The most common question I get is, “How do you get your kids to eat the food you make?” or “Do your kids really eat your food?” It’s kind of the same question, in one form or another, and I think I get asked about it a lot because we all have at least a little trouble getting our kids to eat healthy food sometimes.
When you do a Whole30, the struggle is often amplified, so I want to share some of my tips for doing the Whole30 with kids. Whole30 is famous for saying “This. Is. Not. Hard.” …but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially when there are a few little children in the mix.
Over the years I’ve found a few ways to help make your Whole30 a family affair, and (BONUS) I’ve got tons of kid-friendly recipes to make it a little easier, like my Whole30 Sloppy Joe Baked Potatoes, my Whole30 Orange Chicken, and Whole30 Classic Pot Roast. And you can always check my Instagram page for more healthy cooking inspiration!
These tips for doing the Whole30 with kids are also meant to be tips for dealing with picky eaters in general.
First, let me explain a few things — Our kids have never done a strict Whole30 with us, although they eat our Whole30 meals with us. That’s because we don’t suspect that they have any intolerances or issues related to food. If your kids are doing the Whole30 to help get to the bottom of an issue they’re dealing with, then your family’s experience is going to be very different from mine. Take what I say here that might be helpful, and leave the rest.
Please also remember that we’ve gone through a LOT of trial and error to figure out the things that work for us, our personalities, our values, and our kids. I am not an expert on your family, but YOU are. So again, take what might be helpful, and leave the rest if it doesn’t work for you. Now with all that said, here are my best tips for kids and Whole30!
Doing the Whole30 with Kids
- Talk honestly about what you’re doing and why, and in terms your kids can understand. We have young children, so we try to explain the changes by saying things like, “We’re taking a break from eating things that we think don’t make our bodies feel strong. In a few weeks, we’ll try them things again and see how they make us feel.” Don’t keep them in the dark; answer their questions. And remember, the language you use is important! We are very intentional about not using words like diet, fat, skinny, junk food, etc., because we want them to grow up with the idea that food choices are just regular choices we make, and that overall health is the goal. Whole30 isn’t a punishment.
- Start small. If your kid straight up refuses anything remotely green, don’t give him a plate of boiled brussels sprouts to start with. Incorporating a little bit of finely chopped spinach or broccoli in a bacon and egg scramble, and getting him to take just one bite of it is still a big win! Exposure to new things is always a good thing. Baby steps!
- Empower them to make some of the decisions. Pull out those healthy cookbooks (I put together a list of ones I like here) or scroll Pinterest together. Let them help you with the meal plan, and then make a big deal out of it when you cook what they chose. We say, “Remember, this is YOUR special meal! Thank you for choosing something so new. You did a great job! I’m excited to try it!”
- Get their help in the kitchen (if they’re interested). If your kids think it’s fun to help you cook, let them help you! If they don’t, don’t force it, but an open invitation to the kitchen might make them more likely to taste the food once it’s ready.. especially if you make a fuss over their contribution. “Thank you SO MUCH for making this delicious salad! I love how you mixed it up so good! Can you tell me how you did it?” When we do this, my boys are soooo proud of themselves and slightly more likely to eat (or at least try) the food they made.
- Don’t make a big deal out of pushback. Good eaters are usually not born that way, they just learn what’s expected of them over time. My kids still refuse sometimes! When they outright refuse, we don’t get angry, we try to take the focus off the food itself. We reframe the conversation. One of the things we’ve told them is that their tastebuds can change over time, and that just because you didn’t like it last time doesn’t mean you won’t like it today. So we can respond by saying, “I wonder if your tongue has changed… it’s so cool when your tongue surprises you! Do you want to see if your tongue changed?”
- Don’t cook separate meals. Cooking separate meals will only drive you crazy in the long run.* Even if you don’t mind doing the extra work, I personally don’t think it’s a good precedent to set, because then they’ll learn to always expect an alternative. We say, “Okay, that’s fine, but this is dinner. If you don’t want to eat it, that’s your choice.” Mealtime is family time, though, so they’re still expected to sit at the table with us until the meal is over.
- Don’t keep noncompliant foods in the house. It’s so much easier to for kids to understand, “We don’t have that” rather than, “You can’t have that.” Plus, if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind, and that’s easier on everybody!
- Don’t bribe. Bribing kids to finish their dinner with a treat or dessert is soooo tempting, but it doesn’t help at all. In the short term, it encourages them to manipulate you and in the long term, it instills the idea that some foods = punishment, and some foods = reward. So no bribing.
- Make rules, but don’t stick to them 100%. A little flexibility is helpful for everybody’s sanity. *There are two exceptions to my “I don’t cook separate meals” rule:
a. If there’s something they genuinely don’t like included in a meal, like onions, or if I’m using a spicy sauce, I’ll portion theirs without it as I go. Not a big compromise on my end and I’m not about forcing anybody to eat food they truly don’t like.
b. If they flat out refuse to eat our meal, as long as they’re respectful about it, I will scramble an egg for them instead BUT they have to sit at the table and wait until we’re all done before I start cooking. It doesn’t take much time or extra dishes, so it’s a compromise I’m willing to make. Sometimes they take me up on it, but trust me, scrambled eggs aren’t a very exciting alternative and waiting around at the table gets boring after a while, and sometimes, they’ll even start eating the food they initially refused out of pure boredom. If they miss what we’re doing after dinner because they have to wait for me to make it and then eat it, well.. too bad.
It’s their choice, so I won’t own it. And I won’t be frustrated or angered by it. I’m just laying out the rules and trying to teach them to about their choices. So figure out if any what exceptions you’re willing to make ahead of time (what’s your family’s “scrambled egg?”) and be on the same page as your partner about it beforehand.
Are these tips for doing the Whole30 with kids helpful? Do you have any other tips to share? Let me know in the comments below!