How I Tricked My Kids Into Making Healthy Choices
I’m no slouch in the kitchen, but ask my kids and you’ll get a very different answer. They’d rather subsist on a diet of chicken nuggets, fries and canned ravioli, followed by several mindless hours in front of the television or computer, instead of my fancy culinary creations.
Putting up the white flag was easier than fighting with them every night to eat a bite of broccoli — unsuccessfully, I might add — so I just gave them what they wanted. That strategy worked for about six months until I realized that indulging my growing tots’ preferences for unhealthy fare would turn into lifelong struggles with food and, eventually, their health.
I knew I needed to really switch things up but shuddered at the thought of spending every evening trying to force healthier foods down their throats. So I devised a plan: Trick them into a healthier lifestyle until it became second nature. How did I do it? By being sneaky — very sneaky.
First, I Deceived Them By Making Healthier Versions of Their Favorite Foods
My kids have a very specific brand of chicken nuggets that they like, so I figured they’d throw a fit when I served them a plate of homemade baked chicken nuggets, zucchini fries and broccoli tots. They were a little suspicious, but they ate them, and my middle child even told me that he “loved this new brand of fries” I bought. Score!
Next, I stopped picking up takeout pizza on Friday night and started using riced cauliflower or thin-sliced (and pounded) chicken breasts to make the crusts. The kids added their own toppings and never figured out their crusts were healthy and not the standard gooey pizza dough.
We Turned Every Activity Into a Game
I’m sure there are some kids out there who listen to whatever their parents ask them to do, but my kids definitely aren’t a part of that group. So telling them to play outside, follow a workout routine or walk the dog was like asking them to balance the federal budget — it just wasn’t happening. My husband and I had to participate to make them get excited about it, so we started with a nightly game outdoors that they picked. They wanted to play hide-and-seek? Done. Tag? You bet. Volleyball? Let’s go to the court in the park.
We even turned walking the dog into a game by making it a competition: Whoever could complete the walk the fastest got to pick the next night’s game.
I made it my mission to add a pureed vegetable to every dish I could, including baked goods.
My Blender Became My Best Friend
Even the most unhealthy meals can be healthy if you try hard enough. I made it my mission to add a pureed vegetable to every dish I could, including baked goods. I added pureed spinach, bell peppers and carrots to spaghetti sauce; gravy was made by adding pinto beans; and I swapped out the mayo in tuna fish sandwiches for half Greek yogurt, half avocado. And shhhh… it wasn’t only tuna: I cut some out in favor of shredded sardines rich in healthy Omega-3 fats.
I even found a way to put cabbage in cookies, and they were none the wiser. Hint: Pinterest (my other best friend) is where I found many of my sneaky recipes!
Cutting Vegetables Into Shapes Makes Them 100 Percent More Delicious
I wanted to get my children used to seeing vegetables on their plates, so I added a new strategy to my bag of tricks: Serve them vegetables, but cut them into their favorite shapes. They already love smiley face fries, so I bought a few cookie cutters with different emoji faces and cut sweet potatoes with them. I also cut carrot and green bell pepper slices into stars and even made zucchini and carrot “roses” for my daughter using the method in this recipe.
Their Favorite Meals Turned Into a Negotiation
I wanted to give my kids a choice about their vegetable consumption, so I told them they could have one of their favorite meals — boxed macaroni and cheese — if they picked a vegetable to add to it and ate all of it. They started with peas and carrots and, surprisingly, told me they liked how it tasted.
“I know I said I’d never eat a vegetable, Mom, but this is pretty good!” my oldest told me after that first dinner. Little did he know that he’s been eating vegetables at every meal for months. I’ll probably clue them in to my game when they get older, but for now it’s fun seeing how many ways I can trick them into making healthier choices.