I am not yet a mother, but the first bit of practice I got with kids started with this pictured little girl. She is my first niece of five, who is now 16 years old! Her favorite food growing up was mac'n'cheese, but it had to be made with shell pasta or she would not touch it. She did love grocery shopping with me and participating in the kitchen. She loved it when I called her "Little Chef", and how we would dance to Disney classics while we waited for food in the oven. I have fond memories of being in the kitchen with my grandmother, and begging her to make her biscuits and gravy every weekend. I am sure you have nostalgic recollections of being a child and food being involved. This blog is meant to help you create these special moments that will help shape your children into lifelong "good eaters".
First, Let's Start with YOU
Children mimic the behaviors they see trusted adults (and celebrities) make. They are looking to you to see what they need to do to act like an adult, and to be successful. You are safety and security to them. You are the blueprint of living a healthy life. Here are some things to specifically keep in mind:
Model good eating habits. If you zone out in front of the television every night mindlessly eating out of a bag of potato chips, expect that your child will also find this behavior acceptable. Contrarily, if you portion up sliced bell peppers and cucumbers to eat with 2 tbsp of hummus as a movie snack, your child will not see vegetables as this foreign object on their dinner plate. Normalize eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains so that it is not a complete surprise to them and is just a part of every day life.
Stop the negative body image talk. No more "I look fat in these jeans" or making comments about someone else's weight in front of your children. Children are always listening to how you speak so that they know how to speak. Teach your children to nourish their bodies and not judge others (or themselves) for their size.
You may notice that some days your child eats you out of house and home, while other days they may eat like a bird. This is a good thing! Your child is tuned into their body's feedback. If your child is not hungry, do not make them eat. No more cleaning the whole plate mindset! Trust me, the food left on their plate has nothing to do with children on any other continent and how much food they may or may not have.
Don't use sweets as rewards. Children should not think that sweets are the ultimate food. If you want to reward your child, reward them with your time, praise, and physical touch. Read their favorite book to them, give them a sticker for their good work, or give a big hug and kiss instead. Teach your child that too many sweets all the time can make you sick, so we enjoy them in small amounts as treats.
Along those lines, there are no "good" or "bad" foods. There are foods that are normal for every day, and other foods that should not be eaten every day. Complete aversion to certain foods unless there is an allergy or intolerance involved is usually a great way to cause bingeing on those foods later in life.
Know what basic nutrition is. A fantastic resource is MyPlate, celebrating 10 years now to replace the Food Guide Pyramid (https://www.myplate.gov/).
Setting the Table
Now that you're on track being a positive role model, let's talk about some tips to a successful home meal service!
Make sure your child uses child-size dishes, utensils, and cups. Not only will they help you dish up smaller portions, but your child will be able to not struggle physically to eat. Also, make sure that they are at a good height to reach everything they need. The younger and smaller the child, the fewer calories they require.
Have scheduled meal times and snacks. This provides structure that all children need.
Get rid of distractions. Put your phone away during mealtimes. Turn off the television. You can call that person back or catch up with the news after your meal with your child.
Mealtime is not the time to scold your child or talk with your significant other about stressful things like finances. It is a great time to talk about the taste, texture, and smell of the food in front of you, or how everyone's day went. Keep the mood light.
Ensure that you hold your child to basic table manners, expecting more as they get older and are capable. A three year old may still use their fingers to eat sometimes and that is OK. Small children have short attention spans and may only be able to sit at the table for 10 minutes. Do teach your children to say "No thank you" rather than "Yuck!" when presented with a food that they do not want to eat, or asking someone to pass a food rather than reaching across the table.
Kids are messy! And that's OK! Don't get upset when they got more on the ground and on their face more than in their mouth. It's ok to also have your child help clean up.
Don't forget that it is your job to provide a nutritious meal, and it is your child's job to eat as much as they want/need.
You Don't Understand, My Kids are PICKY!
This is my favorite picture of my niece. I took it as she tried sour candy spray for the first time. Has your child made this face when they saw that broccoli was on their plate? Here's a list of tips and tricks for the pickiest eaters.
Everybody likes different things in life. Just like your child may not be as fond of sports as you are, they may not like how you make green beans. Don't force foods on a child if they've confirmed that they do not like a food prepared a certain way or altogether. Do understand that it may take presenting a new food up to a dozen times next to a familiar food for your child to get the courage to try it.
It sounds overly simplistic, but only buy foods that you want your family to eat. Do not get mad that they choose to snack on foods that you purchased.
Limit fruit juice and milk. Sometimes, kids get full and have plenty of energy from these drinks alone and do not feel hungry to eat.
If your child dislikes a food based more on texture than flavor, then let them know that you will prepare it a different way next time and to keep an open mind.
Let your child CHOOSE from a variety of good options throughout the week. Let them choose from two options as much as possible every day.
Name your child's favorite healthy dish after them, like "Natalie's Salad".
Involve your child in the entire meal process! Make the grocery list with them, take them shopping, have them age-appropriately prep food, and set the table. Teach them the importance of having clean hands and work station. They will be so proud to participate! Bonus points if you grow food at home and teach them how to keep the plants happy. Knowing that they have a say in what is prepared gives them a sense of independence. Even children appreciate respect.
If you say that you would die for your children, why not be less dramatic and just simply live healthfully for them? You have to first take care of yourself to be able to be the best role model to your children. Love yourself and in turn they will love themselves because you have shown them how.