Some kids are just born as good eaters. Some are not. Other kids take time to grow into better eaters. And that can feel like hard work. Or like a battle. Family mealtimes, with adults and children sitting together at the same table, seem to happen so rarely these days that parents don’t want to turn the dinner table into a battleground over eating healthy foods. They’d rather enjoy the time together than start arguments.
Encouraging children and teens to choose healthy foods such as green vegetables (peas, green beans, salad, or kale), whole grains (brown rice or quinoa), or seafood (salmon, scallops, orwhite fish) is a great idea. Many kids look at these foods as a chore or a punishment to eat, even though they are good for them. Foods like boxed macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets seem to be universally accepted despite them not being the healthiest choice parents would prefer their kids ate.
But, if you want to get your kids to choose the healthy food choices at family meals (or any meal), there’s one trick you can try. Actually, it’s a two part trick. First, do not call the healthy choices “healthy.” Say nothing about how the foods are rich in vitamins, or protein, or how they’re low sugar or high fiber. Keep quiet about it being whole grain, low fat, or high protein. Do not use words that adults usually associate with healthy and nutritious.
After you’ve kept quiet about the food’s nutritious qualities, use indulgent words to describe it. Think about words that sound decadent or think of words you might see on a menu at a fancy restaurant. For example, a green salad with mandarin oranges could be called “twisted citrus salad.” Chicken could be “slow roasted chicken strips.” When your child asks, “What’s for dinner?” you could say “melt in your mouth mini meatloaves,” “succulent salmon,” or “tenderbeef slices with caramelized veggies.” The descriptive words you use may have to be tailored to your child’s likes and avoid words that play off of their dislikes.
According to a study published in the American Medical Association’s Journal of Internal Medicine , using this trick of descriptive imagery can help parents “sell” their kids on certain foods. In fact, the trick worked well enough that it increased the chances of consumption by up to 25%. Those are pretty good odds for parents or caregivers looking to get kids to eat healthyfoods. It may take some time to get used to using those descriptive words and refraining from calling foods healthy, so practice words you can use while you are preparing and cooking. Like we often tell our children “practice makes perfect” so don’t give up after your first try.