Although I have embedded a lot of tips about getting your kids to like healthy food within the recipes, as a time starved mom I know this is essential information. These tips work for getting kids to try just about anything, even cookies.
1. Make it finger food.
Cutting up french fry shaped sticks of anything is a fantastic way to introduce new foods to baby, get your fussy toddler to try that vegetable, or your school aged to even look at his dinner. A frequent question was how I got my kids to eat tofu. This was how. Raw (fine herb flavoured) tofu cut into sticks is an easy first food and a great source of protein for young children vegan, vegetarian or omnivore. its super portable too. if your kid has a thing for french fries you can also pan-sear this in sticks for them, I recommend simply tossing the tofu with some whole wheat flour or arrowroot powder or both to give it a little extra crunch, some sea salt if your kids are not babies anymore and then putting about 2tsp oil in a frying pan and fry over medium heat for 7-8 min per side. be careful how much oil you add to your pan, the first time i did this I put too much and my finicky children would not touch the tofu, like their momma they are not fans of oily textured food. except french fries (also like their momma). These roasted chickpeas are a high protein snack hit, especially in a bag – see tip 4
2. Give it awesome names
Like Twisties. Or Dragon tails (fiddleheads). Sometimes it helps to allow the kids to name things or identify things before they try them. they will go with what it looks like and since new = scary, having a familiar name sorta helps. Anything white was cheese for a while, now anything white is often identified as tofu, I am not fooling them they are themselves doing this and once they try and like the next time its served I usually give them the actual name.
3. Include the new food in a familiar dish or with familiar foods.
We get Lufa Farms baskets, it has introduced my family to jerusalem artichokes, japanese turnips, green bok choy, microgreens, different kinds of potatoes and tomatoes, and all sorts of familiar favourites. I know better than to serve a new food in a new way to my kids, it will be met immediately with refusals. but jerusalem artichokes roasted with potatoes and sweet potatoes were a hit. Japanese turnips in soups and stir fries were equally enjoyed (see number 2, my kids called the turnip bits tofu at first). a favourite preparation of anything in my house is on pizza, I introduced my kids to leeks by roasting them with eggplant and other veggies then slathering like a sauce on pita to make a “pizza”. (Pitas make excellent healthy and quick bases for pizzas)
Anything in a baggie seems to be a hit around here, ANYTHING. from a cut up red pepper, to dry cereal to homemade mixes. This is my go to snack as I can get all kinds of thing into them this way, I usually toss some dried or fresh fruit, nuts, cereal or crackers and sometimes some carrots, peppers or other veggies, seal, shake and voila a quick, filling snack, great for the walk home from daycare and to tide them over until I can get dinner on the table. sometimes little delights like popcorn, chocolate or pretzels find their way into these bags 😉
5. Let them participate
It will likely be messy and they may not choose what you would like to see them choose, but if you want to see the food disappear in ways it never seems to, this is a great way to make it happen. This can be done in 2 ways. One is the simple helper role, mix the batter, pour the ingredients type of way. The other is to lay out all the parts and they assemble their own meal with their own ingredients. This works well for sandwiches, wraps, pizza, pasta and things like tacos. Before trying this with sandwiches, it was painful watching my twins tackle a sandwich, it was like watching general surgery, they would pick apart, wipe spreads off, complain, and throw things. Just about every undesirable behaviour. When they make their own, suddenly they eat the sandwich the way it is meant to be eaten. Set limits when doing this though because otherwise you might end up with a ketchup sandwich. Forced choice between items works best. Do you want mayonnaise or hummus. Choose between a tomato or cucumber.
Veggies, leftover sandwich rolls, soy nuggets with hummus, a lemon dill dip and a store bought yogurt dip.
This one needs almost no explanation. Serve the food with something to dip it in, better yet give the dip cool names like monster sauce, or call it by what it tastes like, we had sushi the other night and had a sweet tamari sauce and a soy sauce, instead of saying it was soy or tamari I said “sweet or salty”. not only did sushi get eaten for the first time ever (by one of 2 anyway) but it was enjoyed! I am struggling with dairy free dips at the moment, but I have some great recipes for dairy dips made from yogurt and or sour cream. And staples like mayo (vegan or reg), ketchup, mustard etc make perfectly acceptable kid friendly dips.
