5 Tips For Getting Kids to Eat And Eat Healthier

March 20, 2018

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This post is sponsored by Blue Apron. The first 50 people will receive $40 off their first two weeks of meals, here!

One thing that Chris and I have always strived to do is feed our kids good, real food while sitting down together for dinner every night. But if you have children, you know that helping kids develop a taste for a wide range of healthy foods can be challenging. So instead of focusing on a world of culinary options and experiences we want our girls to have, we kept our goal simple: we are all going to eat the same thing for dinner. No alternate meals of chicken nuggets or quesadillas or mac and cheese. We’re definitely not always perfect at it, but every time Chris or I post our meals on Instagram stories, we inevitably get a handful of messages asking, “How do you get your kids to eat that!?” So! Here are 5 tips we’ve accumulated over time for getting your kids to eat and eat healthier.  We’d love to hear any additional ones that have helped in your house in the comments!

1. Have them help you plan the menu. We’ve been been supplementing our weekly menu with Blue Apron two nights a weeks for years. Not only has it allowed us to try ingredients that are hard to find around here, but new recipes and foods, too! Not to mention, they have such balanced, healthy meal options. We love to pull up the weekly options (there are now 8 recipes to choose from each week (instead of 6) and you can now choose any combination of recipes you’d like!) and have the girls point to something they want to eat. Or simply ask, “What do you want to have for dinner this week?” Building meals around something they do know and like goes a long way. For instance, our girls know tacos, so they wouldn’t think twice about biting into Chicken Souvlaki! Rice is a staple they love, mixing in some veggies with it when we made Orange Soy-Glazed Salmon last week was a hit.

2. Have them help you prepare it. Our girls love to help out in the kitchen and it really helps them be invested in the meal and proud of the outcome when we all say how good it is. Our 3 year old is great at washing veggies and stirring ingredients. Our 8 year old loves to read the instructions, and can peel and dice! I think encouraging kids to be involved with the ingredients directly is so important for a healthy relationship with food.


3. Cute Kids’ Plates are a powerful secret weapon. I don’t know the science behind this, but my three year old will eat all of her food when I put it on her divided pink tray with the bear picture on it, or in her minnie mouse bowl, far more often than when it’s on a beautiful (but boring) white plate–or in the case of this particular night–gray bowls. Why is that?! But at the same time, fine by me.

I think it might be that the ingredients aren’t touching, or she gets to bounce around from food to food? Or maybe she just really loves pink (she does). Either way, bring on all the kids’ plates (and load them up with veggies). Here are a few favorites around here:1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5. | 6. | 7. | 8. | 9.

4.  Make sure their food is ready to eat. This is the funniest tip and wasn’t a problem with our first child, but our second loses all interest in her food if it’s not ready to eat when she picks up her fork. That could mean making sure it’s cut up into bite-sized pieces and it’s not too hot when she takes that first bite. I can’t even tell you how long we spent one night convincing her her food was cooled down to an appropriate temperature after she took an initial bite too quickly. Now, we love to ring the dinner bell when the food is ready to eat!

5. The last tip is dips on the side are always a win. This night we made Blue Apron’s Orange & Soy Glazed Salmon with Mushroom & Bok Choy Rice. Chris and I drizzled our Soy Glaze over the Salmon (it was out of this world!) but kids just like to dip things, so allowing them to do that makes the whole experience more fun for them. Sauce on the side is the way to go for our girls. Almost every meal has a good option for this, whether it’s soy sauce, salsa, sour cream, au jus, honey mustard, barbecue sauce, ketchup, ranch or other dressings!

What are some of your tried and true tips for getting your kids to eat?? If you haven’t tried Blue Apron, you have to! It has really expanded and enriched the meals we eat. The First 50 readers will get $40 off their first two weeks of Blue Apron right here!


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What do you think?

  1. Hi,
    Don’t mean to be a PITA, but I love your kitchen, especially the counter tops.
    Could you pass along the source for the brass pulls and towel bars?
    Greg Richard
    Remington Architecture 630-584-2735

  2. Anna says:

    I’m super proud of how our 5yo eats. She eats what we eat with the exception of spicy things – that’s not really fair. She gets some kind of treat when she finishes ALL her dinner, which is dished up for her. The treat is not necessarily dessert. She LOVES sugar free fruit flavored gum, which our doc and dentist said she can have, so it’s usually that. We don’t give it to her other times so it’s truly just a treat. Sometimes it’s just a balloon we blow up for her to play with that evening. Sometimes it’s a small cookie. It works every single time – a win!!! Now if we could stop the tantrums over all the other things…. ;)
    Also we found she does so much better with roasted or steamed veggies rather than raw, so I try to consider that when I’m cooking.

