How to Promote Real Food to Kids

Dear Reader,

Yesterday after leaving church I was so disgusted that I’m still about ready to pop.  By 10:15 in the morning my daughters had been given Skittles and Goldfish crackers and had free access to bowls and jars of Jolly Ranchers, Dum Dum suckers, Tootsie Rolls, and bubble gum balls in the foyer.  Since Sunday school was such a disaster, I couldn’t stomach to see what food massacre was going to be offered in children’s church, so I took my anger and my family home with me.  (Update 9/3/13:  Our church has a new snack policy!  Yippee!)

I figure I’m allowed my anger if it keeps me motivated to responsible action.  My reason for going to medical school:  “I love people.”   Upon threat of hanging, drawing, and quartering, my husband strictly prohibited me from saying that in my medical school  admission’s interview.  But I do care.  And thus this silly blog.  I have seen first-hand the difference appropriate nutrition makes in my family’s health.  It is a sorely neglected facet of medical care.

Even though my mom is a great cook, I was raised on strawberry frosted Pop Tarts, Kraft Cheese and Macaroni, and Snickers candy bars.  I’m no food saint.  My kids gave me hate stares over food when we changed our eating a year ago.  They begged.  And whined.  Fussed.  I wanted so to turn back.  However, turn back to what?  The potential of boobs on my eight year old child from the high circulating insulin levels and hormonal disruptors in our foods?  Chronic sinusitis in my husband requiring three antibiotics in 6 weeks?  Bowel movements twice a month in myself?  Seven allergy prescriptions among my three daughters who were still having uncontrolled allergy symptoms?

I feel the frustration and difficulty of navigating nutritional change.  But please, let’s keep on.  I am going to tell you what your pediatrician or family doctor doesn’t.  Processed foods are bad for you.  The goal:  Keep them to a bare minimum.  Even whole wheat ones.  Even Campbell’s canned tomato soup.  Particularly Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup.  Too many flour, sugar, and dairy products are bad for you.  Nutrition counts.  Nutrition counts.  Please, keep changing.  Find ways in your busy schedule.  Your tight budget.  Your denials and rationalizations.  Make it happen.  I’m telling you as a medical doctor, it matters.

With heartfelt support,


Ten (Plus) Tips on Getting Kids to Eat Healthy Foods

1.  wpid-IMAG0326.jpg wpid-IMAG0488.jpgPick a few things to serve and arrange silly faces on the plate with them.  Don’t just do it for snack.  Also arrange supper this way if you can.  Or breakfast.  Or lunch.

2.  wpid-IMAG1507-1-1.jpgMake them eat a vegetable BEFORE they’re allowed to eat another kind of food/snack.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  Sometimes it works out that they forget about that other snack after the achy jaw from crunchy celery and carrots.

3.  wpid-IMAG0234.jpgTake advantage of aesthetics.  Presentation is everything.  Try serving snacks, or even an occasional dinner, on beautiful serving ware.

4. wpid-IMAG2341.jpgChoose colorful foods and cut them into small pieces.  Smaller is better for easy munching.  Caveat:  kids love to eat long carrots like Bugs Bunny does.  That is, if they know who Bugs Bunny is.

5.  wpid-IMAG0482.jpgAssemble the snacks into animals.  Shown here are blueberries, apricots, and currants.

6.  Accessorize:

wpid-IMAG2324.jpg  Daquairi umbrellas

wpid-IMAG0264.jpg  Skewers

wpid-IMAG1233-1.jpg  Ribbons

Green beans on a stick  Toothpicks with “frills”

W is for watermelon wands!  As above with the "honeydew", I used spinach on the bottom for "leaves" and to work in vegetable exposure.  Stickers are on the top (we are approaching Valentines' Day), but you need to use one on the back, too, or else the sticker doesn't want to cling to the skinny stick.  I cheated and used the store's precut melon.  Stickers

7.  wpid-IMAG0486.jpgStarve them–by American terms.  Kids don’t need to eat all day.  It drives the insulin levels up and keeps them up all day.  A CARDIOVASCULAR DISASTER.  They’ll eat that healthy cut apple or carrot if they’re really hungry.  They’ll be really hungry to eat “honest food” if you stick to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a whole food type snack or two!  And if they don’t like lunch, well, they’re more likely to be desperate enough to eat supper.  If they didn’t like lunch and supper, finally maybe they’ll eat that “healthy”  evening snack.  Don’t you remember your parents line…”If you’re hungry you’ll eat it.”

Sometimes I hear a parent say, “…but he won’t eat anything!”  Seriously?  I look at the child again.  I can clearly see that the kid is eating something.  The kid may most certainly be nutrient deprived, but that kid ain’t even close to being calorie deprived.  Who buys the groceries?  The kid?

8.  wpid-IMAG2064.jpg wpid-IMAG0236.jpgPlace a lonely plate of cut vegetables or cleaned fruit on a very clean, uncluttered kitchen counter or table. Something about a lonely plate just sitting there with colorful food that promotes snacking.  Worst case scenario, you eat them.

9.  wpid-IMAG2113-1.jpg  wpid-IMAG0128.jpgMake it look like food they understand.  For example, the first photo looks like donuts, but they’re made from coconut flour muffin batter poured into “donut” pans.  The second photo is our “sausage McMuffin.”  An almond flour biscuit with grass fed, uncured, no sugar sausage patty.

10. wpid-IMAG2148-1.jpgRemove processed foods and food snacks from your home entirely.  Just do it.  They are not nutrient dense.  Any nutrients in there are enriched.  I call them flour products on Botox.  Remove the unfair, dishonest processed foods.  Level the playing field for better food choices.  Steer toward keeping fruits, vegetables, nuts, and dairy products with no sugar and colorings added around for snacks and meals.  Eventually, your child will eat whole food type snacks and dinners if that’s all they’re offered.  Sure, at church they’ll dive into the donuts, cookies, and candy.  It can be a little embarrassing at a friend’s home when your kids eat all the coffee cake, but otherwise, not so much harm done if they’re getting “the good stuff” at home.

I don’t know.  Maybe these things we’ve done will help you, too.   Other, more broad ideas and also odds and ends I keep in my head include:

  • Reasonable yet firm.  If they feel I’m inflexible, it may just be a battle for control.  Yet, if they feel I’ll let them off the hook every time, I’ll lose every time.  Find the balance.  Be consistent.
  • Wheat is a treat.  Keep it that way.
  • Repetition is the key to success.  Repeated exposure to each particular food, maybe even 10-15 times over, may be the key to success.  Yes, 10-15 times over.  Really.  Keep at it.  Don’t give up.
  • Model good eating behaviours.
  • Small serving sizes, a bite or two, may be the most I can expect for awhile.
  • Reverse psychology:  Tell them to save it for you because it’s so yummy and one of your favorites.  Don’t eat it and don’t snitch.”  A bite or two may disappear.
  • I’ve seen places recommend to not do this, but honestly, it works for us:  No seconds on a desired meal item until a couple of bites (or more) of the least desired food item (zucchini, squash, meat, etc) has been taken.  After the bite or two, have at whatever you wish.  Same goes for dessert if there is any.  There are times my kids choose not to have dessert because they really won’t eat something.  I take note.  They really don’t like it!
  • Educate them on food choices so they see it’s for their health, not a control issue or weight issue.
  • During the early transitions, add some extras–a little extra vanilla, a little extra honey, a little extra cocoa–and taper them down over the year.
  • Kick Dad out of the house if he won’t eat vegetables.  No.  Just kidding.

Good luck!  May success come your way!

Related post:  Be a Vegetable Cheerleader

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