Raising Healthy Eaters: notes and observations
“If my life were a movie, mealtime in our home would be the gory part…” I wrote over eight years ago in an emotional post my hobby blog, Under the High Chair.
I had a toddler and a baby, and was devastated to report that the disaster we called ‘family dinner’ was a real let-down. “Things will get better” I was told by many people, and of course they did eventually. But at the time, when everything I made ended up on the floor and I struggled to eat everything one-handed, I wondered nightly “What is the point?”
The truth is, the family table is a wonderfully intimate yet ever so imperfect gathering place.
During the good times, it’s the best spot on earth – and when things get ugly, we have to will ourselves to stay in our seats and endure. If you’re enduring, I’m here to tell you what other parents told me – things will get better, in their own time and in their own way. In the meantime here are a few things to remember about feeding kids that helped me over the past decade.
Photo by Tim Chin
For starters, let’s not call kids picky eaters.
Selective? Much better. Finicky? And how. It was always astonishing to me how frequently their tastes changed, especially as toddlers. One day they would be enthusiastic about sweet potato and the next week all orange vegetables were regarded with disgust. Wait. What?
These days, my children are 10, 8 and 4 and they constantly surprise me with their palates and great taste. They love “weird” ingredients like pickles, smoked salmon, olives, avocado, lentils and beans of all kinds. Brown rice pilaf is requested more often than French fries and simple salmon, roasted or grilled, is a favourite dinner. All three of my children adore big leafy green salads and soups full of vegetables.
Yes, they still have dislikes as they grow older, but so do we all. I won’t label them as picky eaters (as I unfortunately have in the past) but recognize that they have their preferences and aversions.
Start them on the right track from Day 1.
From what I have seen and read, breast-fed infants are more accepting of new foods than formula-fed babies. It’s very possible that a mother’s eating habits are indicated in the taste of her breast milk, providing a sort of “flavor bridge” that helps a baby transition to the foods mum ate regularly while nursing. This certainly was my experience as my little ones began solid foods.
Baby-led weaning worked miracles for me, even if I only discovered it with my youngest, Clara. BLW is essentially skipping puréed foods and letting the baby self-feed appropriate foods for beginners. Clara always was – and still is – my best eater, a blessing that I credit to BLW and a positive start to solid foods.
Other successful steps I took with all my children were to avoid sugar and sugary drinks (yes, even juice) for as long as possible, as well as introducing my kids to as many vegetables as I could before their first birthday.
Remember that tastes change, evolve and mature.
My tastes have changed over the years, so it has makes sense that my children’s would too. I have to remind myself of this when a seasonal favourite family dish doesn’t receive the same enthusiasm it used to a year ago.
I have seen my children come back around to foods, like avocado, cheeses and kiwi fruit, so I know it is possible. Don’t push the food on them, but don’t stop offering it completely, either.
Photo by Tim Chin
Listen to your children.
Noah abandoned raw tomatoes and all berries at an early age; turned them down ever since he was a toddler. What kind of a kid doesn’t like berries? He’d even protest when we all turned out at the u-pick strawberry patch, taking great pains to avoid coming in contact with the berries.
He has since articulated that they sting his tongue (pineapple does as well) – thus indicating a slight allergy. And I was so I glad I never pushed the issue when he was young. It’s important to listen to your children, even if it sounds like they’re whining.
Eat what you love.
I’m a firm believer of not catering to what our society calls “family food”; that endless rotation of fish sticks, pepperoni pizza and spaghetti. Cook and eat what you love, and eventually the children will love it too.
Don’t dumb down your food or cook special meals. Give them enough space to not like something, and yet offer it prepared a different way. It’s rare for a child to take to a new flavour or texture the first -or even second or third – time.
Incorporate vegetables into a recipe when possible.
The archives on this blog contain quite a few recipes where pureed or grated vegetables are added to the dish to bolster the nutritional value. Orange Mango Carrot Smoothie, Roasted Beet & Garlic Pasta, Spinach Crepes with Maple-Stewed Blueberries and Sweet Potato Red Lentil Biscuits are just a few examples.
If your children are in a stage where vegetables are evil, these recipes can show them that veggies aren’t so bad after all. I don’t lie to my kids about what is in their dish, but instead talk about how cool it is that vegetables are so versatile.
Serve the sauce on the side if that will help.
Kids can be fanatical about silly things like foods touching each other or food slathered in sauces; I know I have a couple like that. Often I’ll prepare proteins with basic condiments like butter and salt, and then liven them up by serving a sauce alongside, to be spooned up or politely declined.
A few of my children are still in the anti-sauce stage, and this method has allowed us all to enjoy a dinner of grilled chicken, roasted fish or chops with no complaints. I expound further on this little system of mine in a post: The secret is in the sauce.
It’s not personal. Boy, did I learn this the hard way! This might be the most important note to remember. Well that and this one: You’re not alone. Remember that there are other parents out there going through the same thing.
Hang in there! Keep cooking and bringing the family together. Your efforts will have a lifelong positive effect on your children.
How are you raising healthy eaters? I’d love to hear your take on the topic and hear if you agree or disagree with my notes and observations.
Raising Healthy Eaters: notes and observations is a post from Simple Bites
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