Kids today are tempted left, right and center with all sorts of crazy foods that didn’t even exist when we were kids and certainly didn’t exist when our grandparents were kids. It can be difficult at best to help them understand why some food is actually ‘food’ and some food is, well, ‘not food’. Here are my tips for helping kids learn about and try ‘real food’:

 Eat Through the Rainbow:

Take a week and talk with your kids about the different colors of the fruits and vegetables they are eating. Can they eat food from every color in the rainbow? Try some new vegetables and fruits in each color and talk about how they taste, what the texture is and just what they think of this new food. Don’t worry about trying to get them to like the new foods, just get their input. We often put a huge emphasis on trying to ensure our kids ‘like’ something, but the reality is that it may take several tries before they like anything new. That’s ok. What is more important is that you open them up to the idea of trying something new. Kids are often very enticed by colors and talking through the colors of the rainbow may open up their eyes to new foods you never thought they would be interested in.

 Make Sauces and Dressings

Kids love to dip their food into something, almost anything. Taking a few extra minutes to make a ‘special sauce’ can be the difference between a clean plate and a barely touched one. Keep it simple, butter and herbs to dip their veggies in (and helps boost vitamin absorption), guacamole, homemade mayonnaise and tomato paste, salsa, etc.

Involve Your Kids in the Cooking Process

If the kids are involved in making the food, they are more likely to try the food and eat more of it. Kids love to be a part of the process and teaching them how to cook is a life-skill you just can’t discount. There is no better place to build a foundation of health than right in your own kitchen.

 Allow Them to Choose

A big part of this process is allowing our kids to feel that they too have some control, some input into what they are eating. To help them learn how to make healthy choices for the rest of their life, they need to start learning how now. This can be as simple as saying ‘would you like x or y?’ Or, maybe you say, we haven’t had anything green yet today, what should we add to dinner to give us some green?

 Talk About Ingredients

Even at an early age, start talking about the ingredients in the food. Ask them to try and read ingredients from highly processed foods in the grocery store. Then, help them understand the concept that simple words = healthy ingredients, difficult words = not-so-healthy ingredients. Kids are smart. You can even do some taste tests and talk about how certain foods make them feel. Help them connect the dots that nourishing foods give them energy and focus, and not-so-nourishing foods can mean tantrums and tummy-aches. We want them to choose healthy foods, but, like us, choosing healthy foods doesn’t happen until you start to see how different foods make you feel.

 Stock the House with Good Stuff

The kids are going to get hungry and they are going to dig into something at some point. My three-year-old is particularly good at this right now I shudder to think what this will look like at 15 or 16. But, if the options in the house are (mostly) on the whole food side of the fence, then the kids can’t fall too far down the rabbit hole.

Take Them on Your Journey

Quite often one or two of the parents is trying to eat ‘healthier’ while the kids eat their hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and bagels. Instead, everyone in the house should be eating the same foods. Kids, even more than us, need nutrient-dense foods to grow and thrive. If you are trying to make changes to eat healthier, then bring your kids along too. It doesn’t need to be drastic, but find a pace where everyone can be on board (for the most part) and talk through why you are making changes and your intentions for what the ‘new foods’ will do for you. You might be surprised at what they will be open to.