Broccoli Rocks! 13 Food Rules to Help You Raise a Great Eater

Battles over broccoli, worries over white bread, negotiating over dessert: Welcome to the family food wars. It doesn’t have to be this way. We believe that most parents really do want to raise children who are good eaters and go on to make healthy eating choices as adults. To us, that means giving children the opportunity to eat and love  a variety of foods and especially a variety of healthy foods—without the battles.

How do you do that? Well, we’re not going to say that it’s easy for everyone. It IS easy to open that box of macaroni and cheese and call it dinner.  But if you’re experiencing frequent food battles, it may be time to step away from the table and look at the bigger picture. Your goal is to find an eating ethos that works for you, while staying focused on healthy meals (or mostly healthy meals). Not all of these ideas will feel right for your family, but we hope you find them good, ahem, food for thought.

1. Children do not have a genetic predisposition to avoid healthy foods.

The earlier you can introduce healthy foods and the longer you can avoid sugar-laden and processed foods, the better chance that your children will love food that nourishes their bodies.

2. Nutrition is more important than finding foods with “kid-friendly tastes.”

If taste buds dictated what Kim and I eat, we’d eat a lot more fettucine Alfredo. With children’s diets, we often put taste preferences above everything else, because it seems like the quickest way to get our children to eat. But children shouldn’t live on sugar any more than adults should. Serve the applesauce that’s homemade with no added sugar or additives, versus cinnamon n’ sugar applesauce because “they’ll probably like it better.”

3.  You are in charge of your children’s nutrition.

We hear parents say, “But my kids will only eat chicken nuggets!” If you value healthy food, have resolve at the grocery store and keep healthy food in your pantry. Be consistent—and explain why your family is making healthy choices in a respectful, non-punitive way. (We also recommend panko-crusted baked chicken breast.)

4.  It’s the parent’s job to buy healthy food and offer it; it’s your kid’s job to eat what is offered. Or your child may choose not to eat it—which is fine too.

Eventually, they will get hungry, and when there is only healthy food offered, they will eat the types of healthy foods that they like to eat.

5. Don’t force them to eat.

Don’t get into the just one more bite, now take another bite of this, scenario. Work on acknowledging that you have done your part by preparing and offering healthy foods; try not to control what your child does or does not eat. BY letting these things go, you take yourself out of the food battle.

6. If you are cooking one meal for the adults and quesadillas and hot dogs for the kids, you’re adding to the “picky eater” problem.

Don’t become a short-order cook, whipping up individual meals for each and every tiny diner. Of course, you might consider your family’s tastes and preferences when meal planning (if your daughter has tried and really hates mushrooms, only offering her a slab of porcini lasagna isn’t setting anyone up for success.) There is another reason to offer one meal at home: When your children go to other people’s houses, you want them to eat, or at least politely try, what is served. It helps them be independent and good guests.

7. Don’t yuck other people’s yums.

One good-manners rule we like? You don’t have to eat it, but you don’t need to talk about what you don’t like either. Pronouncing how much you dislike something is impolite for the person who shopped or prepared or chose or is eating the food. If you don’t like Brussels sprouts, then take a small bite, and quietly move on, no big deal.

8.  Kids don’t eat as consistently as adults, so try not to get so concerned over what they eat in a single meal.

If you have concerns about his nutrition, look at what they are eating over the course of time—like a week—not a single meal. If you’re provide them healthy food, they will get a nice range of healthy foods over the course of the week, even if they only took a few bites Tuesday night.

9. Follow the FFF rule: Fresh Foods First.

If your kids need a snack before dinner, opt for a veggie plate or sliced fruit—not a bar or a handful of salty crackers. Give them the chocolate-drizzled granola bar first, and there’s a good chance the lima beans are not going down!

10: Rethink your fast go-to meals.

It’s Thursday night. It’s late. Everyone’s hungry. There are go-to meals that are just as fast as a box of macaroni and cheese. Plan for that. You need in your arsenal five easy-to-make healthy meals that you can pull out on a Wednesday night when you find you suddenly have no time to really cook. One of our faves? A fruit and cheese plate. It’s got something for everyone.

11. Quell the hunger meltdowns.

When you pick up your kids from school or an activity, have something healthy available. If I’m picking up and we need to go the dentist, then they can’t wait to eat until we get home.

12. Go on a food adventure.

Encourage your children to explore the wonderful world of food by exploring the food world with them. Go out to a new food truck. Once a month, choose a country and prepare a meal inspired by its cuisine. Visit a local market that specializes in Hispanic or Indian foods, and try some new flavors. (This is where one of our kids who “didn’t like spicy food” discovered chile-rubbed mango. Now she loves spicy food.)

13. Make food part of your family culture.

A Canadian study found that kids who helped in the kitchen tried a wider variety of healthier foods and ate 10 percent more veggies than kids who didn’t help in the kitchen. The more comfy they are in the process of preparing food, the more apt they are to try it. Take them shopping: They can help pick out the ripest strawberries or the reddest tomatoes. With older kids, help them read labels and ask them to pick a cereal with less sugar. Give them the nutrition tools to help them make great choices for life!

Meet Kim and Ann.

Certified Parent Educators and Super Moms Kim DeMarchi and Ann DeWitt share a love for helping families create deeper connections, foster respect, and (of course) have a heckuva lot of fun. (Fun and laughter are key ingredients in family life, they’ll both tell you!) DeMarchi holds a Master of Education; DeWitt earned her Master in Clinical Psychology. They’ve been penning Positive Parenting articles for KinderCare’s wonderful families since 2015. Find them online at EmpoweredParenting.com and DeWittCounseling.com.


Read more articles by Kim and Ann.

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