How blessed are we as parents to have the opportunity to help our children from the time they are babies to love and appreciate healthy food? We get the chance to introduce our little one's taste buds to all the foods we know their little body needs to grow and develop. If I am being honest though, when I had my daughter almost six years ago now, I felt completely clueless. I introduced her to only a handful of baby foods the first year and cringed when she would choke or gag even a little. Honestly, I let my paranoia keep me from introducing her to a variety of foods till she was close to two and by then I had a very picky little eater on my hands who wanted nothing to do with meat or most veggies. I was at a loss and honestly frustrated at times because I wanted her to have a balanced diet yet she just wouldn't eat most of the things we put in front of her.
Fast forward to a couple of years later when I had my son. I decided that this time around I was going to do everything possible to not raise another picky little eater. We decided to introduce him to as many foods as possible as soon as possible. We started to follow the "baby led weaning" method and basically what we ate, he ate in smaller, smooshed up amounts. For us, it worked! Our little guy is close to three years old now and eats just about everything! Our daughter is now catching up but her taste buds just didn't develop with the exposure to the same variety of flavors and tastes as her brothers did. If I had known what I do now I am sure she would love more foods at this point in life. But isn't trial, error and grace what parenting is all about?
Thankfully, I have found that even with my picky little five year old there are still ways to spark your kiddos interest in the kitchen and get them excited about healthy food! The following tips are how I keep my kiddos eating a balanced diet...
Let them help you! Kids love to get in the action in the kitchen! Let them help you measure ingredients, dice fruits and veggies (with kid safety knives), and mix the contents in the bowl together. It may get a little messy but I can promise you'll make some very precious memories with your kids if you can just relax a little and let them help! If I am being honest, this one is hard for me to do at times but I know how beneficial it is to sometimes just let go a little and let my kids make a mess and just be kids! Your kids wont remember perfectly clean countertops but they will remember the memories you made on them!
Talk to them about food! I try to always teach my kids with enthusiasm what healthy food can do for them. For instance, I’ll say “these carrots are so good for your eyes! These eggs help your brain learn! This kiwi helps your body not get sick!” They may not understand the complexity of vitamins and minerals but they can understand how certain foods help our bodies when we teach them more at their level!
Add in a few chocolate chips or sprinkle a little cheese!
Don't underestimate how simple it is to mask the flavor of almost anything with one of these ingredients! If it is a savory dish or casserole and you want to camouflage that broccoli or those peas then a little cheese goes a long way! If you want to add spinach or chopped kale to some muffins (yes, you can do that!) a few vegan chocolate chips (Enjoy Life is my favorite brand of all time) can go a long way and seriously you'll be shocked what you can get your kids to eat!
Make food a game!
Yes...LET your kids play with their food! Have them make designs and art with fruit and veggies!
Let your kids decorate their pancakes, oatmeal or dinner plate! This gets them interested and lets
them experience different textures.
Have your kiddos take one bite of each food on their plate per year of age!
One rule we all have in our house is that our kids have to take a bite of every food on their plate per year of age they are before dessert even becomes a possibility. This removes the need to even ask us "how much do I have to eat?" For instance my daughter Scarlett is five so she's required to try five bites of each food on her plate and Carter who is two years old is required to try two bites of each food. By implanting this rule our kids have branched out and tried new foods that they would have probably never tried. If they absolutely refuse to try something then that's fine but then dessert is no longer happening and they know this so they typically don't even bother getting upset about it.
Teach them BALANCE!
As important as it is to encourage our kids to eat well it is also equally as important to teach them and show them that indulging in moderation is okay. Sadly, eating disorders are often develop at a very young age and that's why I strive to teach my kids the 80/20 principle early on. On those hot summer days we often take the kids out to get ice cream or frozen yogurt. If it's a cold snowy day you almost will always find us sipping on hot chocolate with whipped cream. On any given day though we all enjoy a small treat without fail (unless of course they choose not to follow our "bite rule" as discussed up above). By raising them using this 80/20 principle our kids learn to understand that most of the time we want feed our bodies nutritious food but we also can enjoy treats too in moderation! They know there is no shame in it and they can freely enjoy a treat and then move on! Balance is KEY and its taught and picked up on at a very young age! It's our job to help them understand that nothing is off imits as long as its eaten in moderation!
All that being said, what works for my family may not work for your family and that's okay! Every child is different and they all learn differently as well! You know your child better than anyone! My only goal is to encourage you that if you do have a picky eater at home as I do then there IS hope! Just keep swimming momma! You're doing great!