Imagine asking your little ones if they want a lolly-pop or an apple for dessert. Most of us already know their answer, maybe because we would secretly choose the lolly-pop as well.

Now imagine giving them crunchy, delicious, sweet apple wedges while reminding them how they enjoyed their apple snack yesterday in the park with mom and dad. Who would reject the apple for dessert now? Research suggests that most of them would take the apple gladly without any discussion.

There are three key elements to shift our children’s eating habits from pizza and fries to eating more fruits and veggies.

How to change undesired eating habits of kids?

The research conducted by Brian Wansink and Michael L.Ray included 195 adults over a period of 6 weeks. After two weeks the subjects were presented with two kind of commercials. The first kind encouraged substitution of situations (drinking juice at a cocktail party is as enjoyable as drinking juice at a coffee break) and the second kind suggested new uses for a product ( using apple sauce instead of sugar).

The result was that people consumed 62% more of the product they were shown just after seeing ads that showed healthy foods in unique situations. This has implications in how we can change undesired eating habits of kids as well as adults and make them eat more fruits and veggies.

So how can we use these implications to make kids eat healthier?

How to make kids eat nutritious food

  • Stop convincing children of the healthier food option.
    Typically we try to explain to our children how the healthier food option is better. We usually tell them that apples are healtier and a wiser choice than chocolate and that they should eat more apples.
    They already have a strong association with the unhealthier food  and directly confronting them with the healthy option may actually increase their resistance to the healthy food.This is because they are not ready to let go of their previous associations with the bad food. Just try not to compare healthy and unhealthy options, e.g. apples and chocolate.
  • Focus on the situation not the food
    If you want your kids to eat healthier food focus on parallel situations in which fruits and veggies are used. This way you can make positive associations without a struggle. What does this mean? For example if you want kids to eat an apple for dessert, compare eating apples for dessert with snacking apples at the park  with their friends. Or, if you want your little ones to eat carrots for dinner, you could tell them it’s their superheroes favorite lunch food.
  • Substitute bad food without any discussion or announcement
    When you make substitutions of whole dishes (e.g. apple for dessert instead of cake) or only change some ingredients in a dish (e.g. adding broccoli and carrots to mac and cheese) do it without any discussion or big announcement. Most children won’t even notice when you make a change. Don’t take it personally if you’re the cook it’s just common human behavior.

Following these simple three steps you can substantially increase the amount of veggies and fruit your child eats.

What’s next?

These are by no means the only tips that work to make our kids eat healthier. We would love to hear what worked and didn’t work for your family. Leave a comment and tell us.