I’m taking a short diversion from recipes and ingredient talk to turn to the philosophy of how we feed our kids. Our kids are great eaters willing to try anything and eat almost anything. (It’s certainly nowhere near perfect, and trust me we do have our days, but overall we’re in a good place.)
It’s all too often I hear people say “my kids won’t try anything new”. I think child eating habits is a really hot topic amongst most families. The idea that someone is a “picky eater” can be frustrating to the person preparing meals, and even worrisome to parents who want the best nutrition for their children.
I’ve long thought about this topic, even before I had children, and when I had my first child I decided to read about different philosophies on feeding children. Three books that I found extremely helpful, and resonated most with me, were:
- Child of Mine by Ellyn Satter taught me my role as a parent is to provide a well-balanced, nutritious meal to my children. My role is not to enforce how much food they eat. After all, I am not my children and they know best how hungry they are.
- Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron taught me that no ingredients are off limits and to be creative! I love all the wonderful advice Ruth gives about healthful food and fun combinations.
- Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair taught me how to prepare wholesome meals from scratch. I love the baby and toddler tips for each recipe. She shows you how you can truly cook one meal and “feed the whole family”.
Now that I’m five+ years into feeding my two kids, I thought I would share our approach to feeding them.
1. We involve our kids in selecting, growing and preparing our food; they are surrounded by fresh fruits and vegetables
- Our children shop with us when we are buying food. From the time they were infants, I have talked to them about all different fruits and vegetables in the grocery store. Two of our favorite weekly outings are to the farmers market and to pick up our CSA share. They get to meet local farmers and are excited to see what’s awaiting us in our veggie box (check out that smile on my daughter’s face in the top picture- she was really that excited about the locally-grown red potato in her hand).
- We have grown vegetables and herbs for the past five years. We plan our garden together, plant the seeds and harvest – as a family. The kids love to watch the seeds turn into seedlings, into plants and then edibles.
- In addition to the food for eating, we have visuals in our house showing fruits and vegetables. My children love the bright and colorful pictures of produce in the kidoing! Immunity Poster I created. They both look to it daily to see what we’ve eaten and what they want to eat next. Even my son who is not yet two points to the foods he knows and calls them by name.
2. We don’t use names or labels
We try not to use names or labels when talking about eating. While I use the phrase “picky eater” in this post, it’s not something I would call anyone in my family. In my personal experience, I have found when you label someone, whether intentional or not, they will live up to that name. They become that label.
There are times when my kids do not prefer something, which is OK. I don’t know anyone who loves every single food. When this happens, I thank them for taking a bite to try it and say that we can try that food another day. I am sure you have heard that it can take between 10 and 20 times exposing kids to foods before they start to eat them. My kids have proven this true, and so I encourage you not to give up.
As an example, if my daughter doesn’t like something at one time, I will introduce it to her again (possibly in another form, or with other flavors). I will not mention that she didn’t like it last time. In fact, I will not draw any attention to it. I will just put it on her plate in a small portion.
3. We serve food we like
I happen to love most food, and love to eat, so I’m usually pretty enthusiastic about what I’m eating. I think my kids pick up on my enthusiasm, which is one reason why they are willing to try new foods and usually like them. One day I was eating lunch with my son. I ate a huge piece of broccoli – and he watched my every move. As I was chewing, he picked up a piece of broccoli on his plate and ate it, too!
However, there are times when one parent doesn’t really care for something. Usually, that parent will respectfully eat what is served without comment so as not to lead the opinion of the kids.
It has been my experience that kids look to their parents for approval. If you are serving something to them just because it’s nutritious, but you don’t like it, you may not see the results you are looking for.
It’s probably a better idea to look for something comparable in nutritional value that you enjoy, so you can all enjoy it as a family.
4. We all eat the same thing
We eat as a family and all eat the same thing. From the time my kids starting eating solid food, they were eating the same thing we ate. I knew before I had kids that I was going to do everything possible to avoid cooking multiple meals and introduce my kids to as many different flavors as possible.
They continue to eat well at 5 and almost 2 – Chinese, Thai, Indian, Italian, Greek – all types of cuisine.
I do not believe that children’s stomachs cannot handle a variety of spices or that there is any reason to eat “kid food”. My son, almost two, will eat anything spicy including hot sauce and cayenne pepper. While my daughter doesn’t necessarily like “spicy hot” foods, she does enjoy a wide variety of complex flavors.
This has served us well both at home and out. There is no restaurant I can’t take my kids to – and they almost never eat from the “children’s menu”. The only value to a children’s menu, in my opinion, is portion size. With that said, most restaurants will accommodate families by serving children smaller portions or give you an extra plate for sharing.
5. We don’t dwell on our food or talk about eating throughout dinner
When we sit down to eat, I make it a point to almost ignore the food on our plates. I may gently encourage my kids to eat – especially if we get on a tangent discussing something. I do not like to comment on how much or how little food has been eaten. I much prefer to eat while having a conversation about something engaging. I find that they understand that the reason we are at the table is because we are eating a meal. It is understood and other conversation can be about topics such as our day or playing a word game.
While our path has been a little winding (nothing happens overnight!), it’s clear now what approach we feel is best with our children – and we see the benefits every day. I’m a firm believer in what you get out is what you put in – in most areas of life – and I find that our efforts are paying off by providing them with a strong foundation of healthy eating.
I would love to hear from you. What is working well for your family?