  3. Sara says:

    What are your thoughts on letting your kids eat the ingredients as they help prepare the meal? Especially on week nights by the time we’re all home from work and daycare, our 2-year-old is famished, allowing that is the only way for us to prepare a real meal. Otherwise we completely prepare healthy meals in advance (usually on Sundays), and just heat up in the microwave quickly. Also, any tips on staying at the table until everyone is finished? We’re sticklers on this and have never given in to letting him leave the table earlier, but he still whines about it most nights.

    • Julia says:

      Our 8 year old is the one that usually wants to leave the table, but we have learned that as soon as she does, our 3 year old (who is a lot slower at eating) ALSO wants to leave. So now, we all sit and eat and chat until everyone is finished before someone is excused. Of course there are exceptions but that’s the rule at our house. As for snacking on ingredients–we all do that. :)

  4. Lindsay says:

    1 out of my 3 kids I can count on eating what I prepare. One night I made a dish two different ways, used tent cards to label them and served them a small portion of each and asked them to judge their favorite. They really liked testing them and choosing a favorite. They are fine with testing meals, but won’t “eat” it.

  5. Kimberly says:

    Just to give an alternative perspective I wanted to share my point of view. Our oldest son is a fantastic eater who loves vegetables and eats virtually everything. He’s been that way since he started eating and I fostered good habits and for a while took credit for his demeanor. When he was 4 we had our second who is the pickiest eater. I reasoned that I must need to try harder and did many things you mentioned and more trying. Ultimately I’ve found that my influence wasn’t going to sway it much. I don’t cook him a separate meal per se but it’s not uncommon for him to eat only rice and cheese when we have a stir fry for example. Each time I require one tiny bite of chicken or veggie and over time he is getting slightly better. But, more than anything I just want to give peace to parents of picky eaters, don’t beat yourself up too much. there is often a very strong genetic factor involved and it’s not helpful to compare to heavily.

  6. Karla Maynor says:

    When did we get so old? I didn’t realize Greta turned 8.

  7. Carly says:

    That salmon recipe looks good.

    I usually ask my kids and husband what they would like on the weekly menu and pick one or two. I only make one dinner (the only exception is if I am making something like buffalo chicken, too spicy for them, I will sub out that for something). I also try to alternate new stuff with stuff I know they’ll eat. One night a few weeks ago I made tuna patties (which turned out really good) and knew that if they didn’t like them, they always have to try it, there would be other sides to fill them up. So I guess that’s a tip too, make sure there is something you know they’ll eat during each meal, don’t make all new stuff for one meal.
    Not really different than what you said.

  8. Nieka says:

    Thanks for this post! I have a 2 year old who gives me the blues when it comes to picky eating (or not eating at all!). I’m definitely trying out some of these tips. Those cute little divided plates are a must have!

  9. Phoua says:

    I don’t have any kids of my own, but I do have little sisters whom I’ve basically helped raise. A challenge in my family is to get them to eat our ethnic food that isn’t always visually appealing. You know the show on Netflix called Ugly Delicious? Yeah, the food is like that. Ugly but delicious, and the kids can’t get past appearances until they try it and find they really do like it. But it’s hard getting them to that point. So we’ve tried making it look “prettier” which helps a bit, but most of the time we just give them lots of tough love and make them eat it because we’re not making any alternative dishes!

  10. Kelly says:

    I love this post. Lots of great suggestions! I noticed a couple comments about snacks. How many snacks do your kids have throughout the day? Do you offer them one between dinner and bedtime?

  11. Libby HENNING says:

    My 3 yr old loves lunchables (I think mostly bc of the treat) but I refuse to buy that junk! We make our own “lunchables” instead so I can just include a deconstructed version of our meal for him on the fun plate like your girls’ and then he gets a small dessert or treat when he’s done! The dips are an awesome too, I should really do that more!

  12. Tracy S says:

    Great comments and suggestions. We have very good eaters as well and i echo the garden comment and would also add farmers market and CSA! They are great ways to support local agriculture but also engage your family in healthy sustainable food. So we join a CSA and make a point of visiting the farm. Then I can say “Farmer Ben” worked hard to grow this, or these are the beans you and dad planted, or build meals around the beautiful produce we picked together at the farmers market.

