I think it is vital for parents to help get their kids to eat real food. The food they put into their bodies on a regular basis sets the ground work for their lifelong health and wellness.
Yet, so many children only eat ‘kid' food (I hate that term, by the way). I talk to parents all the time who are struggling to get their children to even try food that is not brightly colored and highly processed. It is frustrating for them as they battle with their child constantly.
Now, I will say, the whole ‘kids only eat kid food' thing is a GINORMOUS pet peeve of mine. I will be the first to admit that I can lean a bit toward the judgmental side, which I completely realize does not help people learn to make changes. I get frustrated because I look at teaching my daughter about food to be as important as any other rules or morals I try to instill in our household.
When I hear a friend say that their 2 year old is ‘in a pancake phase' or that their 5 year old will ‘only eat chicken nuggets', I literally have to stop myself from losing it. Little kids don't do the shopping, don't buy the food, don't prepare the food…why should they be the sole decision makers when it comes to what they eat?
Kids don't generally get to choose what time they go to bed, when they can have cell phones, what types of tv shows they can watch…why should they dictate what enters their bodies on a regular basis?
This seriously drives me crazy.
Because this is such a hot button topic with me, I have a hard time not turning people off about how to get kids to eat real food. I totally realize that me jumping all over the person whose little kid will only drink sprite is not going to help them change…it will just make them angry at me and not want to make any changes!
And parents really need help to make the change!
Do you want to get your kids to eat more real food? Here are some ideas to get you started!
1. Cook With Kids
Cooking with kids allows them to have some control over the whole process. They have pride when they can do something themselves. They get to experiment with ingredients, learn measuring skills, knife skills, safety skills and so much more! I cook with my daughter often and she loves it! Often when kids are able to help with the cooking, they are more inclined to eat what they cooked!
2. Make Food Fun
Kids seem to love food that is fun! I think that is why so many ‘kid food' items come in bright colors, fun shapes, interesting packaging. Well, you don't have to rely on some overprocessed garbage to have fun with food! Try cutting sandwiches, fruit, cheese, etc into cool shapes with cookie cutters. Or get some interesting plates (bright colors, divided sections, bento boxes). One idea of Vanessa's that I want to try is the ‘monkey platter'. You take a muffin tin or something similar and fill each section with little snacks: berries, bite size veggies, cheese slices, dipping sauces, etc. and make a cool little snack tray! You can try these great kid-friendly dinner ideas from Kula Mama too!
3. Offer. Don't Force.
Too often parents try to force their kids to eat what is on their plate by giving rewards for so many bites or not letting them up from the table until certain amounts are eaten. I do the same thing as Vanessa. At each meal, I always have at least one thing I know my daughter likes (even if it is just a sliced apple). Then her plate is exactly the same as ours. I do put small portions so if she doesn't eat, it isn't super wasteful. She can always have seconds.
She doesn't have to eat everything on her plate. But what is on her plate is her meal. There is no short-order cooking in my house. If she chooses to not eat all of what is served, then she can wait until the next meal time. We don't make a big deal of it. We just offer what is served and enjoy family conversation over dinner.
4. Gardening With Kids
Nothing gets kids more excited about eating vegetables than gardening! I have seen this first hand with my daughter and with the Garden Club at her school. Kids who have never eaten a pepper or would never touch a turnip, will happily munch on something fresh picked, warmed by the sun. In fact, “according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association kids are more likely to eat healthy foods (including vegetables) if they are involved in growing their own food.” Pretty cool!!! There are a lot of other reasons gardening is good for kids too!
5. Talk How Foods Make Their Bodies Feel
We do this a lot in our house. We are always talking about food…what is nutritious; what is non-nutritious. We don't believe in ‘good' foods or ‘bad' foods. We teach how to read labels and how to appreciate the beautiful bounty of real food.
When she does have foods that are not nutritious, or has a lot of sugar, or food dye, we talk later about why she was crabby, why she got hungry so fast afterwards…or, more often than not, why she got sick a few days later (immune system was weakened by junk food.).
There are so many ways to get your children to eat Real Food without it being a huge ordeal or a fight. I strongly feel that teaching your children how to eat is as important as any other values parents want to pass on. Their lifelong health and wellness DEPENDS on it!