Monday, November 16, 2015

How to Raise Good Eaters

American kids in this day and age are some of the pickiest eaters in the history of our planet. Known for snubbing vegetables {often even fruit!} and subsisting on macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, fruit snacks, and french fries {shudder}, their diet is mainly composed of highly processed grains and sugar.

No surprise, American kids aren't the healthiest when compared to their peers in other first world countries.

As a mom this concerns me. I want my kids to eat all the good and healthy stuff, and to learn to enjoy a broad variety of tastes and textures. Not only do I want them to be healthy, I also want them to be polite when dining in the homes of others. From my oldest daughter's baby days I've pursued this goal.

While we are far from perfect, my two older kids {ages 4 and 2} are pretty good eaters {number 3 is only 5 weeks old, so I'll let you know how it goes with that one}. I can only think of one specific food a piece that they do not like {S has a hard time with eggs, and W with tomatoes}.

We do have other food issues- they are pretty messy eaters {which we are trying to work on}, and will complain about what is on their plate- but generally speaking, with a little parental encouragement, they eat whatever is set in front of them. Seriously, whatever- from curry to broccoli to bell peppers to carrots to tilapia, etc.

I don't claim to have all the answers, and heck- in 5 years I might be singing a different tune when their relative lack of pickiness falls apart- but after reading a lot on the topic, observing other parents feeding their kids, and experimenting in my own home, I have a few good ideas to get you to your goal of raising healthy eaters.

Everyone eats the same meal, no substitutes. Following in my mother's footsteps, I decide what will be served at each meal. What I decide is what goes. I'm not a short order chef, so there will be no sandwiches or freezer chicken nuggets made for a child who isn't impressed with my menu. If I'm making something new or not a favorite, we serve each kid a small portion and request that they do their best to finish what's on their plate.

I don't really tailor my menu planning to my kids. Of course I like to serve one or two of their favorites each week {they both love tacos and spaghetti and meatballs}, but I tend to rotate meals that you might assume only grown ups like {salmon. soups of pureed vegetables. chicken tikka masala. ratatouille.}. If adults like something, kids can like it too.

Minimal {or no!} snacking. My kids usually only have one snack a day after nap time, before dinner. Of course there are exceptions- Sunday's almost always mean snacking in Sunday School and the nursery, and if we go somewhere I tend to relax our normal routine. But if they haven't eaten since breakfast, they are always hungry at lunch time. Hungry kids are way less picky than kids who've been snacking all day. And a kid who gets snacks on demand knows that there is no downside to refusing to eat his dinner.

We used to snack a lot more around here, but when I cut back I was shocked at how much more my kids ate at meals. Foods served at meal times tend to be healthier than snack foods, so that is another bonus of not snacking.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Don't assume that because a kid hates something the first time that they will absolutely never like it. Many tastes in life can be acquired, and studies have shown that it can take up to ten, even twelve tries to develop the taste for a new food.

In my own adult life I have definitely observed this phenomenon. Since meeting my husband my tastes have changed dramatically. I grew up kind of picky... but he loves a variety of foods and is a big fan of pushing himself to repeatedly try what he doesn't like. This rubbed off on me, and now I actually like coffee, bell peppers, salad dressing, and spicier cuisine.

As previously mentioned, S isn't fond of eggs and W has a hard time with tomatoes. They have each been encouraged to eat these foods on many, many occasions... but the dislike lingers. I still periodically ask them to try a bite or two in case their preferences change. Compared to the average kid, I think having only one food dislike is pretty good.

Go easy on the drinks. If we had allowed it, I think S might still be living off of milk via a bottle. The kid loved her bottle, and took a long time to develop any interest in solids. Once she actually started eating them, she still only managed bird sized portions.

Until we stopped giving her milk in between meals {water only} and only offered her milk after she had eaten a good portion of her dinner. All of a sudden our little lady was eating like a champ! I don't think every kid needs so drastic a measure, but if your child happens to drink tons, try to hold off on the liquids until after they've eaten. It just might work miracles.

For more excellent wisdom on children and food, I highly recommend the book French Kids Eat Everything. I read it a year ago, found it completely enchanting and engaging, and learned a lot to boot.

What are your tricks for getting your kids to eat everything? Please add to my list!

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