A Colorful Food Chart to Get Your Kids to Eat a Balanced Diet

eat your peasRecently a fellow blogger reposted one of our articles, and commented that she’d chuckled when she’d read in the ‘about us’ section: “Yes, it’s wonderful to know 16 Ways to Make Great Gifts out of Used Dental Floss, but it would be better to know two strategies for making your kid eat his goddamn peas.” It made me realize that I’d never shared any of our experiences or offered advice about getting kids to eat. Well, I’m here to remedy that.

Everyone knows that eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is crucial to a child’s development and general well-being, and every parent wants their kids to eat right. What pre-parents often fail to recognize is how hard that can be when little lips are locked tight to many of the foods that we try to cram in there. Battles ensue. Tantrums erupt. There’s much cajoling, much coercion. Briefly, it’s often a pain in the ass.

First-ever ice cream cone

Very early on, our eldest showed a strong aversion to many of the foods we consider as staples for most kids. He’s never liked fruit. The sight of a banana gives him the willies, the sweet smell of a pineapple literally nauseates him. But he’s always been eager to munch on raw broccoli or shovel down fresh peas. Weird. He was three before we could convince him to even try ice cream. Weird. He would gobble down so much sashimi that the staff at our local sushi joint dubbed him ‘The Salmon King,’ but he simply won’t touch a grilled cheese sandwich. Anything that swims, scoots, or scuttles along the sea floor he’ll eat without a moment’s hesitation, but for a long time spaghetti was anathema to him. That’s fine, but it made getting a wide variety of foods into him on a daily basis problematic.

So at the age of around three we instituted a chart of Colorful Foods, which hung on our refrigerator door.

chart

The deal was one of simple incentive: eat at least one reasonable portion from each color group every day for seven consecutive days, and at the end you get some kind of reward – a small toy, a special sweet, whatever.

Somewhat to our surprise, it worked. He would look at the chart at mealtimes and ask how he could get the colors he was missing thus far that day. But there was another unexpected outcome. Not only did he eat better, but we fed him better. There’s pressure not only on the child to eat a varied diet, but on the parents to provide one. Believe me, at times we were scrambling to come up with something red, or green, or brown, and it demanded more foresight and planning on our part.

There was also, at times, some creative accounting. Red apples counted as red, green apples satisfied the green column. But in a pinch, the flesh of an apple could be used to tick the white requirement. Come on, it’s white. There are limits to this bending of the rules, however; chocolate, while undeniably brown, doesn’t count.

Cake doesn't count

Cake doesn’t count

Nor does having a raft of mini marshmallows afloat on a sea of hot cocoa allow you to cheerfully tick off white and brown. Same goes for ice cream sandwiches. You get the point.

So if you’re doing daily battle to get the little buggers to eat well, give this food chart a shot. And keep trying new foods all the time, again and again. Some day they just might enjoy that side of spinach, even if they’d never admit it.

16 thoughts on “A Colorful Food Chart to Get Your Kids to Eat a Balanced Diet

  1. Pingback: 15 Super Cute Ice Cream Moments That Will Melt Your Heart!

  2. Pingback: Kamu yang Berusia 20-an Pasti Rindu dengan 9 Hobi di Masa Kecil Ini | KERUPUK

  3. Thank you for the sensible critique. Me & my neighbor were just preparing to do some research on this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more clear from this post.

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  4. When my oldest was four a shop owner gave him a snake lolly (soft, like a jube). He thought it was a toy. He loved natural food and still does twenty years later. (That sounds somewhat off-topic but my point is that we are the models for their eating so we need to be mindful.)
    Fortunately I had no problems with my children eating the foods I offered but this idea is great.

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    • Thanks, Cuttlefish. The ‘problem’ with our oldest is that he’s gotten used to eating lots of things that would be considered “gourmet,” so he struggles sometimes with simple school food. I was much the same way – if it wasn’t my mom’s cooking, it was suspect.

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  5. I will have to try this, my son is a picky eater. One thing that has worked really well was having my kids help me make dinner. Since they were the chefs they felt more inclined to eat their masterpiece, even the healthy stuff. Also I would cut up different types of veggies and tell my kids to make veggie faces with them, they thought it was so funny to eat them after. My son always asks me how each vegetable is good for you so I tell him that carrots can help you see in the dark, that spinach makes your body strong and so on. Now occasionally he will eat his veggies, some more willingly than others. He says “look mommy I’m eating my spinach even though it tastes nasty.” I still have to eat the top part of his asparagus though in order for him to eat the rest of it but it’s ok I can compromise. 🙂

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    • Thanks, MDT. It’s absolutely worth experimenting with. And dressing themselves and all the other self-sufficiency comes with time. Some day you’ll be pining for the days when you could put whatever you liked on them and they didn’t care.

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  6. We made a decision not to fight about food when the older kids were quite small (after a spectacular battle of wills when son number two was about 18 months and refusing flatly to eat the last spoonful of baked beans. Husband #1 for some reason decided to fight this. After an hour, the baby won). Also, we have kids who have been quite picky eaters no matter how much we try and broaden their horizons (much better as they get older thank goodness). But we do have some rules.
    Rule #1 – you must try a good-sized spoon or forkful of something new or something that you think you don’t like. If you still really don’t like it, you can have a marmite sandwich.
    Rule #2 – only 1 glass of juice a day. You can have as much milk and water as you like.
    Rule #3 – count your fruit and veges and get to 5+ a day (this is a nationwide initiative and one I like.
    Rule #4 – lots of colours!
    Rule #5 – You don’t have to eat everything on your plate. However, if you’re too full to finish your proper dinner, you are too full to eat anything else.

    I like your food chart!

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    • Ha! We had a similar battle (initiated by my wife – if you like you can read about it in https://fieldnotesfromfatherhood.com/2012/06/10/if-you-dont-im-going-to-does-threatening-your-kids-really-work/) with our older son.
      All of your rules are completely reasonable and rational. Regarding #1, I think it’s crucial that kids try new food all the time. In most cases, there’s no reason they can’t eat whatever the adults are having. Growing up, whenever we winged about dinner my father would say through clenched teeth, “You’ll eat it, and you’ll LIKE it.” We’re not quite so strict, but you have to at least TRY something before you can declare that you don’t like it. And I’m not completely averse to sending kids to bed a bit hungry if they make too big a fuss about eating. It’s not going to kill them, and next time around it might be easier to bend them to my evil will.
      Thanks for your comments, FMNZ!

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  7. Great tips with a little reality mixed in. I remember reading when my kids were still pretty young that it’s easier to think about what your toddler/preschool eat over the span of a week, instead of trying to get everything in in a single day. Takes the pressure off. Now that our kids are older, we keep a “snack tray” of healthy bites out on the counter that the kids will swoop in on at regular intervals.

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    • Yeah, I’ve also read that it’s better to take the long view of a week, which makes sense. For the chart we just wanted to give D an incentive to eat a wider range of food every day.
      And snacks are definitely key. We usually associate ‘snacking’ with unhealthy food, but it seems better to eat healthy bits and bobs all day rather than gorge on three huge meals.
      Thanks for the comments, Kamala!

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