook at home. You have the option of using more natural ingredients and more variety. Unhealthy options are not on the menu, tempting you to choose them, and the kids will get to see how foods are prepared.

Make up your mind to do this and stick with it. My secret: Real Plans, an amazing app will all real food recipes (including all of mine) and will create a meal plan and shopping lists in seconds. This has been a real lifechanger and saved me a ton of time.

Years later, I look back on this decision and know we did the right thing for our family. The kids eat up not only the food but the quality time together, which will benefit them in the long run much more than the extra extracurriculars we often feel obligated to let (or push) them into.

9. Let Them See Where Food Comes From

Many kids today actually think that food comes from grocery stores. (That was a wake up call to me when mine asked long ago how the grocery store makes chicken!)

Many kids grow up with no knowledge or appreciation of how food is grown or raised and how it gets to them. If possible, take your kids to a farm or farmers’ market to expose them to a new way of viewing their food. Even better, grow a garden and let them help. They are much more likely to eat what they have grown themselves.

Just don’t visit a conventional beef or chicken facility … that is not the kind of connection you want with your food!

10. You (the Parent) Are Responsible for the Food in Your House

This was a major stumbling block for me. As a new mom, I used to feel guilty for making my son eat things he didn’t like. I shuddered at the thought of him going hungry, if only for one meal! It wasn’t until I started to realize how much he liked/wanted the unhealthy foods and how he was becoming increasingly resistant to healthy foods that I knew something had to change … and change it did!

I realized that we, as parents, exercise authority in many other aspects of our kids lives, but turn into a short order cook at dinner time to please everyone in the family.

We wouldn’t dream of letting them stay up three hours past bedtime, go without washing their hands or their clothes regularly, or throw down a few beers after school, but we routinely concede on healthy eating, even though it has a more detrimental effect than dirty clothes or staying up late!

I’m the mom,” I realized, and darn it, my kids will eat healthy, and I will figure out a way for them to love it! Much to my relief and surprise, the transition was much easier than I expected.

While kids can be picky, they are also extremely adaptable and resilient. They also see the effects of dietary improvement faster than we do. Also, as kids eat 3 to 4 times the amount of food per pound of weight as adults, the choices they (and I) make now, can and will affect them for the rest of their lives!

Bonus Tips for Healthy Eating

Here are a few suggestions that have worked with my kids and friend’s kids:

  • Start viewing food for nutrition first and enjoyment second. Make sure the majority of your diet is actually nourishing (healthy meats, vegetables, fruits, broths, good fats, etc.) and minimize the non-nourishing foods (crackers, cereal, sandwiches, etc.)
  • Just start serving the healthy food. Only put a little on their plates but require them to eat it before they eat anything else. If they “aren’t hungry” or don’t want to eat it, don’t push it, but don’t give them other food. They won’t starve from missing one meal because they are being picky.
  • If they ask, explain that you are coking healthier foods to help make their bodies strong and their brains smart. Tell them that they don’t have to eat anything if they truly aren’t hungry but they won’t get any special options and they are not allowed to complain (and enforce that!). At our house, complainers have to leave the table and their meal is finished.
  • Let your kids help with food preparation so they feel involved and invested in making healthy choices. If you can, also let them go to the store and help pick out colorful and healthy fruits and veggies so they will be more likely to want to try them or garden if you can.
  • Don’t underestimate them. Talk to your kids about why some foods are healthy and some aren’t and let them make their own healthy choices sometimes. When I started doing this with my five year old I was surprised to see him voluntarily refuse cake, chips, or ice cream at parties when they were offered to him, even without my help.
  • Stop feeling like kids are entitled to treats and snacks as part of being a kid. For the most part, our kids are bombarded with sweets and unhealthy treats from a really young age. From birthday parties to school snack times to the endless kid friendly options. This is a huge disservice to them since this is such a critical time in lifelong health and we are encouraging forming bad habits with food.
  • Read books like Paleo Pals or Eat Like a Dinosaur to help them understand and want to make healthy changes.
  • This post has a list of healthy breakfast and lunch ideas

This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Do you have tips on getting kids to eat healthy? Share below!!

