Gum. McDonald’s french fries. Doritos. Iced tea. These are the staple items in my son’s diet. Sure, he loves his fruit—strawberries, apples, bananas and grapes. He also loves meat—steak, cheeseburgers and pork—but snacks and candy top his list every time.

His timing is always off. He doesn’t like breakfast or eat much for lunch. By 4 p.m. he’s starving and eats too many snacks to finish dinner. It’s my fault really. And my husband kindly points that out on a regular basis. But he’s also on the opposite side of the spectrum. Instead of slowly introducing new foods, he expects him to dine on his mom’s fried catfish recipe and roasted brussel sprouts.

I try to encourage my son to make healthier choices in a variety of ways.

Explain Why

Rather than simply tell me son, “You need to eat healthy because it’s good for you,” or the infamous mommy phrase “Because I said so,” I actually give him reasons. I explain to him how the human body works. The easiest comparison is that your body functions like a car engine. (It also helps that my son’s newest obsession is sports cars.) If you want your car to run at top speed and keep all the moving parts working in optimal condition, you need to fill it with quality fuel. If you pump cheap or tainted gas into your vehicle, it can damage important functions and cause the car to run more slowly.

I told him, “Your body works just like a car.” If we fill it with lots of sugary and fatty foods, we’ll feel more sluggish and tired. But if we pump our body full of nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, meat and healthy carbs, it makes our muscles and brains happy. We also feel more energized and can perform at our best, both in school and on the soccer field.

Giving my son an actual reason for eating healthy only seemed logical—and it seems to be working.

Allow Him to Make His Own Choices

It’s actually quite amazing what giving a child choices can accomplish. As parents, we of course need to establish a certain set of rules. These are put in place for our child’s safety and well-being. They don’t always like them, but they’re necessary. That said, there are certain situations where you are able to give your child a choice. By allowing them to choose, they feel empowered.

I allow my son to have one juice box a day. That’s the rule I have established. His choice is when he has it: For lunch, snack or dinner. He feels independent in his decision and I successfully limit his intake of sugary drinks.

I always encourage my friends and other parents not to view this as a power struggle with their child. Some things are non-negotiable: Brushing teeth, homework and handwashing. Other things, like their outfit for school—I lay out three, my son picks one—and when he drinks his juice are things he can choose within the limitations I set. Make this work for you when it comes to your child’s diet.

Use Creative Recipes

I’ve learned that making your child’s food fun to eat really helps! Even as adults we prefer to eat food that is appealing to look at. So why should your child’s food be any different?

Some of my son’s favorite snacks are made using kabobs. Not only are they fun to eat but educational to make. We may use several types of fruit: Blueberries, grapes, sliced strawberries and melon balls. We have almost as much fun making different patterns and naming the colors as we do eating them.

Cookie cutters are great for much more than just cookies: I use them for everything! My son’s sandwiches are shaped like stars and crescents and his cheese is either a cube or heart. For whatever reason, eating foods shaped like something unique just makes them taste that much better!

Yogurt is another snack that you with which can have fun. Yogurt pops can go in the freezer. Or, let your child dip their fruit in yogurt. Yogurt packs a lot of protein, calcium and vitamin D—and it also comes in a lot of awesome flavors.

I want my son to have a healthy relationship with food. I want him to enjoy eating and feel good doing it. I try to lead by example. The more involved my son becomes in his food choices and preparing his food, the happier he is! It’s also important to allow him to indulge in some of his favorite things once in a while. I am a firm believer that moderation in your diet is key and I try to instill this belief in my son.

Do you have any fun and healthy snack recipes that your kids love? Share them in the comments below!

Featured Photo Courtesy: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash