10 Ways to Feed a Child Healthy Foods
Every kid goes through phases of eating. From the "I'm disgusted by every food imaginable," phase to the "FEED ME, SEYMORE" phase where there is never enough food. During those tough times in between the growth spurt smorgasboard, here are some helpful tips on getting nutritious food down the hatch.
Let your Kid Choose their Own Meals
Sometimes, the easiest thing to do is the simplest. When lunches come back untouched, and dinner is a series of crying fits between you and your child, engage them the way everyone wants to be engaged: ask their opinion in a polite and respectful way. "I noticed you didn't eat your lunch today at school. So let me show you what I'm planning to pack for your lunch tomorrow, and you tell me what you will eat and what looks yucky." Most of the time, you'll learn little tidbits about your childs preferences that are extremely helpful to relay on to grandparents or babysitters. This is also incredibly validating for a child -- it shows your kid that their opinion matters to you, and by implementing their choices that they are thinking of them and respecting their ever changing minds.
Make a Deal
Some might consider this bribing, and bribing sounds so wrong, but under the right circumstances it really works. It can only work long term with consistancy on the parents part and the development of healthy eating habits from a pre-talking phase -- a child will always expect sugar if they are constantly fed sugar (and always check nutrition labels, sugar hides in the most dastardly of places. I'm looking at you, apples, milk, and jarred spaghetti sauce). The obvious deal here is dessert, but it can be a small toy (I keep a treasure box of little treats I find on clearence here and there for times such as these, or chores or whatever), or an experience (movie, museum, new shoes...whatever your kid goes for). Most parents have muttered the, "Just 3 more bites..." routine with gritted teeth, but add an, "and you can watch 1 tv show before bed," to the end of that sentance and the bites are bigger and they are eaten faster. Obviously, this method might not work every time for every kid (good luck, parents of the stubborn), but generally it works and it is always worth a shot!
Try New Foods as a Family
Recently my daughter insisted on me buying a can of sardines at the grocery store. I, personally, am a fan of sardines. Her dad...not so much a seafood person in general, let alone little smelly fish with edible bones. Despite my attempts to talk her out of it, the can was purchased, and expectations were set. Once we were home, and unpacked, we got the can out and sat at the table as a family. I handed everyone a fish, to which they both went, "Eww...ugh." And we counted to 3 and tried a bite together. Now, these bites were spit out, but that's not the important thing here. The importance of this story is that both she and her dad tried something new that they were uncomfortable with, together. Your child isn't going to try new foods if you aren't willing yourself, so why not make an event out of it? "Remember when we tried squid ink pasta and loved it?" is a real thing people say sometimes! It's family time, and a potential to introduce new foods into the dinner routine all in one!
Set an Example
This is a slight relative of "Trying new foods together." Everyone has a food that irks them. A food that grosses them out. A texture you just can't keep down (ever tried Uni? Good luck). By setting an example that sometimes we need to eat things that are good for us that we don't love, your child will understand this is a rule for all ages. I'm personally not a green veggie kind of person, but obviously I make myself eat kale, spinach, arugula, watercress, and occasionally...broccoli. Bleh. By doing so, I'm showing my child that a well balanced diet is essential for healthy living, whether you like it or not. Over time, those foods that once bothered us can become part of our pallet, even (dare I say) enjoyable. This is a classic example of "Showing, not telling."
Ask for Help in the Kitchen
"Mommy's little helper," doesn't mean what it used to. I'm finding, as my daughter gets older and can help with chores, that a little responsiblity goes a long way in the eyes of a child. Cooking is fun, and offering the apron up to your sweetie is a way to get them involved in the process where there food comes from, how it's prepared, and what it tastes like from start to finish. Kids love to stir, squeeze, squish, and simmer. Allowing them the opportunity to crack an egg, stir the pot, and handle ingrediants is a privelidge. It's also fun to taste raw ingrediants (sugar, salt, vinegar, spices) -- this is essential in the development of a pallet. Offering these options up to your child not only ensures that they'll eat what you made (because they made it too, and they'll be very proud of that) but that they will help in the kitchen again and try something else next time. Last tip: be patient.