How to get your kids on board with healthy eating and living

Sources
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

45 responses to “How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy Food”

  1. elisa Avatar

    Hi, We eat very healthy at home, but my son has been complaining and begging for the type of foods he sees other kids eating (goldfish, sweets, chips, lunchables, etc). It’s an almost daily occurrence. I often make substitutes like paleo goldfish and a healthier version of lunchables and I do let him participate in “junk food” when there is a party, etc. but it doesn’t seem to be enough to satisfy him. He wants the real thing with the packaging and all. We have a lot of discussions about why we eat healthy and why junk food is bad for your body, and he seems to understand, but it doesn’t stop him from constantly wanting what other kids eat. Sometimes I feel guilty for making him feel different and like I’m depriving him. I know it’s in his best interest, but what if he gets older and goes overboard on junk because I haven’t let him have it? Any suggestions?

    1. Melissa Avatar

      I have the EXACT same problem! I hate that I make my kids feel different and I try to explain why we eat the way we do and not everyone else understands the importance of eating healthy. I have watched a few “heathly” documentaries on Netflix with my son (like Fed Up) and it seemed to help immensely. We also look at lots of books discussing why healthy food is so important. A book called “Eat Healthy, Feel Great” is one of my sons favorite books and has been really helpful. I’d love to hear others advice about your concerns regarding wanting what the other kids in school are eating! That’s frustrating!

  2. LINA Avatar

    This is a great information kid’s to eat healthy. Really this is a brilliant concept. I was searching such as this blog. Really I am so impressed to read your blog. Kid’s health is the most important part of parents. I have a child but he is not healthy. Please give me some information how I can improve my child health.

  3. Jessica Evans Avatar
    Jessica Evans

    Thank you so much for your blog. I have recently discovered it and I am in love! I do, however, need some additional help on this topic. I am a vegetarian and I have three kids who have all had almost no meat in their life. My almost 1 year old has never touched the stuff! We decided to go vegetarian because of the way meat is raised in America and just didn’t want a part of it at all! We recently decided that we don’t have a problem eating meat, but that we would only do it if we have raised it ourselves or hunted wild game. I just started raising chickens this year, we eat their eggs but our flock is not big enough to start killing them for meat.
    I am now sure that this vegetarian diet is not working for me. I don’t feel well and am very moody. We are all absolutely bored out of our brains with the meals that I have been cooking. There is only so many ways you can eat tofu. ( And Tofu has never seemed like “real” food to me anyway. Never seen a block of wet slimy stuff growing out of the ground)
    ANYWAY….. I guess my real question is where do you find this quality meat? Grass fed beef….free range chicken. Just because a chicken has access to a small door- in their warehouse with thousands of other chickens- to the outside area does not make it free range, yet that’s all that’s required for a “farmer” to put that label on it.
    What is your method for filtering out the truly bad stuff?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      We buy our meat from a local farmer whose farm I’ve visited and seen the condition of the animals. If possible, it is often cheaper and healthier to find a local source…

    2. katie Avatar

      My family 100/` vegitaritin as as well except for dad it seems to be working for us m y kids ages 5 eat a lot of peant butter but a lot of junk food to i have started pureing veggies and makeing things like pizza with spinivh hiden under the sauce they still dont eat most veggies they are ok with corn and somtims baby carots with dip i think they might eat a veggie now thank you! Good for you your kids likeggs my only eat yolks drownd in salt i feel like the salt taks awsy the nnutrion got any tips?

  4. Heather Johnson Avatar
    Heather Johnson

    What about brown beans, or the ones you soak. Are those just starch too?

  5. Andrea Shaw Avatar
    Andrea Shaw

    I have a problem. It’s a long story really but I will only share the important details. I have a 2.5 yr old son. He has been ‘picky’ since I started giving him solids. He loves to eat nuggets, processed foods, sugar, plain meatballs. I discovered that he does not like anything ‘wet or soggy.’ If he touches it with his finger and it does not pass his test, he will not put it in his mouth.

    With all that said, my husband and I decided to enforce the ‘if you do not eat what we give you, you don’t eat at all’ rule. Well, this has resulted in him eating basically nothing all day. Cereal, yogurt, nuggets (when I give them) and crackers/breads with peanut butter. He has eliminated even things he used to eat and has not really eaten dinner at all in a couple weeks. ALL day he tells me, “I’m a hungry boy!” and I give him something good to eat and he refuses to eat it. I am at a loss for what to do. I desperately need help! I want to feed him healthy foods but my issue is now an issue of eating anything.

    Suggestions? Miracles? Prayer? I will accept them all!

