1 in 5 school-aged children has obesity.
1 in 3 school-aged children is overweight or obese. Yes, 33% are overweight or obese!
Just 1% of adults and 2% of kids meet both their fruit and veggie recommendations each day.
Sadly, parents have dropped the ball. There is a very real struggle most parents endure when it comes to encouraging their children to eat more fruits and vegetables. But, parents don’t appear to be modeling healthy eating habits as well. Team, this is a problem!
Team, this is a problem!
If you want to train up world changers for the Kingdom of God, you need to accept the call! We are commanded to “train up our children in the way they should go.” (Proverbs 22:6) This applies to their spiritual, emotional, mental and physical health.
We don’t need any research to prove to us that kids model what they see. It’s true. This begins with you, the parent. But, I also know the very real struggle at the dinner table. I know exactly what it feels like to create a fantastic, balanced meal, only to have my child decline it. She has pushed away many meals, foods, and offerings, to my dismay.
There is no quick solution to helping our finicky kids develop a taste for healthy foods. But, if you are committed to your calling, rely on grace and execute patience, YOU CAN see positive change.
These are 3 practical strategies to help YOUR kids explore new foods and expand their palate.
Take A Trip to the Farmer’s Market or a Local Farm
Spring and summer are the ideal times to take a family trip to the market, local farm or berry patch. Kids get exposed to produce in a natural environment. Conversation naturally evolves around the fruits and vegetables they see. There is no pressure and instead, it becomes a fun family experience with the potential for lots of photos and memories!
Here are a few ways to make the most of these experiences:
- Encourage your child to ask questions of the farmers. Local growers take pride in what they grow. They are always happy to share tips, ideas, and suggestions
- Some farms actually provide tours for small groups of kids, so make sure to check out the website in advance or call ahead.
- Give your child a certain amount of money to purchase any type of fruit or vegetable they want to try.
- Allow and encourage kids to try samples of foods, especially if they are curious. This is a perfect, non-threatening way to encourage tasting new and different foods!
- Encourage the use of all their senses. Talk about colors, scents, tastes, flavors, and textures. See how many words they can think up to describe an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable.
As the parent, you have the opportunity to make this a fun and memorable experience. Laugh, explore, touch, and taste! Make this so fun, your child begs to go back!
Build Your Own Yogurt Parfait
This is a fun way to help your kids create in the kitchen! They have vivid imaginations. Instead of giving them what we think they should eat, this strategy allows them to concoct their own creations. By allowing them to decide what they will put in their yogurt bowl, you are empowering and affirming them in their ability to make food decisions. You set the boundaries. Kids make the decisions. They like to be able to experience control. Parents determine the options, but the kids get to decide which ones, how much, how high, how many layers, how abstract, and how utterly delicious!
During the parfait building process, talk about colors, textures, and flavors. Parents can learn SO much by asking their kids questions about their decisions and listening as they work.
Make sure to provide fun bowls, cups, or ramekins for their colorful creations!!
Providing plain yogurt keeps the added sugar low. To sweeten yogurt without adding sugar, you can add a couple of tablespoons of no sugar added applesauce or a 100% fruit pouch to reduce a bit of the tang. If your child likes colored yogurt, place frozen berries in a small bowl and microwave for 15-20 seconds until they have defrosted and begun to soften. Then, smash the berries (blueberries and raspberries work really well) and stir in the yogurt. You can also add a drizzle of honey (not to kids under 1 year), maple syrup or agave, but use sparingly.
Let the creating begin! Here are some fun yogurt toppings, but there is no limit to your imagination!
Dried apricots, chopped
Grapes, sliced in half
Chopped nuts (ie. walnuts, peanuts, cashews)
Whole-grain cereal (we like Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes)
Unsweetened coconut flakes
Vanilla extract (dash)
Other extracts (peppermint, chocolate, orange, lemon, etc)
Read Books Introducing Different Foods
If kids are hesitant to interact with foods physically, reading about them is a great way to introduce them in a non-threatening way. We know that there is strong research on the benefits of reading to kids from an early age. Why not grab some books that talk about healthy eating, different foods, healthy behaviors and being good stewards of our body?!
A few good books perfect for getting the conversation going with your child include:
To reinforce the information you read about in the books, consider ways you can expand on the ideas:
Art projects – painting different foods you call out
Playdough – form different foods
By using playdough and games to converse about less familiar foods, it removes a bit of their ‘scariness.’
Instead of whining, complaining and power struggles at the dinner table, laughter, fun, and exploration can help you introduce different foods in non-threatening ways.
Parents are called to train up a child in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). Sometimes that means we have to get a little creative. Raising healthy eaters with a good relationship with food takes a lot of investment, but it’s not impossible.
Of course, we shouldn’t forget, “more is caught than taught.” Your words, your actions, your attitudes- they make a BIGGER impression than you think. Live in such a way that honors God, respects your amazing body, and lead your kids down a path to good health.
So, what’s the play call?
Remember that full and proper training doesn’t happen at one meal, or over the course of a week, month or even a school year. Coaches train athletes for years to help them think differently, practice, challenge themselves and expand their skills.
Obedient eaters is not the goal. Team, we want to raise healthy eaters that enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods when they go off to college, get married and cook their first meal in their new home. We are marathon training, not sprint training. Frustration over the declined veggies at tonight’s dinner might happen. Spitting out grandma’s famous greens could occur. But the beauty is that we have a promise, a promise that applies to every bit of intentional training we give our kids:
Train up a child in the way he should go…
…and when he is old, he will not depart from it.