As mums, we all want our kids to shine. To feed them healthy food that they actually EAT without fuss!

But when we lovingly prepare a healthy dish and they refuse to even try it, it can be heartbreaking and we often take it personally. We are our own worst critics!

Don’t be so harsh. When I serve a dish, if three out of four of my kids eat it without fuss, I call that major success. If none of them eat it, I enjoy it myself while they sit at the table and watch.

It’s not just the food we cook. The way we talk to our kids about food will help us to avoid table tears and tantrums (and not just from the kids!).

Here are my top 5 food sentence swaps to help create happier meal times and raise healthy eaters.

1. “Finish everything on your plate” becomes “Is your tummy feeling full?”

I remember my dad saying to me “Eat up, you never know where your next meal is coming from”. Sixty years ago his parents said it to him. For them it was true. Country hoping to escape war and a sister who starved to death- those were tough times. Food was rare, hunger was common. The opposite is now true. No longer is there feast and famine, most of us are lucky enough to live in feast all the time.

We need to help our kids manage in this world of excess. We need to teach our kids to listen to their internal hunger signs. To eat with awareness.

2. “Eat your veggies or you don’t get dessert” becomes “Green makes you jump high”

While the first sentence will often do the trick (although sometimes kids can be very, very stubborn) there is a problem. This strategy is setting up that veggies are something awful to be endured to get to the amazing dessert. We actually want veggies to be friend not foe and the food industry does a good enough job putting unhealthy food on a pedestal, we don’t need to help them!

Enjoy dessert sometimes, preferably not every night, but never make it a bribe or reward. Instead use clever marketing. Link foods to activities your kids like.

  • “Broccoli makes you jump high”
  • “I’ve given you peas and carrots tonight because they are great for strong swimming arms”
  • “Let’s eat some brain food (fish) tonight for that maths test tomorrow”

3. “What would you like for afternoon tea?” becomes “Would you like a banana, carrot sticks or strawberries for your snack?”

The difference in this swap is subtle but important. The first statement is open-ended, the second has options. Getting kids involved in choosing what they eat is great but we don’t want to be short order cooks or constantly saying no to their requests.

Give your kids a small selection. They can choose from the menu you set. You give them options and they choose from those options. If they choose nothing, that’s ok.

When it comes to dinner they can choose as much or as little of each of the components of dinner. Make one dinner and let them choose from that.

Sharing the responsibility of eating is great for both the kids and parents. You are not responsible for getting them to eat, you are responsible for setting the choices on the menu.

4. “You don’t like broccoli” becomes “Don’t worry, you just need to try broccoli a few more times, you’ll like it soon!”

During kids cooking classes I run, many parents accidentally tell their kids they don’t like a food. Taste buds need time to get used to flavours. Foods need to be tried many, many times before they are accepted.

It is easy to get disheartened watching veggies moving around a plate but never making it to the mouth. Try following the lead of the French.

Instead of accepting that their kids “don’t like something” and stopping serving it, they assume that kids will learn to like it. They get their kids to taste the food and respond to any negative comments with “Don’t worry, you’ll like it when you are older.” And they never give up, because they believe what they are saying is true.

You need to believe this as well! It may not happen overnight, but it will happen.

5. “Pleeeeease eat some vegetables” becomes “Wow, this red capsicum is so sweet and crunchy today”

Instead of pleading with your kids, sit with them and enjoy the food. Swap begging for appealing, descriptive language. Sometimes I turn it into a game with my kids. “I’ve noticed no-one has eaten any crunchy green broccoli, let’s all eat some now, together”.

What would you rather eat – boring vegetables or fresh, sweet smelling corn?

Remember to praise your kids for trying, rather than growling for not trying. Concentrate on the positives. We want to encourage them to try (ideally with little or no coercion).

In our house we say “Try it, you may like it”. I explain that even though you tried it yesterday; you have to try it again because one day you will like it. You have to try things in different ways. Mashed pumpkin, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, roast pumpkin…

Stay positive and try to keep meal-times relaxed and fun by changing your tune with how you talk to your kids about food.

Do you have any POSITIVE food language to share?

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  • Some good suggestions here but sometime nothing works and they just chase the food around the plate. Thankfully things change as they grow.


  • The ‘Eat everything on your plate’ and “No dessert unless you do’ is something I never believed in. I know myself that I can be full on dinner but still have enough room for a different flavour so be able to have some ice cream.


  • Im all for trying to create a positive vibe at meal time. I think if the kids help cook it helps too.


  • The “eat you’re veggies or you won’t get dessert” doesn’t always work on my son. “don’t you want dessert? ”
    “okay… “


  • Definitely words that would make meal time less stressful. Not sure all kids would fall for the reverse psychosis trick


  • Amazing how a few words can change an entire mindset.


  • I’m so glad our kids are not fussy eaters. We’ve used all of these strategies at some point, and particularly like number 3 and number 5. We’ve also sat our kids down to eat with some of their cousins, so the other kids see our children enjoying their meal. Monkey see, monkey do.


  • Nothing else to share. In a bit of a frustrating phase with my daughter at the moment. All she wants to eat is watermelon, plain pasta or plain rice. Just going with it for now hoping that she’ll snap out of it soon. I’m giving her multivitamins and probiotics so at least she’s getting something good :/


  • So many interesting ideas! I like in particular the tip of asking to choose among some snacks instead of asking the child what he wants.


  • This was an interesting mini article. Thanks for posting!


  • Too easy! Will be putting these to the test


  • Great read, will have to try and remember these tips for when DS is older.


  • What if you do all that and have always done that, and it still doesn’t work, our rule now is you can’t say you don’t like something until you try it, you don’t have to like everything, but you’ll never know unless you try, it’s helped to a point, we have a handful of veg he will eat, but it stops there and I’m getting bored with the same all the time, so I’ve gone to the big no no of cooking different veg for us, we tried the growing our own thing and also getting him to help cook, he loves growing & cooking it, but your insane if you think he’ll put that in his mouth, I think there’s a point were kids are kids and this is a battle most families have


  • Really great advice. I must show this to my husband!


  • I use the comment “Today might be the day you like…..” insert what ever food my daughter has just told em she doesnt like. It helps because she now eats some foods that she never used to. Occasionally we talk about Green eggs and Ham book that he tried it at the end of the book and liked it


  • Always eat together and the same meal as them helps


  • Thank you for this advice, I never really give dessert and have always tried telling my daughter what super powers veggies have (like carrots have vitamin c to help you get over sickness quicker, Broccoli has iron to strengthen muscles etc).

    I always tell the kids their taste buds change as they grow and they have to try it every time. Works, except for prawns, my daughter will still not try prawns.

    • yeah need the good stuff to get better for sure.


  • Thank you for the helpful tips.


  • Great new way of looking at it.


  • Wow, fantastic turns of phrase. I’m going to use these.


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