I’m Patricia – Nutritionist at LFLC.
First of all, congratulations on your efforts. That’s excellent that you are making changes for yourself and your family.
I have 3 children so I understand your struggle. But trust me, they will adapt.
You are doing some great things. Consistency is key.
I can share with you what I do, if it helps.
1 – yes – getting kids involved is always beneficial. As they get older, they’ll be more inclined to help out and choose healthier food options.
2 – I make sure that there is a variety of food on the table. Meals that kids can mix and match (like tacos, build your own salad, fajitas, homemade pizza, sushi bowls, buddha bowls, smoothie bowls) are always a hit at our house. That way you can ensure the there is at least one or two items on the table that you KNOW each of your kids will eat.
3 – never force them to finish their plate. In fact, let them serve themselves! I do, however, “Force” them to try 3 bites. If after 3 bites they don’t like it then they don’t have to eat it. I explain that it’s okay to have different tastes and that over time, your tastes will change and evolve. But it takes your brain 3 bites to really decide if you like the food or not… and at least 20 tries before you can really say “no” to a particular food.
4 – I let them determine how much to eat. How can I really know how hungry they are? Kids are amazing at determining what their body needs. However, once the meal is over, they need to wait until snack time or the next meal to eat again.
5 – once your kids are a bit older, you can have healthy snacks available to them which they can access at any time.
Regarding a reward system – I’m not a big fan on rewarding your kids for eating healthy. Eating healthy is just a part of life. We also want to make sure our kids have a healthy relationship to food. Reward systems can sometimes set kids up for difficult food relationships as adults. However, you can reward your kids for trying their food. Some people also use a chart system for healthy eating. For example – can your kids build a rainbow of food (choosing colourful food like carrots, beets, spinach, spaghetti squash) and once they have their rainbow built they get a special picnic in the park. Or, can you offer them a chart of how many specific foods they need to eat over the week. For example, 7 green apples, 2 big carrots, 1 red pepper, 2 salads etc. They can check off their chart as they go. Points = non-food related rewards like quality time with Mom.
Hope this helps!