    1. elizabeth Avatar
      elizabeth

      Hi Andrea… My 2.5 yr old son is also ‘picky.’ He eats mostly oatmeal, crackers, and other processed foods. He loves milk and prefers to water if i would let him.
      He works with an occupational therapist for potential sensory issues related to food, but we are not really making much progress in that arena.
      We are also trying ‘if you don’t eat this, then you don’t eat dinner’… but we always put at least one item on his plate we know he will eat, always a small amount. When he asks for more of that item, we tell him that he needs to eat one bite of another food item on the plate before we will give him more. This approach works maybe 1% of the time, but it is something. I find with this issue, the small victories are worth celebrating!
      Our family is moving into a primal lifestyle, and my biggest concern is our son. He won’t eat meat in any form, and he won’t touch most veggies.
      I have huge successes with shakes. He is not so keen on green smoothies yet, but he loves a shake that uses almond milk as a base, i use protein powder (non-soy based, and i looked up the proper amount to give him), then i put in a banana and frozen blueberries.
      I also find that baking with almond flour and other non-refined products works well. I get a lot of recipes from various paleo/primal blogs/websites.
      I don’t have many other suggestions, but I know where you and husband are and I know how frustrating it is. Good luck, and for what it is worth, you are not alone!

  6. Gabrielle Avatar
    Gabrielle

    They come home every day with belly ackes and starving. I have two kids in school a 3 and 5year old.

  7. Gabrielle Avatar
    Gabrielle

    I been fight the school to let me bring them lunches or snacks but it a government program. I need help find a way around it.

  8. Rose Avatar

    Just found this place. I want to change my family’s diet to something better, but where to start? I have myself, a lifelong vegetarian partly for ethical reasons and mostly because I truly cannot stand the taste or texture of most meats (I find eggs and some seafood tolerable, everything else nauseates me), a 7-yr-old with severe disabilities who is unable to chew and must eat soft food or have everything cut into teeny pieces that are easy to swallow with minimal chewing (but who isn’t picky about taste and will eat anything he is physically able to eat), a 2-yr-old who will eat almost anything(except green beans), and a dog who appears to be healthier on a home-cooked diet than a store-bought dry food diet. The dog probably eats better than we do, according to your guidelines!

    So… Where do I begin?

    1. Rose Avatar

      Oh, I should also mention this. Because of his condition, my boy is severely underweight. He weighs 30lb where he should weigh at least 50 lb. it certainly isn’t from a lack of trying, because he eats a LOT. I mean, the child can and regularly does eat as much as I do at meals, plus he eats two snacks a day. My best guess is that he isn’t getting optimal nutrition from his food. Will changing his diet to one more along these lines improve his weight at all and help get him on the growth charts?

  9. lindsey shifley Avatar
    lindsey shifley

    I just found you last night! …i made the “change” with our family’s eating plan 10 days ago (& started a diary blog to help me stick to it…totally has helped), and it’s a miracle. no preservatives, artificial colors or dairy and cutting back on gluten gradually. i went primal a year ago and now we are all there. i feel like i have found an enormous shoulder to lean on with your blog. thank you so very much!

  10. Coffey Avatar

    When cutting out grains, is there any type of breads or related things we can eat?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      I made some out of coconut flour or almond flour occasionally…

  11. Robin Avatar

    Love what I’ve read on your site so far. We are 3 or so mo. into a pretty much Paleo thing {& have already healed my husband of several things}. My daughter and her family eat a SAD diet… this includes our 4yo granddaughter who pretty much won’t touch much that isn’t a grain. Oh she’ll eat tacos & some other meat dishes but it’s grains she really wants. Chicken nuggets, goldfish crackers {for breakfast!}, sugary cereals, cookies, these weirdo little kool-aid type drinks {altho’ she drinks lots of water too} – anyway, you get the idea. I think there are only 2 veggies she’ll eat & not many fruits either.

    I watch her 2x a week and part of  1 day she is at Preschool… so we don’t have much time and certainly not enough time for her to refuse meals from me until she is hungry enough to eat something good… she’ll just wait until she gets home and eat froz. chicken nuggets or take out pizza. 

    Do you have any ideas that might help? Or do I just need to not worry about it until she is older and can take charge of her eating habits and hopefully want to change? 
    She loves to cook with me, when we have time to do that, but that has never meant that she will eat what we make… often she will just tell me to eat it. 