Create a Routine
NO DON'T DISREGARD THE PREVIOUS SUGGESTIONS. You can still try all of those and develop a routine simultaneously. As your kids start learning the calendar, they'll start to understand how a routine works. Mine is 4, and she's catching on fast. If Wednesday is always spaghetti night it becomes a landmark throughout the week, where a child knows what to expect. Maybe you throw in a new vegetable side, or try a new meatball recipe, but keeping a consistancy on the kinds of foods you make works to your advantage -- you and your child both will know what works and doesn't at the dinner table. This creates less of a dinner time struggle, and an easier introduction to new things.
Have a Dinner Party
As I've gotten older, one of the joys of life has become a nice dinner party between friends. Where candles are lit, flowers are on display, and place settings are important. Offer this opportunity up to your child as well -- invite them properly (with an invitation. Even if they can't read yet, kids love to get invitations), ask them to dress appropriately (it's more fun when people dress up, right), and create an atmosphere. Why not buy some sparkling grape juice, and serve it in a grown up glass? Any of the prior suggestions on this list are recommended when developing a meal plan for this evening; don't think that if your kid hasn't ever had lobster that a fancy dinner party is the night to give it a try. But remind them that they are invited to a grown up dinner party, and that grown ups always try everything on their plate. This is an opportunity to teach manners and table ettiquite as well as offer a healthy, delicious, and decedant meal to the ones you love.
Do. Some. Research.
I am constantly searching for new recipes. Kid friendly, healthy, delicious recipes that suite my family's individual dietary needs. I'm on low sodium -- this has become a staple in our cooking. My husband is less of a meat eater than the rest of us; he prefers veggies. With every new dietary suggestion comes an uncharted territory in the kitchen. So go online, Google it, and find a new recipe to try at least once a week that looks appetizing, is quick to make, and seems right for the whole family. Not only will your cooking skills increase, but the whole family will adventure together in a new meal.
This should maybe be higher on the list. Remember when your first born baby arrived? You took every precaution, read every book, triple checked every move you made, and drove yourself crazy. After time, things calmed down and you realized what we all learn eventually: babies are pretty resiliant. Same goes for kids. Kids can bounce back. I find that my daughter usually goes about 2 weeks eating enough for a grown lumberjack, then 2 weeks eating barely enough for a pet bird. I chalk this up to growth spurts, sickness, mood, any number of life events that effect us all. So why so seriuos about it all? One of the only opportunities kids have to identify themselves at such a young age is with, "I likes," and "I don't likes." These things ebb and flow, and change over time. So maybe your kid doesn't like squash now. They ate it when they were a baby, so what happened? More than likely they'll come back around. So worry less, and enjoy the time together that a family meal brings more.
Last but not least, the sneakiest of all options, is to trick your kids into eating healthy food. Everyone does this. Everyone. No matter how good your kid is, everyone sneaks in some carrots somehow. Ropes in a radish. Tricks with tomatos. I sneak vegetables into everything I make. I finely chop sweet potatos into my burger patties (which is delicious BTW), throw bell peppers into the taco meat, spinich in the lasagna, whatever works. When I was a kid, I loved this book called Liver Cookies. The plot of this book was basically cooking healthy foods into desserts, or kid-friendly foods. It's not easy, but try a kale smoothie for your kids -- some might not touch the green liquid, but others suck it down. It's sweet, and healthy. Avocado is a great butter substitute in desserts, or on toast in the morning. Beets offer a naturally sweet flavor and fun color into your brownies. Shredded zucchini and chocolate are a winning combo. There's a million ways to toss a dash of trickery into your kids favorite desserts. If I make boxed macaroni upon request, I make it with tuna and broccoli. It tastes excellent, and adds much needed protein, vitamins, and fiber to an otherwise nutritionally lost meal. Give it a try, surprise yourself, toss in a vegetable. They'll never know the difference.
The best way to win over your kids with healthy food is to keep them part of the equation in decision making, cooking, and family meal time. Offering this amount of respect to your children will serve you both well in the long term. And while it's no guarantee that a few dinner time skirmishes might occur, it will create a lasting appreciate for food and healthy living that every child needs.