It’s right up there with temper tantrums and erratic sleep patterns, the most common complaints from parents, my kids won’t eat healthy food. If you relate to this, you probably resort to trickery and bribery to get your kids to eat vegetables, prepare separate kid meals daily, and resign yourself to the fact that all your kids will eat is chips and sausages. As frustrating as this can be, the good news is that kids are not born with a natural aversion to vegetables or an instinctive desire for sweets. Parents and carers, YOU – are the main influence on a child’s eating habits, and with the right approach, a healthy influence can easily be passed on, without frustration, bribes or extra cooking. Here are 10 ways to a healthy, food-loving family.
1. Be a Good Example for Your Kids
From birth to around age 7, children learn through imitation, an instinct that is so strong it rarely can be overpowered by direct teaching. What this means is that if we say one thing and do the other, a child will instinctively follow what we do, not what we say. So if you want your kids to eat nutritious meals, you need to do the same and let your kids see it. When you eat your nutritious food, enjoy it and talk honestly about the foods you find delicious. Show more enthusiasm for lamb cutlet and broccoli night than you do for take-away food night, and your child will learn that healthy food is the norm, while junk food is only eaten occasionally.
2. Eat Together
The best way to be a good example is to eat with your kids as often as possible. Kids love to spend time with their parents and carers, so make mealtimes a happy, relaxed time that kids will look forward to. Babies will imitate the motions of putting food in the mouth, good chewing and eventually cutlery use, and then grow into toddlers who inherit their parents’ enjoyment of food. High chairs, strict manners, and formal family meals at the table are not necessary…all that matters is that you are together and you make it work for your family. For example, if your child eats dinner too early because of bedtime, eat a small portion with your child, and then eat again when the rest of the family gets home.
3. Serve the Same Meal for Everyone
Why do we need kid’s menus? Who decided that kids will only eat macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers? There is absolutely no need to prepare separate food for your child or even your baby. Obviously food can be cut into smaller pieces or steamed a bit longer for softness, and strong or spicy sauces can be added to adult plates at the table if needed. But by always eating the same food, you are showing your child that there is no difference between food for adults and food for kids. Don’t fret about the exceptions…your child will happily take your word for it that wine is only for adults.
4. Provide, then Let The Kids Decide
My nutritionist friend’s motto for feeding kids is: With food, the parent decides what and when; the child decides if and how much. As the parent, you are in charge of choosing what your family eats, so make one meal for everyone and don’t run back into the kitchen to get something different for a finicky child. The child then decides if and how much of that meal they want to eat. Provide a variety of foods and don’t worry, they won’t let themselves starve. If your child demands a different meal, gently but firmly remind them that “This is what we are all having for dinner”, and they will eventually learn to appreciate what you have provided. By allowing them to decide if and how much they eat, they will learn their own tastes and how to gauge their fullness.
5. Keep Mealtimes Routine
We all know that kid’s sleep habits thrive on regular bedtime rituals, and mealtimes are the same. If meals are roughly at the same time each day, kids are less likely to be tired or wound-up at the table, because playing and sleeping have their own time around meals. Keeping regular times and rituals for daily meals also gives kids a feeling of security and stability as the child not only knows what to expect, but can look forward to it. Kids delight in rituals, from helping set the table, getting the bib from the cupboard, and choosing which water cup to use, to giving thanks for the food, or blowing out the candle after dinner.
6. Include Plenty of Variety
Since your child won’t be ordering his meals from a menu, or selecting his favourites from the fridge, give your child the pleasure of choice by offering as much variety as possible. This is two-fold: the first is providing variety throughout the week to keep things interesting and give exposure to many types of foods; the second is providing variety on each plate. The more types of foods you offer on one plate, the more colourful and exciting the meal, and the more likely there will be something that the child will like. Plus, kids can discover which foods they prefer, which go well together, and enjoy the satisfaction of having choices.
7. Allow Plenty of Time for the Kids to Eat
Unlike many adults who tend to rush through meals in 10 minutes, kids take their time getting through their food. This is where parents should learn from their child’s example and slow down. Give kids time to finish their meals without rushing them or trying to force feed. If lunch often lasts 40 minutes for your child, then plan for it. Treat mealtimes as an activity, not a chore to be rushed through. In addition, exercise patience in the time it sometimes takes for your child to acquire interest or a taste for a certain food. They may not like green beans today, but tasted change over time, as long as there’s no pressure.
8. Involve Kids in Purchase and Preparation
Let your kids help you when buying and preparing food, or at the very least, talk to them about what foods you are putting in the shopping basket or chopping for the casserole. Even small babies can hold and smell vegetables and herbs at the market, and watch you create dishes in the kitchen. The more kids feel familiar with various foods, they more interest they will take in them on their plates. In no time, they will be excited about finding the broccoli at the market and remembering that pumpkin goes into their favourite soup.
9. Start Early…or Start Over
As soon as your baby is ready to try solid foods, make nutritious shared meals the norm for your family. Even if at first your baby only plays with or spits out their food, they are still learning about nutritious whole foods and healthy eating habits from the start. If you didn’t start early and now have a finicky toddler, it’s not too late. Just start over with your approach, using this helpful article! Whether starting early or starting over, the book “Baby-Led Weaning” is a great resource for introducing food without purees or spoon-feeding. The benefits are endless for babies AND parents.
10. Make it Delicious and With Love
When your child refuses to eat his greens, look at them, taste them, and ask yourself, “Would I want to eat that?” Of course your child will choose junk food over vegetables if the veggies are over-cooked and bland. Children have taste buds too, and so they desire delicious, flavourful meals. Unfortunately, in our time-poor, fast-food, pre-bottled society, we have forgotten how to prepare nutritious meals that are also delicious. A simple tip is to use some of nature’s flavour enhancers at every meal: various fresh and dried herbs, a wealth of spices, lemon juice, olive oil, many types of vinegar, unrefined sea salt, and good-quality real butter. Serve delicious meals and your kids will not only love nutritious food, they will appreciate the time and love you put into nourishing them.
10 Ways to Kids Who Eat Healthier Than You – December 2012
|Baby Led Weaning|