    Thanks!
    Robin

    1. Regan Avatar

      Why don’t you try making some of the food she will eat from scratch at your house. Can you try making chicken nuggets? I’ve seen recipes of chicken dipped in coconut flour or almond flour.You could freeze them if she likes them and pull them out when she’s there so you don’t always have to do a lot of work. Make pancakes out of squash and nut butter. Make crapes out of thinned out eggs. There are lots of recipes out there for Whole Foods Versions of more processed foods. Even if you had to add a little bit of sugar to get her to eat it and slowly decrease it over time it would be more nutritious than processed food. Will she eat eggs? Avocado pudding? Does she have any vegetables that she likes? If she even has one just serve her that and maybe introduce small amounts of new ones over time. Even if you had to add a small amount of sugar to her meals it would bemore nutritious than processed foods. Will she eat eggs? I hope this helps 🙂

  12. Platt Avatar

    Thanks for the advice.  My daugther is three and has already learned that she can just sit at the table and whine to get milk instead of eating her veggies.  I don’t know how to cut out bread, however, since she’s literally my carb girl.  What do I do when my kids beg me for cheerios and bread?  This daughter of mine refuses so many good foods.  Ahhh, it’s just hard, I guess, because I still have so many of the old foods in my home.  And with the bread, I started cooking my own 100% whole wheat with coconut oil, but still, it’s carbs.  Any ideas?

  13. Beverly Desoto Avatar
    Beverly Desoto

    Hmmm, I am a 55 year old woman who has raised two fit and intelligent children in a manner very much like this, and I hafta say that all of you ladies now have a fight on your hands, if you want to follow Wellness Mama’s ideas.

    The first person you will have to fight is yourself. YOU will have to make a BIG change from the average American lifestyle.

    Here’s how I did it: no cable TV (gasp!), home-cooked meals on the table (with a tablecloth!) every night, no videogames (how cruel!), playing with the neighborhood kids in lieu of soccer (unthinkable!) and reading for fun. Oh, and instead of blowing a fortune on Disneyworld, trips to visit friends and family in America and Europe. 

    All this requires that you put your “needs” aside in favor of a better life for your family.  You STOP being an unthinking consumer of garbage TV — and its commercials that turn your kids into craven little consumers. You STOP soothing yourself with junk food.  You START thinking for yourself — and sticking to what you know is right.  You START cooking real food for your family, around a dinner table where you teach your kids about how to be civilized. 

    And in case you are thinking “this woman is rich” let me put your mind at ease. I did all this with a worthless husband who made no money.  I was the major breadwinner.

    How is this possible?  Well, if you are not watching TV, all of a sudden you will find lots of time on your hands. You spend many weekends cooking. You make a stable, clean home with healthy routines your priority. You stop shopping and consuming as a sport! You do it for your KIDS and for YOURSELF.

    The result today? My kids are happy, well-adjusted young people with Ivy league educations. No addictions, no drugs, no nonsense. And me? I’m remarried to a wonderful man — and most people think I’m 10 years younger than I am. (5 ft 7 inches, 140 lbs, size 8)

    It CAN be done. You just need both self-discipline and an unwavering belief in your cause — YOUR FAMILY.  (Prayer is necessary too.)

    Good luck!

  14. Heather Gurnari Avatar
    Heather Gurnari

    Thanks for this. My husband and I are fairly new to paleo, but haven’t transitioned our 3yr old  son yet, as we weren’t really feeling up to the challenge.

  15. Kari D Schmitz Avatar
    Kari D Schmitz

    Wow- I just found your site this morning, and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your information.  Thank you for the inspiration and education.  You are doing important work.  

    Your newest fan,
    Kari Schmitz

  16. Shari Avatar

    I’m concerned about all of the organic vs. non- organic and grass-fed vs. not. At this point in time, funds are tight with our family. I want to make the switch to at least grain- free, high veggie diet but I can’t go organic yet. I know the food that aren’t organic aren’t as healthy for you and I’m feeling super guilty about it not being, but it’s still better than nothing, right? :-/

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      Absolutely still better than nothing. Non-organic real foods (meat, veggies, etc) beat processed any kind of foods any day! It’s definitely a process and we’ve had times where we couldn’t afford most of these things either. Just do what you can and feel great about it knowing that you are doing the best for your family 🙂

  17. Kristen Avatar

    I am wondering if you supplement your childrens diet at all?  I am curious what to give them in the way of whole food supplements or if they need them?  My kids are 5, 3 and 1.

