There was a time where I fed my son whatever he wanted. I worried he wasn't eating enough and he wasn't gaining enough weight - so if he wanted chicken nuggets or pizza that's what he got. I began to eat junk too because it was just easier to make these quick packaged foods. I knew he'd eat them and it made meal prep and sitting down to eat with him so much less stressful - except I still felt stressed! I wanted him and our family to eat better, but how would I get him off the chicken nuggets, I felt like I already went down the processed food path and there was no turning back - his taste buds would forever crave salty and sweet foods.
In fact, I started to notice he wasn't happy with this over processed diet either. Of course, he's a little kid and he wants sweets and snack food here and there, but overall he enjoyed trying new vegetables and healthier foods. He was moody - because just like adults he probably wasn't feeling to great after eating a bunch of "junk". We're definitely not a perfect family, who eat vegetables all the time without a single complaint - we often have struggles at dinnertime, especially because my son is a very slow eater. We have to constantly keep him on track and we're often reminding him to "always be chewing". As I've struggled with trying to encourage healthy eating I've found so many tips that have helped me along the way.
Serve new foods with other foods you know your kid loves. I swear it's partly because the taste of the foods he likes is still on his taste buds when he tries the new or less exciting foods, making them more palatable.
When serving new foods give smaller portions so it doesn't feel overwhelming.
Keep trying different vegetables and fruits - this one was hard for me but it really works. I know this isn't easy, it can be exhausting mentally and physically, you just want them to eat what you serve and to keep trying and having them waste it is, well, pretty effing annoying. But there are a few reasons this can help:
Even if they don't eat it or love it they get used to the look, smell, taste and texture of new veggies or foods.
Studies have proven that you need to try a new food about 10 times before you can truly say whether you like it or not.
Lastly, it's what's for dinner. Not to sound too old school but kids often find comfort in structure and rules. That parents are there to guide them and part of that is providing them with healthy meals.
My son is a very sloooooowww eater. I've read that in some cases children don't regard mealtime as valuable and see it as just a place where they are rushed to eat their dinner, so they prolong it. I've started talking more with Harris rather than insisting he eat his food - sometimes as we're talking I'll notice he still hasn't eaten anything and then I look to one of the other tools that have helped us get our kids to eat and eat healthier foods.
Eating as a family demonstrates healthy eating habits and helps to create a strong social and emotional bond with your entire family. It's where you can learn about your child's day, what they are thinking about, what they are learning, what's making them anxious, worried, happy or sad. My kids will eat healthier options when I demonstrate healthy eating habits and sit with them during their meals.
A Harvard study identified how crucial the family dinner is in improving social emotional and overall children's behavior, alcohol and drug addiction and improved mental health.
[...] the mental health benefits are just incredible. Regular family dinners are associated with lower rates of depression, and anxiety, and substance abuse, and eating disorders, and tobacco use, and early teenage pregnancy, and higher rates of resilience and higher self esteem.
We still struggle some days and sometimes it's perfect and I try to replicate everything I did that time, but I find that sometimes these little people are just that - they are little humans. They have emotions, they have feelings, thoughts and everything is new to them. They are constantly learning, constantly experiencing sensory overload and their minds are stretching everyday. Honestly, when these things don't work and Harris is finding it difficult to finish his meal in a timely fashion - I resort to the timer. We give him a certain number of flips (it's a little bubbly hourglass toy) and if he doesn't finish he doesn't get dessert or play time - usually because there isn't enough time left anyway. I am not sure if this is a good option but sometimes we simply need to finish eating and move on with the day or evening. I'm no expert, I'm just saying what has helped us - even if just a little bit.
Here's another interesting article about the importance of eating as a family.
I hope some of these tips work for you.