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!
**Want to see kids in the kitchen? Check out our Fruit Salad and PB & J posts!
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!
Thanks for such a great post! Parents allowing their children to completely dictate their food choices is also a pet peeve of mine… What a lot of parents don’t seem to realize is that they encourage that type of behavior by assuming that their children won’t like certain foods – creating two categories of food (kid v. adult) is a HUGE mistake! And also, making things a power struggle just encourages the picky eating – what you said about offering the food is so right on.
Your tips are so great – I think it’s important to create a healthy food-culture for our children!
Looks like we are like minded people, Jennifer!!! 🙂
My husband and I have the same values in our home – our kids do not get to be picky eaters. But, we’ve been inconsistent, especially in the past, at HOW we uphold these standards. We’ve gone from sending our son to bed if he won’t eat to making him eat the same food at every meal until he finishes a decent amount. Those were terrible ideas! We’ve recently decided that he has to eat as many bites of each item as he is old. He’s four, so he eats four bites of each dish. It has been amazing! We haven’t had a single fight over eating since we started! It’s been amazing. I do have one question for you, though. You say that if your kids don’t finish their food they can’t eat until the next meal. Is a snack included, in your mind, as a meal or do they have to wait till the next main meal? My son rarely finishes his food and then asks for a snack very shortly after. We make him eat the rest of his food at that point. But, if he doesn’t finish and doesn’t ask for a snack for a couple of hours, I’m more likely to believe he was actually full and give him a healthy snack. What do you do? We’re still trying to figure out these details.
Good question! In our house, the ‘not finishing the food’ usually was being obstinate and refusing to eat. We don’t make our daughter ‘finish’ the meal…but if she chooses not to eat what is served (this particularly happened at dinner), she couldn’t have a snack until the next meal. I guess there were times when she didn’t ‘finish’ breakfast but made a good attempt. In those cases I would use my best judgement. For us, there would be arguments at dinner. There was no way she was going to have a snack before bed because she was ‘hungry’ and chose not to eat what was served at dinner.
We definitely do snacks in our house. It is always a struggle finding balance and finding what strategy works best for you! A friend of mine did the ‘have to eat the same meal forever until it is done’ thing for a bit and it worked for her. To me, that seemed too hard core!
Like everything with parenting, we try our best, right??
Amen to that!!! I can only do #3 with my baby right now. I would also add #6 to begin with the end in mind, and teach babies to love to eat everything. One of the biggest reasons I make baby food at home.
My baby has tried such variety of foods that I could have never reproduced with off-the-shelf commercial baby food. Babies are so open to new flavors, colors, and textures, it’s a perfect time to start introduction to real food. It’s harder if your baby has been eating commercial processed blah for 1.5-2 years to then expect them to love real food all of a sudden. Why create a problem in the first place?
This is really good. Thanks for sharing.