    The other one I live by is being silly! No shame in pretending to be bunnies or triceratops to eat up those greens!

    Finally, any parent who hasn’t read Seven Silly Eaters is missing a cute childrens book with a good message:) But anytime you can discuss healthy food choices and not being picky it becomes something kids can be proud of abd enjoy. They will be a leg up on so many in our generation (#goodbyemargarine).

  13. Barbara Salzano says:

    Can you tell me what material your white countertop is made of? Thx

  14. Nicole Williams says:

    Faye’s pixie is EVERYTHING

  15. Erin says:

    These Dinner Winner plates have been a serious game changer in our house. We put a small treat in the last space (like a single M&M) and my very picky three- and six-year-olds will eat ANYTHING I put on that plate. Sure, it’s bribery, but it gets them to try new foods and there’s no more negotiating the number of bites they need to take to be done with dinner.

    • Allisen says:

      I was just coming here to suggest this plate. It’s been a life changer for us as well for all the same reasons!!!

  16. pallavi shimoda says:

    Thanks for the advice – my two year-old is just beginning the pickiness so this is perfect timing. Can you share where you got the stool? I’d love to include my daughter in the kitchen and that stool would help!

  17. Alison says:

    Your girls are all so cute! This is a fun post. I want to try Blue Apron but my husband is so picky and always wants the same boring things. He also isn’t very adventurous with the proteins. I will have to take a look at the options. The cute plates all the way – our 3 yr old agrees!!

  18. I don’t have any tips (yet!), but I NEED to tell you that Faye’s hair is killing me. She is out of this world adorable with that sophisticated and still super sweet haircut!

  19. DD says:

    Great suggestions, Julia, especially the “no alternatives” rule. Tough love in the kitchen, we called it. We also gave foods appealing kid names: ants on a log (PB and raisins on celery), super secret dipping sauce, etc. I recommend giving children authentic, adult-sized kitchen tools like sharp knives that really cut as soon as possible, so they learn how stuff works and how to be safe and responsible using them. My young ones hated pretend kitchen tools that were so kid-friendly they wouldn’t slice or peel. Finally, we found that planting a garden was the absolute best way to encourage healthy eating. “Hey, kiddos, let’s go pick a salad for dinner!” Worked every time. Best wishes!

  20. Krista says:

    We sort of stumbled on this when our kids were babies and the baby books said to let babies try something 12-14 times and don’t make them eat if they don’t want it. We just kept going with that philosophy and never made food a battle with our kids. We put everything on their plate but they don’t have to eat anything they don’t want. Now they’re 10, 11, and 12, and they all love food and eat pretty much everything. Usually we have to take the leftovers off the table or they will eat it all… which is its own problem! I also get bored eating the same meals all the time and am always trying new recipes. They’ll vote on if it’s a keeper or not.

  21. Megan says:

    Offering dips was revolutionary to our (now) 3 year old. Hummus, BBQ sauce, salsa and sour cream are daily favs at our house! Plates are super cute, thanks for the round up!

  22. Dips are TOTALLY our secret weapon too. Pretty much any food is edible if there’s something to dip it in. :)

  23. HM says:

    Totally agree! People are always STUNNED that my 3.5 year old eats anything adults eat (she literally has yet to meet a food she doesn’t like). I think it’s partially genetic since I’m not a picky eater and definitely exposed her to a variety of flavors while nursing… but also, there are a couple extra things I would add:

    1. Never assume your child won’t like something. Just the mere suggestion of “I’m not sure you’re going to like this” introduces the thought.
    2. This might be controversial, but we do only one snack per day in our home: after nap/quiet time. I feel that my daughter eats well at meals because she is actually hungry. If she’s not hungry, she’s more likely to just pick at her food and be distracted at the table. Of course, if we were doing something really active in the morning, I might offer lunch a bit early. I also like not offering snacks because she doesn’t constantly ask for them.
    3. Her very favorite thing to eat is what she calls a “snacky lunch,” which is more or less a cheese board with vegetables, cheese, crackers, fruit, nuts, and olives… whatever I have on hand. She doesn’t care what’s offered, she’s just thrilled by the rainbow and selection, and she will sit at the table until it’s gone.

  24. Sarah says:

    I love the “sauce on the side” tip! I think my kids would really go for that. We always eat the same meal as a family, every night, but I’ll often offer my kids “deconstructed” versions of things I think they’ll resist. For instance, for the grain dish shown in your pictures, I would probably put a little pile of carrots, a pile of cucumber, and a pile of the plain grain on their plates instead of mixing it all together.

