We are so excited to have Kara here today for a guest post. As I have been trying to get back into healthier routines with my family I’ve been finding inspiration from Kara and her blog Peas and Happiness – check it out, you will love it! Kara and I go way back to a BYU kitchen called Veg Prep. I think Veg Prep must be the funnest place to work at BYU, it was always such a fun group of girls that we worked with, the only downsides were the dorky plastic aprons and hairnets. I have enjoyed connecting again with Kara through the blogging world and I’m so excited that she is sharing this essay with us. I definitely have some picky eater issues and will be heeding her advice! -Christina
Isn’t it depressing when you toil and labor over a delicious dinner for your family and one if not more of your kids whines, “Not this again! YUCK! I’m never eating this!” On the flip side, few things make me feel like more of a rock star mom than when I present something healthy for my kids for dinner and they rave, “Mom, you make the best _____ (fill in the blank with whatever is for dinner that night) in the world!”
Every kid has a different temperament, and I am learning how this plays out with feeding my children. My 5 year old daughter will at least try most foods placed in front of her, but my son (who I would still consider to be a pretty good eater) has a more persistent personality and will try to engage in power struggles more often when it comes to meal or snack time. Although I know there are rare cases of kids who have major sensory issues as well as kids who test boundaries more when it comes to what’s for dinner, I am of the believing that for the most part, super picky eaters are created and not born. I am not claiming to be an expert on the matter by any means, but I would like to share some traps/bad habits that it can be easy to get into when it comes to feeding children:
*After introducing a new food a few times and having it be rejected each time, many parents give up and just assume that their child is never going to eat it. For some kids, it may take up to 15 times of trying a food or seeing it on their plate to finally like it. Even if my kids claim to dislike whatever food I am serving, I still put a little on their plate each time so they have the option of trying it. There may be foods that kids never end up liking, but hey, I still am not very fond of brussel sprouts. I think most adults who eat healthy still find that there are foods that they wouldn’t choose to eat.
*Going a long with the last point, I don’t force my kids to eat anything. They have to have a little of everything on their plate, but they can choose what they want to eat. I don’t think that forcing kids to eat a certain amount usually makes them like the food any more in the long run, and it opens up more potential for a power struggle. If you are for the most part serving healthy foods (this is key), then you can feel confident that your kids will be getting enough nutrients.
*I think that it is more and more common for parents to make different foods for different family members to eat at the same meal. Everyone in my family is served the same thing. There have been nights when Gabe will refuse to eat dinner, and he is given the option of having carrots or a piece of whole wheat bread if he doesn’t want what’s for dinner. It happens rarely, but he has chosen to have a carrot for dinner before or to go without.
*It is really hard to get your kids to be healthy eaters if one or both parents is picky. Kids are smart and not easily fooled. If mom is encouraging a child to try some salad, but dad has none on his plate, a child can see through that. It is even good to verbalize that “Hey, I don’t like beets that much, but I am going to give them a try.” What better way to lead than by example.
*There are so many processed foods targeted for kids. Many claim to be healthy, but I’ve even found that organic processed foods often times contain way too much sugar. It is still possible to serve healthy food in a hurry. A handful of almonds or an apple is just as easy to grab as many of the junk processed foods.
The list could go on, but I’m sure that many parents can relate to many of these traps. I know that I often times fill my kids up with snacks not thinking about how close it is to dinner, and then my kids are not hungry. There are also days when at the end of the day I realize that I gave my kids way too many sweets. You live and you learn. I try not to beat myself up if I have a day when my meals are quick and not so healthy. At the beginning of my pregnancies when I am really sick, some days it was all I could do to make my kids and husband a sandwich for dinner.
If making changes seems overwhelming, just take baby steps. Here are some things I have found to be helpful in getting my kids to enjoy (or at least eat) healthy foods:
-The other day when my kids were making their own mini pizzas, I put some grated zucchini and swiss chard in bowls on the table. I told them that they got to pick which one they wanted to put on their pizza. Sofia only put the zucchini on, but Gabe decided that he wanted both. Kids like feeling like they have a choice, so why not offer a couple of healthy ones?
-After trying to put cooked vegetables in my kids food all of the time Sofia told me one day that she liked her vegetables raw and not cooked. I still do cook vegetables with meals, but I also put more of a focus on salad since my kids are more likely to eat veggies raw. Everyone just has to experiment until they find what works for their own kids. Maybe your kid doesn’t like bell peppers, but maybe they would like them dipped in some ranch or hummus?
-I am lucky to live in an area where there is an abundance of locally grown food. My kids and I are always picking berries in the summer, and my kids can help me make applesauce in the fall. Last summer, Sofia had her own little garden, and she was so excited to show every guest what she was growing. Having a garden is a huge help in getting kids to enjoy healthy food. I remember as a kid just going and snacking on green beans or whatever else was ready to be picked in the garden.
-I think that it is important that kids learn to like eating fruits/and veggies consciously, but it never hurts to sneak some in when they can’t see them. Why not add some pureed squash to your spaghetti sauce or add a little spinach to the smoothie popsicles that you are making? I’ve also found that grating vegetables or chopping them as small as possible makes them less intimidating for young children.
-If you feel like your family eats a lot of convenience foods, make gradual changes to eat healthier. You can still buy crackers and treats for your kids to eat, but maybe you could commit to buy foods that do not contain high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oils. I made a commitment this year to not eat drive-thru fast food at all (excluding subway) with my family. Just focus on one thing and choose a small goal so that you aren’t overwhelmed.
Feeding my family well is not something that I am perfect at, but it is something that I feel passionate about and take pride in when I am successful. It is a way I show love for my family. We all want our kids to lead healthy and happy lives, and I feel that instilling healthy eating habits in our kids is one of the greatest gifts that we can give them.