The other day my family made our very first trip to Costco and my children were blown over by all the food samples, especially the lasagna loaded with spinach. I must also mention it was loaded with a garlicy white sauce and cheese, so we are not exactly talking health food here. But still, the older lady offering this sample could not get over my children’s enthusiasm for this very green lasagna. This is by far not the first time they’ve gotten public wonderment over their eating habits which to me seem completely ordinary. But it got me to thinking about how I’ll mention on the blog my general philosophy about getting my kids to not be picky eaters, but I’ve never written a dedicated post about it. I seem to be succeeding where my own children are concerned, so why not share my tips?
Let me start by saying that there are no gimmicks here. I think that may be part of the issue in the “mystery” we sometimes feel like feeding kids is. It’s not necessary to hide vegetables or reward “good” eating with dessert or even act as if every single processed food is contraband, never allowed to cross our precious children’s lips. Extremes usually bring about their own set of issues, whether we’re talking about food or pretty much anything else. Also, neither of my children have any food allergies.
1. LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Children are the ultimate mirror for our behavior. This is not always good news when adults have their own bad habits they struggle with. But children do imitate you, so if you want them to eat more fruits and vegetables, I am sorry to say that you also have to eat more fruits and vegetables. But find the way you like to eat them. I’m not a huge fan of raw vegetables, unless they are in a salad. But I love roasted cauliflower, grilled asparagus and pretty much any kind of soup, the more loaded with vegetables the better.
2. BE MORE STUBBORN THAN YOUR CHILD
I was never a short-order cook. I also had years of frustrating dinner times with my kids. They are extremely stubborn, but so am I. At dinner I always offer the main dish and fruit. Sometimes I’ll offer a favorite side, like my garlic bread. I got lots of complaints about my cooking when they were younger. They had more than a handful of dinners consisting only of sliced apples or fresh strawberries. They survived. And now they actually complement my cooking. It makes me so happy now to hear Hannah bragging about how lucky she is to have a mom who is a “good cooker” and for Caleb to grab second and third helpings of garden lasagna because he will eat vegetables as long as he doesn’t have to hear them crunch.
3. KNOW YOUR CHILD’S FAVORITE FOODS AND ROTATE THOSE IN WITH NEW FOODS
Recently I posted a veggie curry pizza that my kids were less than fond of. But they ate it anyway because they were hungry. I asked them what they wanted the next night for dinner and they both agreed on breakfast, so that’s what they got. Pancakes, cheesy eggs and bacon. They honored my request to try and eat a new dish, so I honored their request.
Also, my kids don’t always have the same favorites. For example, Hannah loves grilled asparagus as much as me. Caleb and his dad can’t stand it. Hannah will request raw cauliflower and brussels sprouts in her lunch box (I am not even kidding… I won’t even eat raw brussels sprouts). Caleb is a big fan of fresh guacamole, which I recently taught him how to make. He also can handle much spicier food than his sister.
4. HAVE FUN IN THE KITCHEN
Kids make messes. You just have to embrace it in the kitchen. Also, it takes more time to cook or bake something when someone small is underfoot. I am not always patient with that either. I’ve found playing music while we are in the kitchen is extremely helpful for keeping the mood light. Try it!
Also, one of the first things my husband taught Caleb to make by himself was a cheese quesadilla. Let me tell you, that made our son think he was the bee’s knees. He is still proud every time he makes one and now is asking to learn how to grill chicken, make pasta, etc. all by himself.
5. THERE ARE NO BAD FOODS
After lots of self-debate with myself, I’ve decided to focus on food’s nutrient content when talking to my kids about choices. For example, when they get home after school they need to eat foods that are going to feed their muscles and bones, not just their tongue. Sugary treats obviously taste good and are allowed, but though the sugar makes their tongue happy, it’s not making the rest of their body strong. Their muscles and bones need nutrients, vitamins and minerals, so for after-school snacks they have choices of fresh fruit, peanut butter, string cheese, yogurt, cereal, etc. This is how I talk to them and address over-eating.
However, when the first jugs of apple cider appear in our stores, I am fine with bringing home a box of powdered sugar donuts and having that as a snack with the cider. Because, let’s be honest, I want that too! It’s all about balance, which I’ve not always been good with myself over the years. But I’m finding that forcing myself to talk with and teach good habits to my children is helping to keep my own eating more in balance.