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Is Getting Your Kids to Eat Healthy Food Even Possible?

Six dads share their secrets for dealing with junk-food-loving kids

Child hiding his face beneath table peeking over at a plate with drawings of food surrounding it
Ben Weeks / Getty Images

Rick Musson, 42, would prefer that his daughters not get scurvy.

Okay, fine, that’s not likely to happen. But the way kids avoid fruits and vegetables like they’re poison, subsisting on a diet of mac and cheese and sugary junk, it’s enough to make a lot of dads nervous.

Musson got so desperate that he once tried to trick his Peppa Pig–obsessed daughters into thinking Brussels sprouts were “whole cabbages from Grandpa Pig’s garden,” he says. The ruse didn’t work.

Which isn’t to say it’s a lost cause. Research suggests that fathers can influence what their kids are eating. A 2015 study, for instance, found that children as young as 20 months were likely to eat fruit or sweet snacks if their dads did the same.

It’s not always that easy, of course. We reached out to dads who’ve mastered the healthy eating game with their kids and asked them to spill their secrets.

Let your kids be sous chefs

Musson enlists his five kids to help select recipes and plan the menu. “Have them help shop for ingredients, and even make the meal,” he says. “They’ll be a lot more likely to eat food they made themselves.” 

Travis Potter, 46, founder of Tractor Beverage Co., gets his 11 children involved in the garden. “If they grow it, they will eventually eat it.”

Sweeten the veggies

Chris Bassett, 43, chef and Real Housewives of Potomac star, swears by topping vegetables with pomegranate molasses. “It’s how I get my kids to eat asparagus and Brussels sprouts,” he explains. “It just adds a little bit of sweetness.” 

You can also use honey, which Bassett says goes great over carrots sautéed in olive oil, salt and pepper.

Don’t force food

Paul Anderson, 41, has found power in the phrase “you don’t have to eat it.” 

“It's my job as the parent to provide good options for my kid,” he explains. “And it’s my kids’ responsibility to decide what to eat of the things I’ve prepared and how much, which helps them listen to their bodies.”

When he backs off, Anderson’s boys are often willing to explore new foods on their own terms. “One of my sons recently ate 20 shrimp at a dinner party, having never tried it before,” he shares.

Turn it into a game

“We make bets on who will try the new food first,” says Todd Cochran, 45, who has three finicky kids. “I make myself the guinea pig when it comes to trying something really daunting. For example, super-spicy cornbread or grilled cheese made with a super-stinky cheese.” 

When they see Cochran conquer the new food, it encourages them to try it.

Build around a favorite ingredient

Pradeep Kumar, 42, finds his family will eat everything, as long as it has cheese or chocolate on it. “If they see their favorite ingredient, they are tempted to try it,” he says. 

He’ll grate cheese over pasta, sneak veggies into quesadillas, or top waffles with fresh berries and a splash of chocolate sauce.

Don’t take it so seriously

Anderson’s son has started calling roasted Brussels sprouts “poppers.” So the whole family does the same. And his kids like to roll lettuce into little balls and shove it in their mouths. 

“They chew with it hanging out of their mouth like seaweed flapping in the ocean, and it makes everybody laugh,” he says. “Little fun ways to interact with your food have gone a long way for us.”