Before Prince Charming and I became parents, I read an article about a chef explaining how he fed his own children. Not sparing them from any kind of food, the chef cooked his normal meals, his children ate what was on their plates, and they were not picky eaters.
I knew that if and when I became a mother, I had to follow the same example.
When I was pregnant with Big Brother, I read about how babies developed a taste for what their mothers ate by tasting the flavors through the amniotic fluid, and later through breast milk. (Yes, moms – what you eat does make a difference.) Because I wanted my children to become healthy eaters, I tried to eat a lot of vegetables during both pregnancies.
Once Big Brother and Little Sister were old enough to try solids, we started them on rice cereal, then oatmeal … and then vegetables. Any vegetable I could cook and puree, they would try.
And do you know what? They love vegetables. It doesn’t matter what’s on his plate, Big Brother will choose to scarf down broccoli or green beans first. And when he spies a tray of fresh fruits and vegetables, he happily eats helping after helping of pepper slices, cherry tomatoes, carrots, and sugar snap peas. The boy loves his veggies. (Little Sister has a much bigger sweet tooth and prefers fruit, but she doesn’t complain about vegetables.)
Many parents and grandparents have been very surprised when watching my children eat. They clearly prefer vegetables and rarely make a fuss about what’s on their plate – they just eat.
I know not all children are this way, which is why I save my Chicken Nugget recipe for play dates. I love to pair it with sweet potato fries (the recipe is next Friday) and apple slices for a nutritious lunch. It’s typical kid-fare with a healthy twist.
Just in case you’re struggling with children who have unhealthy eating habits, here are six tips that have worked for my family:
1. Make one meal for your entire family.
Life’s busy, and you shouldn’t have to feel like a short order cook. Serve everyone the same thing, and if your children are hungry, they will eat it. Our pediatricians have always told us that when our children hit a picky eating phase, not to worry – they will eat when they’re hungry, and they won’t waste away if they skip a meal or two. I know that mealtime battles can be tough. (Just because Big Brother likes vegetables, it doesn’t mean he appreciates every meal I prepare.) But don’t give in to a small child’s ever-changing appetite.
2. Include some splurge days.
If your children like chicken nuggets or pizza, serve chicken nuggets or pizza every so often. But make it healthy. Make your own chicken nuggets instead of buying the unhealthy processed ones, or make your own pizza from scratch. Ask your children to help you top it with a bunch of fresh vegetables, and they’ll get really excited to try their own culinary creation.
3. If you have infants, feed them vegetables.
If they’re breastfeeding, eat vegetables so they acquire a taste for veggies early on. And if they’re old enough to eat solids, feed them the real deal. Forget about jarred baby foods, and feed them actual fruits and vegetables. Avocados and bananas make healthy snacks and meals that are the perfect consistency for beginning eaters.
4. To help instill adventurous eating habits, make sure you’re eating adventurously as a family.
Try new flavors. Pick a new dish. Create special monthly mealtimes where you pick out new recipes with new ingredients, then shop together and prepare the meal together. Even if you don’t love the flavors, at least you’ll have a memorable experience trying something new together.
5. If you’re nervous about becoming an adventurous eater, take baby steps.
It’s as simple as choosing one different fruit or vegetable the next time you’re at the grocery store. As a family, we love trying one new thing – whether it’s introducing the children to mangos for dessert, or trying artichokes or quinoa as a side dish. Introducing a healthy variety of nutritious foods doesn’t have to be difficult. Make sure it’s fun, and reap the dietary benefits.
6. I hate to be Captain Obvious, but only offer healthy snacks.
To raise healthy eaters, keep all the unhealthy junk food out of your home. Stop buying pop, potato chips, sugary cereals, sugary fruit snacks, and whatever other junk your family likes. When your son or daughter asks for a snack, offer a choice between two healthy things – a fruit or vegetable. You’ll be surprised that they really do care if they get a banana or carrot slices.
Do you know an expectant of first-time parent? Help them navigate the first year of feeding their baby with my eBook, First Bites: How To Instill Healthy Eating Habits During Your Baby’s First Year.
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