If you are a parent, you have seen the yuck face on your kids probably more times than you care to recall. If it were only the funny face to contend with, it might not be so bad. But, with a refusal to eat you often get the fits and tantrums, the squirming, the ‘ugh’s’, the tears and the oh so gross half chewed spit out. This can leave parents not only frazzled and frustrated, but also feeling guilty and worried that their kiddos aren’t getting the nutrition that their growing bodies need.

Introducing kids to wholesome nutritious foods is not just important for getting them the vital building blocks for building brains, and muscles, and bones. Introducing them to flavors, tastes, and varieties of good foods will help them develop eating habits that will be there to guide them towards healthier choices throughout their lives. Guiding them towards healthy attitudes that embrace ideas of fueling your body with good nutrition and concepts of moderation is so important. You want them to grow into healthy young adults who aren’t afraid of new food experiences and feel empowered to make choices confident that they are doing well for themselves. So how do you flip “yuck” into “yum” and fix the icks? Here are some tips on how to create a safe space for kids to try new things that make mommies, daddies, kiddies and tummies happy.

  1. Monkey See, Monkey Do

The biggest influence on your children’s attitudes is YOU. These little guys want to be like you in every way. Eating habits are no exception. Making healthy choices present at every meal is the first part. Letting your kids watch you not only eat the good stuff, but ENJOY it is going to be the most influential thing you can do. You don’t have to make a big production out of it. Quite the contrary. If you can make eating the rainbow, quality lean proteins, and a variety of flavors a typical presence at the table, it is just eating NORMAL. Fix the things that you like and start there. This not only helps get your kids thinking about a variety of foods in a well-rounded way, it helps keep you on track because you know just who is watching.

  1. Don’t Fix ‘Kids Meals’

Barring any exceptions for allergies etc., there is nothing that you eat that your kids should not eat. Do not allow yourself to become a short order cook or limit your kids to things you’d typically get at a drive through. Fix one meal for one family. Now, that’s not to say that you can’t offer a variety of things that you know are going to achieve a certain level of peace at the table. Kids learn quickly, though. The message you are sending by allowing kids to maintain a limited variety of foods is that their reasons for avoiding ‘your’ food are legitimate. It’s like saying, “Yeah, I get it. This doesn’t really taste that good. I’m going to be nice and NOT make you eat it too.” You can either enable them to be picky eaters or teach them that lots of foods are good and they can be shared and enjoyed together as a family.

  1. Recruit Some Mini Meal Planners

Kids love to feel like they’re involved, especially in things they see as grown-up. It gives them a chance to exercise their independence and creativity while you get to teach them how to construct a healthy plate. Start by giving them parameters to work in. For example: pick two fruits or veggies, one protein, and one starch. This allows the little ones’ ideas to flow and gives them a sense of autonomy while you are still steering them in the right direction. This may mean that on occasion the grown-ups eat ants on a log with dinner, but that river flows both ways. Fair is fair, so if they get a vote so do you. You can throw some new ideas their way that they may not have picked, but they are much more open minded to try your pick if they feel their voices are heard and you’re doing the same for them. Meal time team work!

  1. Be Super Snackers

Kids and their snacks can make parents feel like their new station in life is to be a human vending machine. Having a snack on hand can be the thing that turns a kid set to nuclear meltdown into the heart melting sweetness you know and love. The trick here is to keep things smart and not turn your kid into a junk food junkie. Pre-portioned and packaged snacks marketed towards kids are most often glorified desserts or nutrient-free and processed salty snacks. At its worst, snack routines have kids eating only the bare minimum at meal time knowing the next junk food fix is just around the corner. But at its best, a snack can be an opportunity to introduce some new healthy foods in a lighthearted and playful way. Fresh fruits like grapes and berries are super portable and sweet, making them a great choice. Popcorn, cheese cubes and whole grain crackers, veggies and hummus and other more savory choices can give a salty fix while bringing some actual nutrition to the table as well. The main point is to keep the less nutritious treats in check and make REAL food staples in their diets.

  1. One Swallow Does Not a Dislike Make

Infants are actually born with a strong capacity to like new foods and have very few innate food preferences. It has been suggested that the younger a kid is when a wide variety of novel food items are introduced, the more open (s)he will be to new foods when (s)he becomes older. But bear in mind, there are many factors that can affect whether a kid likes or dislikes a certain food at that time. Things like mood, environment, texture, color, and level of hunger can all influence whether you get a ‘yucky’ or a ‘yummy’. It takes multiple exposures to the new thing for the kids to recognize them as familiar enough to give it an actual chance. When it comes to broadening their culinary horizons, think early and often. One failed attempt or even four does not mean your kid won’t like it. Especially if it is something you and the rest of your family enjoy, you want to keep on getting them to give it a try. Just keep at it. You are planting seeds in the ground for future fit foodies!

Kristin Kuykendall

Owner, Well Hello Fitness
Master Personal Trainer/ Sports Nutritionist/ Coach

Kristin Kuykendall is a Master Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist. Her credentials are backed by a BFA from Kendall College of Art and Design and further studies in Human Health Sciences from Oakland University.

With a passion for helping people acquire skills to promote the longest possible health span, Kristin has coached numerous clients to feel their best. She has brought this passion to her work as a private nutrition and exercise programming coach, personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and nutritionist. Kristin has been responsible for helping a wide range of clients achieve their individual goals, from competitive athletes to individualized healthy fat loss.

She has personally achieved professional and world standing both as a Physique and Figure bodybuilding competitor. All this while raising kids with her loving husband/partner in this crazy life. When she’s not playing in the kitchen or spending time with her family, you may find her working as a judge and promoter for natural bodybuilding competitions.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information from this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read in this article.