Feeding kids can be a challenge. OMG do I know. I am not sure how, but my first daughter survived strictly on air for the first five years of her life. She ate nothing. It was one of the most stressful times of my life. I tried everything. I cooked everything. My heart was fully vested in trying to get Sara to eat anything, yet a veggie. I was a slave to her, to my kitchen and times were were tense. Sitting across from her at the table praying she would take a bite of what I invested so much time, heart and soul in was heart wrenching. It was destroying meal times. Until one day, I could no longer continue. I surrendered. I stopped everything I was doing.
I changed my mindset. Instead of thinking of cooking ‘for’ her, I let her lead and ran with it. With picky eaters and fierce aversions to veggies, it is a challenge, I know. Change the way you think about cooking and you will already instil healthier habits in both you and yours. Now at 13, Sara not only is my most adventurous eater, but able to make healthy food choices on her own when she is not with me. Isn’t this why we are doing it anyway? There is hope, I swear. Here are my tried and true tricks.
COOK ONE MEAL
When kids see what we eat, they naturally want to try it. Start with this now. I have seen so many moms stressing making two, three, OMG four dinners a night. STOP. We are not short order cooks. The kids eat what we eat. END OF STORY. I know this may seem Draconian, but I promise they won’t starve. If there are no other alternatives offered they will eventually eat. That being said, super hot, spicy and overly powerful flavours aren’t the best ways to win over fresh palettes. So probably not a great idea to start with curries, oysters, spicy soups.
GET KIDS INVOLVED
I can’t believe how many times I say this. I feel like I’m on repeat. So here goes: Let them stir, wash, strain, dump, crack, pour, measure, juice, squeeze, etc. Yes, two-year olds can play in the kitchen. Clearly age appropriate jobs work best. When kids get to help prepare, they’re more likely to not only try different foods but also eat their creations. It’s all about control. Let them think they are in control and they will eat.
Allow them to put together their meals as they want (within reason). Have a salad or a bowl of whole grains for the base and then let the kids add what they want to it—different veggies that are pre-cut or steamed, different dipping sauces, warmed beans, etc. You will be shocked at the creations they come up with and EAT. My pickiest went from plain pasta girl to quinoa-and-avocado freak.
Bring them to the grocery store and farmer’s markets. Skip the center aisles and head straight to produce. Let them pick something new you can cut up and try together at home. This also allows them to follow food from the market to table, and get them way more interested in where food comes from and not just the finished product.
PRESENTATION IS KEY
Kids respond well to extra effort. Kids will eat Kale. Have you tried chopping it up in tiny pieces and putting it out on the table as kale fairy dust? (Yes I have three girls) My 3-year old sprinkles it on everything. I have clients in utter shock thanking me that their kids are asking for kale dust.
Try layering fruits in a glass to make rainbows; cut up veggies in a smiley face; my girls are eating plain leafs of spinach and kale dipped in their favourite sauce. Freeze a Gogo Juice in a popsicle mold. Taking just a few seconds to arrange the food could make all the difference.
JUNK FREE HOUSE
If junk foods aren’t available in the home, then they won’t be consumed and won’t be asked for. Again another END OF STORY. My response to ‘I’m hungry’ is to offer them whole food snacks instead of packaged foods loaded in refined sugar or far too much sodium that will have them flying, thirsty, cranky and irritable. No one needs that! You may think it is far easier to just buy the snacks. These home-made snacks are fast, easy and packed with nutrients. It’s worth the extra 10 minutes.
- Organic edamame
- Organic cheese
- Raw veggies
- Homemade muffins or bars, or power bites
- Raw cookie dough bites: https://nourished.ca/
- Sliced fruit with nut butters
- Kale chips
- Trail mix or granola to avoid added sugar, peanuts, chocolate chips
- Sweet potato fries
HAVE FOOD ON HAND
This goes without saying, but I thought I would remind you to never, ever leave home unarmed. Pack one or two of the snacks above so you can always avoid a meltdown, have a distraction and never have to rely on store bought items that are loaded in sugar, salts and unhealthy fats and fillers.
If your kids are pre-teens or even preschoolers, their habits may be challenging to break. But if you start now, consistency and effort will pay off. After a couple weeks you will be loving your new healthier habits. If you have younger children or plan on having more, start as early as possible with them so eating things like kale or oat groats will never seem “weird.”
INCORPORATE YOUR GUIDELINES INTO KIDS’ FOODS
I do this all the time. I give everything the Nourished Makeover. If kids want pasta. Make it whole grain and top it with sauce made from fresh tomatoes or a pesto. Do they feel like having a smoothie on a hot day? Throw some greens in it. They want candy? Make a healthy sweet. (Maybe not exactly the same, but it works after they realize they aren’t getting candy.) Make their favourite dishes, but Nourished Up—have you tried my Mac and Cheese? You don’t have to do the whole transition at once, but small changes can give you big results: more open-minded kids at meal times.
KID FRIENDLY FOODS AREN’T
What society deems as “kid-friendly foods” are not always so friendly for kids’ health. Hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, nuggets, fruit snacks—all loaded with sugar, artificial colours and flavours, preservatives, and all types of nasty things that affect their physical health and behaviour. Kids don’t need “special” foods. They need time to adjust to what you’re eating, and that may take a little coaxing and a few tricks along the way. The transition to a new way of eating isn’t always easy for anyone, but it’s so worth it. Not only are they healthier right now, but you are instilling healthy forever. And yes, they will thank you later, in their own time. Sara already has.