No Nag Nutrition

Nagging seems to be the unavoidable side effect of having kids.

I’m sad to admit that there are days where I don’t want to be around myself, either. It’s no shock, our kids tunes us out when we nag, and not just because they want to avoid chores. But, when it comes to nutrition, we parents don’t want our messages to fall on deaf ears.

How do we parents educate our kids on healthy food without nagging, threatening, or holding dessert hostage?

Try Fun First

Fun is not only a great learning tool, it’s kind of the ultimate antidote to nagging! Here are some ideas:

  • Engage the senses besides taste with fun games like “I Spy” or “10 Questions” in the produce section. The exposure to the sight, smells and idea of healthy foods may encourage better eating.
  • Play time away from the table. For young kids, toy kitchens are a great place to talk about new foods and “rehearse” healthy eating habits that may help smooth over the food fights at the real table.
  • Take a field trip, literally. Food adventures offer up both outdoor activity and an introduction to healthy foods. Think farm tours, farmers markets, kids’ cooking classes.
  • Take a cue from junk food marketers. These companies have spent billions (with a b) trying to make foods appeal to our kids. You can use their research to your advantage by trying fun shapes and serving size “packaging,” creative names and hands-on food fun like “salad faces.”
  • Host your own Healthy Master Cook competition at home.

Talk About the “Why” and Benefits of Good Nutrition

Kids see, on average, about 15,000 commercials per year for unhealthy foods. We should at least get as much “air time” for talking to our kids about nutrition. The conversation doesn’t have to be complicated, either.

  • For young kids, try funny, super-power food names like “Super X-ray Vision Carrots” that hint at the real nutrition benefits of a healthy food. Reach out and do the “bicep muscle” check and exclaim “Wow, that worked fast!” at the strong muscles after your kid downs some broccoli.
  • For all kids, talk to them about healthy eating and explain the why. Consider it one of the “talks” you have to have regularly with your kids right alongside the talks about drinking, drugs and sex.
  • Let them “discover” nutrition ideas on their own. The Get Real Resolution offers a fun, no-fight set of activities that allow kids to explore healthy food ideas with monthly projects.

Just Desserts?

Kids seem to love sugar the most, so it’s no surprise that dessert is the source of a lot of dinnertime disagreements. Sometimes, just eliminating the source helps cut back on both the nagging and the added calories.

  • Set a clear rule on when to expect — and when not to expect — dessert, such as “desserts are served only on weekends for special meals like Sunday dinner.” The set rule removes the daily battle.
  • Use the fruit serving of the meal as dessert. If this is too much of a change for a sugar-crazed kiddo, you can start the transition by making homemade fruit popsicles or lower-sugar cobbler and work your way up to “apple-cider-sauce homemade applesauce” and plain fruit. Right now, half a grapefruit sprinkled lightly with sugar and then torched or broiled for a crunchy brulee topping is our favorite after dinner treat.
  • If you find yourself battling with your kids over sugary foods every day, stop keeping these foods at home. No bad choices, no arguments.
Published on: February 12, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Beth Bader

Beth Bader is the coauthor with Ali Benjamin of the acclaimed book, The Cleaner Plate Club, designed to help parents understand picky eating behaviors; where they originate, and how to deal with them creatively to get kids to eat better.

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