  18. Yasmine Avatar
    Yasmine

     I just switched to primal a week ago. My kids are doing well with it. I completely cut grains out, but I’m facing a few difficulties. First, I feel like my kids are still hungry most of the day. This COULD be related to boredom. They’re 4 and 1. The oldest doesn’t go to nursery or school yet and we’re home almost everyday and we live in an apartment in a city so no outdoors activity really (no parks and that nice stuff, we live in Cairo, Egypt). They eat eggs and meat and veggies or cheese and veggies in the morning. They snack on yogurt which are made traditionally by farmers or fruits or both. Lunch is always a salad with cheese or meat or both. We do tend to eat pastrami frequently, I think it’s nitrate free because it’s not made in factories but it is bad for the kids because of salt content? It’s kind of salty. Then they either snack on fruit or veggies or they don’t until dinner. Dinner is meat and veggies (usually a leafy kind + root kind). I cook everything in butter because we don’t have coconut oil and other stuff are expensive. Ghee is very popular here, but trying to find 100 % natural that come from farmers right away. I also give my 1-year-old a cup pf cow’s milk (pasteurized) only because i’m afraid to stop it because of calcium needs which I’m not very sure about… Don’t have a way to be sure raw milk is clean although it’s very popular and sold in minimarkets here but people always boil it before consuming so can’t be sure it’s clean. I use olive oil on salads. No nuts yet, pretty expensive wth the exception of peanut which is legume.

    The other problem I’m having is that my eldest is suffering from some indigestion, it’s only been a week, I know it supposedly takes time, but any advice on relieving this? Thanks a lot for all the very very useful information on this site.

    1. Kelly Dolan Glass Avatar
      Kelly Dolan Glass

      Don’t worry about the calcium requirements from milk.  Milk does more harm than good and there are plenty of other sources of calcium (kids with allergies and intolerance still get just as much calcium as their milk drinking friends). Most fish and crab are good sources of calcium, and many veggies contain calcium, and your nutrition obviously includes lots of veggies, so they’re getting their calcium. Kale is a good source of calcium along with other leafy greens. No other animal drinks milk from a different animal, and we’re not meant to have milk after weaning (otherwise our bodies would be designed for lifelong breastfeeding). 
      The beauty of only consuming healthy foods is that you don’t have to worry about portions or limiting foods, so if the kids are still hungry, let them eat. Also, b/c you’ve only cut out all the grains etc a week before your post, the kids were likely going through withdrawal and craving those problematic non-foods.  I try to have healthy snacks readily available at all times (cut-up veggies and boiled eggs stocked in the fridge and nuts, seeds and dried fruit in the pantry) then the kids can eat when their hungry, which is more healthy to follow the bodies own timing, and with only healthy choices available, the boredom and craving snacking should decrease.

      1. Daniela Avatar

        I know non-dairy foods have calcium, but do you really know how much you need to eat of each to get to the same mg amount as in 1 cup of milk, which has 300 mg? 1 cup of raw kale has 55 mg. 1 cup of garbanzo beans has 80 mg.
        I am not saying that it doesn’t work, you just really need eat a lot of foods containing calcium to reach the recommended amount. If you don’t you wouldn’t notice it, because if calcium is low it will be taken from bones and teeth!
        I drink one cup of milk a day and since morning sickness started I can’t drink it any more. For the rest I eat small portions all day long. At my 10 weeks check up my vit D was low (i live in California so I get enough sun exposure) and the only cause we could think of was not drinking my cup of milk!
        I didn’t have that problem with my first pregnancy because I was still drinking milk.
        Just a small reminder of what can happen without enough calcium!

  19. Rose Avatar

    (organic, or its GMO) not true some organic foods are genetically modified…organic just means how it is raised, found this sad but look for heirloom/heritage veggies, thanks to Monsano, Most if not all our seeds have been affected. Working on processing all your info, makes plenty of sense. Starting to implement things a little at a time w/a family of 6.

    1. Kelly Dolan Glass Avatar
      Kelly Dolan Glass

      Actually, US and Canadian law does not allow the 100% Organic label on foods containing GMO’s or that were fed GMOs. So, you can avoid GMO’s by buying Organic. Although with the GMO’s spreading into other crops, there is still a possibility for unknown GMO’s, but there’s really no way to protect ourselves from that at this point.

      1. Melissa Lewie Wetzel Avatar
        Melissa Lewie Wetzel

        While this is true that they don’t allow the organic label on foods with GMO, companies are constantly bought out by companies such as Conegra and the ingredients are changed. They can then Change the ingredients to make it more profitable, Without changing the label. They are legally not required to change the label.

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