My entry It Doesn’t Matter WHAT Your Kids Eat! was about teaching children to eat foods in proportion to their healthful benefits.

Thanks to the reader who said, “I understand that non-processed foods are better for all of us, but how can I get my child to eat more of them?”

I hate to say it, but on one level the solution is pretty easy: feed your kids more Growing Foods and that’s what they’ll eat. Of course, if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. So I’ve listed some more concrete suggestions.  Bear in mind though, that there is a system in place — involving food and behavior — and in order to see change you have to alter multiple aspects of the system.

1) Actively teach your child to think of foods according to how frequently they should be eaten. Instead of teaching that foods fall into 2 categories — either healthy or junky — teach that foods fall into 3 categories. Tell your child the following as often as you can:

  • Growing Foods are the healthiest.  We eat from this group almost all of the time.
  • Fun Food are in the middle.  We eat from this group some of the time.
  • Treat Foods are the least healthy.  We eat from this group the least often.

2) Shift your child’s diet slowly. Major overhauls tend to backfire. Change one thing at a time and wait for that change to solidify before making a second change.

3) Set the intention to provide fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack. This may seem excessive, but it’s what it takes to put proper proportion in place. You won’t be 100% successful but the amount of “failure” will put the other stuff into your children’s diets in about the right amounts.

4) Decide how many Fun Foods you want your child to consume in a day – on average. Sometimes he’ll have more, sometimes he’ll have less, but knowing your target amount is important. Consider 2 per day as your optimal number. Clearly state this guideline to your child.

5) Decide how many Treat Foods you want your child to consume per day or per week – on average. I recommend 3 or 4 per week, but most parents settle on 1 per day. Clearly state this guideline to your child.

6) Recognize that repetition is your enemy. 

  • Don’t serve the same foods for any 2 consecutive days.
  • Don’t serve the same food more than once a day.
  • Don’t use up your Fun Food allowance at snack time every day.
  • Be mindful of the Variety Masquerade — when foods you feed seem like they’re different but they’re not.

7) Give your child as much control as possible. You have decided how much, now let him decide when. Let him choose between Fun Foods: “You may have juice now or chocolate milk later.” Consider using a visual aid — a sticker or magnetic chart — to help your child remember when he’s chosen his limit.

8) Have your child trade Fun Foods for Treat Foods.  When it looks like there are going to be a lot of Treat Foods – i.e. when your child is going to a party, or Grandma’s house – it’s a good time to reduce the Fun Foods.

9) Set your radar on snack time. This is the danger zone. If your child scores a lot of junk from others, compensate by increasing the amount of Growing Foods served at home.

10) Recognize that how your child currently eats works for YOU. You know the system works for your child, but you probably haven’t thought about how it works for you. Prepare yourself for change. Identify whatever is holding you hostage, and figure out how to set yourself free.

11) Turn Your Child’s Taste Buds Around – I’ll tell you how in my next entry!

Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.