Cedars-Sinai Blog

How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy? An Expert's Advice

The slice of pizza with all the vegetables carefully picked off. The plate cleaned of everything but broccoli. The stash of discarded carrots hidden in a wadded-up napkin. The hundredth time you’ve explained that no, French fries can’t be the only vegetable you eat.

Begging, bargaining, and even bribery are common tactics employed by frustrated parents.

If you have kids, chances are you’ve struggled to get them to eat their vegetables. Or their protein. Or whatever food they hate this week. Begging, bargaining, and even bribery are common tactics employed by frustrated parents; teaching kids good eating habits is not a job for the faint of heart. So we asked a professional to share her tricks.

Carolyn Buenaflor is associate director of Cedars-Sinai’s Healthy Habits program, which brings educators into schools to teach kids and their families about healthy eating and physical activity. Working with elementary and middle school kids, Buenaflor and her team are experts in getting kids excited about eating healthy.

It can take up to 21 tries before kids get used to a food and like it.

Carolyn's advice for getting kids to eat healthy

  • Be a good role model. If your kids don’t see you eating it, they won’t eat it.
  • Go ahead and be sneaky. Make a pizza at home and sprinkle a layer of finely chopped vegetables under the cheese where they can’t be picked out. Slip some spinach into fruity frozen smoothies. Don’t feel guilty.
  • Get your kids involved. Let kids pick out new fruits and vegetables to try at the market. Bring them into the kitchen to help with meals.
  • Don’t give up. Don’t stop offering a food just because a kid turned it down once. It can take up to 21 tries before kids get used to it and like it, Buenaflor says. Keep introducing the food in different ways. One trick she tries in classrooms is to say, "We're going to be brave. We're going to be adventurous. If you're feeling brave, take one big bite. If you're only feeling a little brave, just take a little bite."
  • Go for color and appeal to the senses. Buenaflor likes to get beyond green vegetables and picks red bell peppers, carrots, and other colorful vegetables. Jicama is popular with kids because it's got a nice crunch. Ask kids what tastes and textures they like.
  • Dip it. Fruits and vegetables can get a little extra flavor and protein with simple dips. Buenaflor likes to add seasonings to low-fat Greek yogurt. For a savory dip, she uses ranch seasoning. For a sweet dip, honey and cinnamon. She recommends low-fat yogurt over non-fat because a little fat helps you feel fuller longer.
  • Play with your food. The most popular snacks with kids in the Healthy Habits programs are the ones they help make themselves. Buenaflor suggests having kids spread a thin layer of peanut butter or cream cheese on a whole-wheat sandwich thin, then giving them orange segments, snap peas, banana slices, and other fruits and vegetables to make faces.

COACH for Kids is just one of the ways Cedars-Sinai is working toward a healthier Los Angeles. Learn more about our community benefit programs.