Baby With OrangeYesterday Tricia stopped by from the Ultimate Blog Party and left a comment asking me for some tips on how to get her 4 year old son (a picky eater) to eat healthier foods. Tricia wants to get her whole family on a healthier track but one of her little guys is giving her a bit of hard time. 😉

This is such an excellent question that I decided to turn it into a full post instead writing a long comment with some tips for Tricia. This way any parent with the same challenge can check this out.

The reason I think this is such a great question is because after watching Super Size Me, the facts and figures of the state of our youth’s health astounded me. Now I’ve gotta tell you that I don’t have kids, so this post is based on my own experience of once being a kid along with my experiences with OPK (other people’s kids).

So how do you get your children to eat healthier foods, especially if they’re picky eaters? Well, my #1 suggestion might not be what you’d expect, but after giving this a lot of thought, here’s what I came up with: it all begins with you, the parent. Yep, that’s right, we’re not even going to look at your child(ren) right now but instead we’ll focus only on you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself (remember, children are sponges and they easily emulate what their parents do):

  • What is your daily diet regime? Do you enjoy eating fresh fruits and veggies at least 2 or 3 times a day? Do you drink plenty of clean fresh water and focus on whole foods instead of processed and fast foods?
  • What’s in your kitchen cupboards and frig? I love the show You Are What You Eat on BBC America. If you’ve never watched it please start now! Holistic nutritionist Gillian McKeith is a real taskmaster and she gets right down to the nitty gritty in the kitchens of Britain’s overweight crowd. How about taking a look-see in your kitchen? What does your food supply consist of?
  • What role does refined sugar and white flour play in your diet? If you’re addicted to sugar and flour like I am, you’ll notice that when you eat that stuff that it’s very hard to have just one. Does your daily diet revolve around processed foods? If so, check those labels – most processed and fast food is loaded with sugar, flour, salt, and all kinds of chemicals. I call it dead food as opposed to the live food choices available in whole, real food (lean proteins, fruits, veggies, whole carbs like brown rice, sweet potatoes, regular oatmeal, things like that).
  • What about exercise? Do you enjoy exercising and have fun with it? Do you get regular exercise, for example taking a minimum 30-minute walk at least 5 days a week?
  • How about strength training? Besides cardio, do you also strengthen your body with free weights, resistance bands (that’s what I use), or workout equipment at the gym?
  • Are you having fun? Do you enjoy cooking clean meals, eating fresh, healthy foods, and working out your body?

A couple of things I want to point out here – 1) none of these questions are about weight loss and 2) they aren’t about self-criticism. For example, what if you’re reading this and you aren’t currently living a healthy lifestyle but at the same time you do want your kids to be healthy? Well, I think that everyone does the best they can with the awareness they have at the time. However once you gain that awareness, you then have the choice of making some changes.

So why am I putting all of the focus on you when I titled this post “how to get your picky eater to eat healthy foods”? Because we can never change anyone else, only ourselves. Of course when we’re talking about your children, you are the one buying their food, but have you ever tried to get a child to eat carrots and they refuse saying they don’t like them? Now I’m talking about a child who really has eaten carrots, not one who has never tried them. If they’ve never tried them I still think that the best way to get them to is by leading with your own example, and if they have tried them and truly don’t like them, then they just don’t like them.

I don’t think it’s a good message to force a child to eat food they really don’t like because that can set up a skewed relationship with food in their brain and emotions, however there’s also the other component of power that could be being played here – young children don’t feel that they have power in the world and sometimes the only way to “get” that power is to act out. This child might actually love carrots but because you want him to eat them he refuses – he just got one up on you. 😉

There are a few different things that can be going on when you have a finicky eater, and now that we’ve already put the spotlight on you, the best suggestions I can offer for your picky eater are these:

  • Lead by example – kids will emulate their parents and if their parents enjoy a healthy lifestyle filled with whole foods and regular exercise, their kids will naturally want to be in on the fun.
  • Limit the refined sugar and white flour – the more sugar and flour (which easily converts to sugar) that is in the system of a child, the more it sets up the desire for more. Make the sugar-filled stuff a treat, not an everyday occurrence, and remember that sugar is in almost all processed food so be sure to check your labels.
  • Don’t force it – Don’t ask your kids to try any of the healthy food that you are eating when you begin making your lifestyle changes. Just show them by example how much you enjoy it, because you do! This means that you’re only eating whole foods that you like – I like many healthy foods but I won’t eat the ones I don’t, like brussel sprouts for example.
  • Stock up on healthy, whole foods and make sure to offer a variety of choices – There are so many fruits for example that you could offer for snacks – apples, strawberries, plums, pears, and grapes to name only a few. Offering your child a variety to choose from puts some power in their court – they are making the decision even though you are in control of the options. 😉
  • Go for alternative snack choices – I think that fresh fruits (or veggies) are the best snack choice but once in awhile you could offer a “treat”, which is still on the healthier side – try out Mrs. May’s Naturals or Larabars. Mrs. May’s are mainly nuts and dried fruit and while they do contain some sugar, it is much less than you’d get in cake, candy, or cookies. On the other hand Larabars don’t contain any refined sugar but are still quite sweet due to the natural sugar they contain.
  • Get motivated – if you’re struggling with your own motivation to lead by example but you do have the motivation to get your family on the healthy track, here’s some suggested reading and watching –

The bottom line is that children are open books just waiting for you to “write” on them. They learn by example and the very best way that you can impress a healthy lifestyle on them is by living a healthy lifestyle yourself. When you lead by example you can easily teach your kids how fun it can be to cook healthy meals and what a blast working out can be!

What about you? If you have a child who’s a picky eater do you have some tips that have worked for you to get him to eat healthy foods? If so, please share them in a comment!