After speaking with so many moms over the last few days, I have found a common thread of moms saying that in regards to their child(ren)s nutrition, they are consistent with healthy meals and encouraging good food options. Well, usually that is.
What comes to mind is considering childrens’ behavior in general. How many areas of parenting can we let things go vs have to really stay on track? Making silly noises and singing terribly loud may be cute (or annoying), but nothing that requires major action. How about if you consider biting other children. Would you watch your child and say, “oh sorry, he just bites a lot,” or would you intervene?
Then how is it that parents do not intervene or step in when their children are picky eaters? I find that parents are far more forgiving with food than they are with anything else. Always.
But here is one thing that both eating behaviors and other behaviors have in common: they are learned. And practicing them enforces the behavior still. When our child bites another (admit it, it happens), we are fast and furious to correct it, extinguish it. As for picky eaters, we are so forgiving and I believe this encourages them to remain that way.
And news flash: whatever we don’t introduce into our childrens’ diet within the first 3 years of life, it becomes increasingly more difficult to do so.
Consider the next time you prepare a box of macaroni and cheese, and hold the side veggies because NO ONE in the house will eat peas or baby carrots, and ask yourself this: are you cooking what you would like the family to eat or are you cooking what you know they WILL eat? I encourage you to stop this cycle. Some tips:
1. Begin slowly. Add 1 new food item to a typical meal. (I would greatly advise against a complete dinner make over – from baked ziti one night to artichoke chicken with roasted eggplant and quinoa the next. Trust me, this won’t go over well.) Consider one of the following changes: steamed broccoli, broiled zucchini, or sliced raw vegetables with a dip.
2. Put the new food out first, while the kids are the hungriest. Kids are more apt to try something when they are hungry and not filled up on their favorite foods. How would YOU like kale crisps after Doritos?
3. Don’t label food. Pasta is not “good” and asparagus “bad.” Or visa versa. Consider how you talk about food without judgement, and how together each food item (on the plate) plays a role in your meal and for your body.
4. Keep it together. No matter how picky a family member may be, it’s important to encourage kids to keep a food ON their plate, even if they decide to not eat it. Speaking of that, encourage kids to try foods but do not force them to do so. Again, this will greatly backfire.
5. Play the part. “Mmmm this red pepper is SOOO good. It’s crunchy and sweet. So sweet it’s almost like candy!” (The c-word, I know. But this does work well in my house :))
6. Eat the meal with your kids. Kids need to see that mom and dad are eating the same food on a regular basis. They need to see you eating in general. They learn this from you.
7. Be consistent. Be mindful of your food shopping list and on a regular basis prepare foods that your kids (and YOU TOO) have yet to embrace. You could be surprised when your 4 year old would rather eat raw tomatoes with sprinkled cheese on them instead of plain couscous. (True story, and I’m STILL shocked by this.)
Point is: every meal is an opportunity to try new food, expand your exposure to food, explore new flavors, and best of all experience this food journey together. You may be surprised to find that trying new food at home can be enjoyable in ways that exceed a healthier meal. Positive results come from being together as a family, around the table. Imagine that instead of food battles, you can giggle together as your kids try to guess the new food, or talk about what flavors they taste, or have a race for who can try the new food the fastest. The opportunities here are endless.
Cheers & Peace