Apple blueberry crisp with a soycream. this little bowl has 1.5servings of fruit.
I have had to relearn how to cook a lot of food, from Mac and Cheese (now Mac and Nutritional Yeast 😉 ) to something as simple as pudding. It will surprise you how easy it is to take a comfort staple and make it dairy-free, vegan, healthier, whatever it is you are aiming for. Healthy desserts has been a specialty of mine for as long as I have had my own kitchen so watch for pudding, cake, icing and cobbler recipes that make your mouth water but keep your belly happy and your kids sugar intake reasonable.
Chocolate pudding with way more nutritional punch than the dairy variety.
Its ok sometimes to sneak those veggies in. Hide them in smoothies (spinach hides itself nicely when a banana is involved), pasta sauces (a good blender will make your veggies invisible), and soups. For soups, many kids are broth monsters. using an immersion blender, puree 1/4 to 1/2 your soup, it will make a thicker broth but it will get the veggies into your broth monsters. This works best if there are not any starches in the soup yet or if you can separate them, because if your children are anything like mine, if its thick, then its no longer broth! This chocolate pudding made from banana, dates, nuts and chia seeds has got a lot of nutritional punch and is sinfully good.
Yes I just said TV as a way to get your kids to eat. not by sitting them in front of it at dinner time (but if you do, no judgement here, there was a time when this was the only way to keep my son still.). But I mean educational TV shows that encourage healthy eating. Daniel Tiger has been amazing to us. “You have to try new food, you just might like it.” My childhood favourite brought back in a spin off about the make believe neighborhood is educating my children the way Mister Rogers educated me. By having this fantasy character being the one encouraging new foods (and in the episode the characters like only some of the things they try, so its actually super realistic and I love this) takes the burden off of me as a mom and removes any aspect of power struggle.
Fred Rogers Timeless Wisdom
“Mealtimes mean different things to different families. But one thing is sure — food is important to everybody. As a parent, you want to give your children healthy foods. That’s one way you let them know you care about them. Most parents spend a lot of time thinking about what foods to buy and what meals to make. It’s only natural for you to want your children to like the food you make for them.”
Fred Rogers (from PBS.org)
Present the food, over and over again as needed until it gets tried. Don’t give up because they refuse once, they might just come back and eat it later. I lost count of how many times I served food with kidney beans before my daughter finally said “wow I love these the red beans”. Either be prepared to eat their leftovers or just keep them. I leave dinner on the table until they are in bed, when they say they are hungry (and did not eat their dinner) I offer their leftovers, usually they eat them with gusto at this point. its often how they have realized they actually like something. My guide when I was learning to feed my children.
Not the best picture but watermelon cake is a hit at parties.
Be enthusiastic about it, I love mashed potatoes (well any kind of potato) my kids think potato is a swear word (unless its a french fry). I got them to try and like mashed potatoes by raving about “mommy’s favorite food ever!” ranting and raving like a lunatic usually get the try happening, but it doesnt guarantee a like, but its important too to accept that kids will develop their own tastes and thats ok. they do not have to like everything. PS this works with adults too. I made the watermelon cake pictured for a party recently, usually the fruit plate when surrounded by delicious cakes and pies and cookies gets ignored. This got eaten up along with all the decadent deserts. presented well anything becomes worth trying. (but sometimes presentation causes major fail. I served Lentil Salad on a bed of spinach, my son who likes this salad, refused to touch it because of its green accessories.)
Bonus for a “clean” dozen:
12. Lower your expectations (of yourself)
It is difficult to get kids to eat, let alone eat well, they have much better things to do and often we don’t realize that they just have different appetites, different needs and different tastes than we have and sometimes we just have to go with the flow. We want to be the best parent we can be. parenting guilt is insidious, but its important to take a breath and let it go. They will turn out OK and you are doing a great job, I promise.