Have my kids cried when I put something in front of them at dinner? Absolutely. Have my kids told me they will no longer eat peppers, or beets, or whatever? Yes. But do I think that they eat well? I do! I get asked by many of my friends what I’ve done to get them to eat they way that they do, so, I thought I’d share with the world as well. Hopefully there’s some information here that’s new to you as a parent or caregiver.
1. Don’t Have it in the House
I know this is obvious, but sometimes it needs to be reminded. If you don’t want your kiddos to eat goldfish, don’t have them in the house. That way, you don’t have a daily battle.
2. Involve Your Kids at the Grocery Store
Success starts long before you get to the dinner table. If you’re a mom of young kids you know how much they love control. Though I don’t completely hand over the reigns to my 4-year-old when it comes to meal planning (although she’d certainly like that!), I do get both kids involved when we go to the grocery store. When they were babies I had them feel and hold the produce before I put it in the cart. Now as a toddler and preschooler they push their own carts and I always ask them to pick some produce they’d like to try at home. Allowing them to have free reign in the produce section gives them the feeling of having some control, and I know they can’t got wrong.
3. Involve Your Kids in the Kitchen
Kids and baking go together so well. If you set the expectation in your mind that there will be inaccurate measuring, spills, and a mess it will be all good and FUN! They can get involved beyond baking as well. As a huge fan of vegetables and one pot wonder meals, I make A LOT of chili in my house. Both of my kids started out loving chili and both at one time or another denounced it. Chili came back into my 4-yr-old’s good graces when she got involved in the preparation by mixing up all the spices with me and then tossed them in the pot. Her response as she leaned over the simmering meal was, “Mmmm Mommy, that smells good.”
4. Always Provide “Safe” Foods at a Meal
For most of us, having “heavily rotating meals” (meals you make every week) are important with little kids (and us). Young kids like predictability and repetition. However, as I personally love creating new dishes, we have to eat new things in this home! When I offer something new, it’s always accompanied by foods my kids know and love. Evelyn (4) loves peas, carrots, and kale chips. Nolan (2) loves beets, carrots, and kale chips. If I make something for dinner that they’ve never seen before, I always put their favorite vegetables or gluten-free toast along side. And that leads me to the next recommendation.
5. Be Mindful of Portions
When trying out something new, don’t give your kid a heaping man-sized portion. Depending on how adventurous they are with food maybe just a few bites is appropriate. Large portions can be intimidating.
6. Deconstruct Your Dinner
I hear so many moms say that they prepare multiple meals for their family for dinner. This is so hard on them! If you’re making something different, why not deconstruct it before you serve it to your kids? For instance, this stuffed sweet potato dinner can be presented as black beans, sweet potato and chicken to my kids rather than the full on version for my husband and I.
7. Invite the “Polite Bite” or “Taste Test”
I know many parents make their kids try at least one bite. I think this is important. We do this at our house too. Sometimes I’ll play to my daughter’s inner chef and ask her if she wouldn’t mind letting me know if it needs more seasoning, more tomatoes, etc. Along with the one-bite test goes not forcing your kids to finish their meals.
8. “Hide” Good Food
Of course we want to be talking to our kids about why we eat vegetables and fruit, but we can also get more vegetables in them in an unassuming way. I put dark leafy greens (kale, swiss chard, spinach, etc.) in nearly every dinner I make. Honestly, the dark green makes the dish look that much more beautiful and it obviously adds nutrition. I just chop up the dark leafy greens into very very small pieces and it doesn’t rock my kids at all. Of course there is always zucchini bread and pumpkin carrot bread (these versions are low in sugar too) and smoothies, which I know are tried and true methods for parents!
9. Keep Trying
I heard once on NPR that regardless of children actually eating their vegetables, if they see them often they are more likely to eat them as adults. Of course you want your child to have all the nutrients they need to grow, learn and be healthy, but take solace in knowing that if you just take the time to put it on the plate in front of them, you are doing a good thing!
10. Be Compassionate
Be compassionate with yourself. Some days you will be too tired, too overwhelmed, etc. to talk to your kids about eating their vegetables. No big deal. Each day is a new day. Be compassionate with your kids. They have off days as much as we do.
There are days when my kids ask me to feed them their “weird” dinners. And some days I do. Some days I pretend to fly an airplane or drive a dump truck into their little mouths. It’s OK. It’s not an every day thing. Some days I motivate them (OK, bribe them) with dark chocolate as a dessert. It’s not an every day thing, so, honestly, I’m fine with that too.
Did I miss something that you do? Please share!