We all understand the importance of eating well. And as a parent we try to foster good eating habits in our children. But when most of what we cook ends up on the floor by a child who has no interest, it can be deflating, and a little worrying.
It can lead us to hiding the "good stuff" in the not as good stuff to get at least some nutrients into them. And resorting to multivitamins to fill any deficiencies.
But I've learned a thing or two along the way. Both our kids now eat the majority of their vegetables without fuss. I don't say that to boast. But to give hope to others who are struggling and looking for a few ideas with their own children.
1. Model good eating habits yourself
Cook real wholesome food. Eat nutritious food yourself. Place fresh vegetables and salads on the table and eventually, a child will reach for them. Model good eating yourself and a child will learn and respond when they are ready.
"The way you teach a child to eat well is through example, enthusiasm and patient exposure to good food"
– Bee Wilson, First Bite
2. Have your children help you prepare food
Yes this is a juggle, and requires caution around a hot stove. But many children love to help in the kitchen and are curious about what is going on up there.
I've found having my children watch as I cut up ingredients, help me place them into a pot or baking tray, and discuss the ingredients going into a meal, creates an interest for cooking. It encourages my son to talk about the health aspects of ingredients.
It also helps to take children to the shops with you when buying fresh produce. They love helping to place fruit and vegetables into the shopping basket. And it's good practice for shopping for real ingredients.
They are more likely to try prepared food if they are involved in the process.
3. Make mealtimes an enjoyable experience
Togetherness is a beautiful thing. Gathering at a table with family to enjoy good food and talk with one another creates memories that children will look back on fondly. It helps keep a family close.
Sit at a table as much as possible, light a candle or make it a little special from time-to-time, keep conversation lighthearted. Enjoy each others company together, for these moments matter greatly.
There will be food that ends up on the floor, drinks that are knocked over. But, c'est la vie.
4. Let the child decide what goes into their mouth
In the first few years, I served the vegetables onto my son's plate. He would eat the protein and carbohydrate, but all the vegetables remained. It became a bit of a battle and I'd get really frustrated. Which would lead him to refuse even more.
And here is my "aha" moment:
The day I placed a bowl of vegetables on the table and said to my son "you can eat some if you like" and proceeded to spoon them onto my own plate, is the day he served his own vegetables and ate them all.
A child loves independence but doesn't always feel they have much of it. What goes into their mouth and they actually swallow is within their control. So when we give them the freedom to choose what goes into their mouth, with healthy food being presented, they are more likely to eat well, on their own accord.
5. Let a child decide when they have had enough
Establish a meal structure (3 main meals, 2 healthy snacks for example) and help your child understand the routine. Teach them to eat enough that they feel satisfied so snacking in-between meals doesn't become a habit. And allow them to decide when they have had enough.
If we force a child to eat more than they feel they need, then what does that tell them? That they shouldn't trust their bodily cues to stop when they have had enough. Yes, perhaps the tiny morsel of food they consumed may concern us. But sometimes children just aren't hungry. And other times they will eat a lot.
Establish clear eating times, and give them the ability to decide how much they need to feel satisfied.
And to end, Bee Wilson says it well -
"The art of feeding, it turns out, is not about pushing 'one more bite' into someone's mouth,
however healthy the food. Nor is it about authoritarian demands to abstain from all treats.
It is about creating a mealtime environment where those eating are free to develop their own tastes,
because all the choices on the table are real, whole food."
– Bee Wilson, First Bite