    We also like to make eating veggies into a fun game — we pretend they are dinosaurs eating broccoli “trees”, or pretend to feel their biceps getting bigger & stronger after every bite (they love it), or sing the “Party in my Tummy” song from Yo Gabba Gabba (“carrots want to go to the party in your tummy!”). If there is a food they are really resisting, it can also help to ask them to just smell it, then just lick it, etc. My 3-year old and 5-year old are already much more adventurous eaters than I was as a kid, so I think all the effort will pay off eventually.

  25. Trista says:

    My 5-year-old has always eaten vegetables fairly well, and my 10 month old seems to be following in her brother’s path. I’m not sure how much of their eating habits are based on what we did as parents, or if we just got lucky. Once our kids are old enough to start on table food, they get to eat whatever we eat. I don’t cook separate meals for my kids either. We require that my son taste everything on his plate – even if he’s tried it before and hates it.

    I try to keep all of our preferences in mind when I cook. There are a few things that my son absolutely hates (mashed potatoes, squash), just like there are a few things that I absolutely hate (asparagus, peppers in any form). So I rarely cook the things we all hate – if I do cook them, the previous rule applies though – you have to taste it. There is a great episode of Daniel Tiger where he “has to try new foods ’cause they might taste goooo-ooood.” We sing this whenever we have something new to eat. I think the key for us was starting young and being consistent. I think if dino-nuggets had ever been an option, my son would have fought us on everything.

    One other rule is that when eating out, we eat Mexican food at Mexican restaurants, Vietnamese food at Vietnamese restaurants, etc. Tacos or Pho, not a plate of chicken fingers. This keeps us all a little more adventurous.

  26. Jennifer says:

    Yes to number one. Although I find it rarely helps in my daughter eating the meal, she doesn’t complain about it. I select a set of meals for the week, then get out a piece of paper. We write in commitments we already have (dinner with grandparents, pizza night) and she gets to choose when the rest of the meals are prepared. I go for a balance of meals she likes with meals we like. It also gets her asking about new meals before they land on her plate, which I think might help.
    While she likes prepping for meals, it sadly has no effect on my picky eater actually eating them. She will willingly peel a whole pile of cucumbers, while stating the entire time that she doesn’t like them.

  27. RC says:

    I don’t remember the article I read but it was something like a person needs to taste a food 10-15 times to fully acclimate to it. So I ask my kids to my kids to take one “tasting bite” of any new food. They don’t have to eat anymore of it (for example they can pick out the green beans out of the soup after they’ve tried one) but we’re not going to make a different soup or a different dinner. I’ve seen it happen – slowly they acclimate and fruits/veggies they didn’t used to like – tomatoes, kale, strawberries, blueberries. They may not love them but don’t mind them now. We’re still working on peas and green beans. :-)

    Besides helping cook, serving their own plates and bowls where they are choosing the amount of food can help them have ownership of that food and then be more inclined to eat it.

    Also yes on the sauces & dressings – my kids will eat pretty much any salad if it has a dressing they love.

  28. Traci says:

    Totally off subject, but I really miss your podcasts. As a long time reader (following since you did a waterfall on those butcher block countertops in your last kitchen) and a longtime follower on instagram as well, I never felt quite as “familiar” with you until I started listening to the podcast. Not only was it informative but it was so darn funny and I could listen in the presence of anyone because the content was always clean. I understand why you stopped but I’m wondering if you would be willing to tape a session once a month? I bet if you took a poll you will see that I’m not alone in this. There was something magical about the three of you getting together and it’s left a huge void. So pretty pretty please consider monthly or heck even quarterly. Thanks!

    • Amanda says:

      Traci is not alone in this sentiment. I completely understand and respect your decision to not continue the podcasts but I really miss them. I loved the dynamic of the three of you together.

      Still loving the blog – I am on a social media hiatus right now and your blog is the only one I’ve been going to directly through a browser.

  29. Karmen Webster says:

    Love your daughter jeans …where are they from? It is truly a mini image of you.

  30. Oh man- I need to be better at this! My three year old usually gets an alternative meal. He is so picky I get tired of fighting him! It doesn’t help that I remember the epic fights I had with my parents over food when I was a little picky eater. Thanks for the encouragement. I need to try harder!

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We believe we should all love where we live.

We’re a couple of homebodies, working to uncover the home our home wants to be. And we’re so happy to have you here. 

HI! We're Chris + Julia

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