Our kids like food and they
like to eat. I wouldn’t say they are big eaters exactly but they
certainly enjoy their meals. They each have things that they really like
and things that they would prefer not to eat. I’m not going to say that
there are never complaints about meals. In fact, I actually got
thinking about this post because the girls had gotten a little
complain-y about food; to the point where it was becoming an unhealthy
habit that I’d sort of let slide for a time. But, for the most part,
everyone eats and enjoys most foods and we eat quite a variety. The
girls have been known to gobble the entire pot of green beans or say
between each bite of tomato soup how yummy it is. The truth is, we don’t
take lightly the ability that we currently have to provide our family
with nourishing meals. That is a gift that many, many families around
the world don’t have and we are pretty determined to use it with
thankfulness, hopefully encouraging our daughters to do the same. They
aren’t going to learn to eat well with a thankful attitude by us harping
on them about how many other children would be glad to have that food
but we do try to help them understand that not everyone has food the way
that we do whether that is by adding purchases for the local food bank
to our shopping cart, making food for someone in need, or sending money
for those who are hungry in other countries. There are times that we
financially also need to eat very simply and we try to approach that
with gratitude as well.
**Disclaimer** I know this list maybe seems a little simplistic and doesn’t include a lot of the fun, creative ways to get kids to eat healthy foods (check Pinterest for ideas, there are some great ones.). I do at times serve fun meals where I cut cheese into shapes or serve lunch in muffin tins. I’m not against tucking zucchini or carrots in the spaghetti sauce. I just want eating well to be something that my kids understand rather than do by accident and being really up front with the girls, even with things like food, seems to be the most effective. I also know that there are many cases where children have a variety of reasons and needs that make meals a challenge. Believe me, I haven’t forgotten the days of a screaming, flailing, hungry 2.5 year old at every. Single. Meal. That was before we knew she had Celiac Disease and little did we know then that it was because the food she was eating was slowly destroying her. I did know that often I just was happy to have a meal where she was putting the food in her mouth without sobbing because she was hungry but didn’t want to eat. So I really do get it. If you are working with a child with specific needs, you might just want to ignore this post.
With that little disclaimer, we encourage the girls to eat well and these are some of the things that have been practical for our family.
1. Give kids ownership.
I find that the more the girls participate in food preparation, the more they enjoy food. It also seems that awareness of the process that is required for a meal actually encourages a deeper thankfulness for it, even in little ones.
- let them help plan meals.
- take them grocery shopping and have them find things that you need. If they see something that they would like to try, consider getting it.
- Have them help with cooking. Even Kathleen helps put ingredients in the bowl while Aneliese is now able to handle a knife (with supervision and instruction).
- Enlist help in serving the meal by having your child place a serving of part of the meal on each plate.
- Plant a garden, even if it is some herbs or greens on a pot, that they can help tend and harvest.
2. Teach biology and nutrition.
- It’s easy to say, “Eat this, it’s good for you”, but I've realized that it’s more beneficial to be specific. The girls enjoy knowing what food does what for their body and how it helps them grow or be healthy. Cecily was tired of eggs until she heard that there were vitamins and minerals that would help heal her leg; then she gobbled.
- Rather than calling certain foods “junk” or “bad”, I try to explain the ways that it affects their bodies and why we therefore only eat it in small amounts or not at all.
3. Green Eggs and Ham
- If you haven’t read that Dr. Seuss book, you need to. Sometimes the girls hesitate to try something that looks, smell, or has a different texture than they are used to but now we only need to say, “Green Eggs and Ham” or “Try it, try it and you may,” because they have read and loved the book since they were tiny. Just try it and you might like it. Or try it a few times and you might learn to like it. We encourage a good, decent sized bite but if it’s something new or very different and they really didn’t enjoy it, they can leave the rest of it.
4. Honesty & Courtesy
- I don’t mind if the girls say that they’d rather not eat something but I do want them to tell me in a polite and kind way. We discourage words such as “yuck” although that is just Kathleen has now started saying about food since I taught her “yuck” for putting her hands in the toilet. Really, if I’ve made a meal and they say things like that, it hurts my feelings and I say so.
- There are also things that aren’t my favorite and I sometimes will say so even though I am preparing it to eat. It seems to help the kids realize that they can just eat something because it nourishes them and that they don’t need to love every bite.
5. This is what we’re eating.
- Yes, I am that mom. They are kids and there are times when they’d just rather eat ice cream instead of the nourishing stew. Or maybe they had the stew for supper and don’t want it for the next days lunch. In those cases, they are free to wait until the next meal to eat. We don't want to have food wars where we are trying to force them to eat.
- The next meal being breakfast, lunch or supper; whichever happens to come next. Snacks or dessert only happen if a meal has been eaten; this isn’t punishment or bribery, it’s simply that even if I offer healthy snacks or dessert, they still aren’t getting the nutrition of the well rounded meal that I will be preparing. There are times when they opt to wait and honestly, the next meal usually is the most delicious they’ve had in a while because they are truly hungry for it.
6. Cut down on sugar.
- It seems that children (and adults) who eat less sugar tend to have a more adventurous palate. I’ve read a bit about this but not enough to give a scientific explanation other than that it seems that often when sugar is cut out or reduced within a diet, other foods become more appealing even to children.
7. Practice what you preach.
- Both Dan and I enjoy a variety of food. Since neither of us are picky and will eat most things, I think that probably goes a long way to the ease in which the girls will eat with variety. If one of the parents is picky…well, I don’t know.
8. Make food an experience.
- Make trying new foods a fun part of what you do as a family. We all need to eat so it might as well be something we learn to enjoy together. Try new recipes, share meals with friend who cook different foods, eat at ethnic restaurants if you can or make it at home.
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