This is the third post in our Mother’s Day series this week. Today we are excited to hear from Erin. Erin is something of a wizard in the kitchen and with three lively boys there’s never a dull moment. Thanks Erin!!
5 Tips on Raising Healthy Eaters
True or false: Healthy parents have healthy kids. The answer, in my experience, is both. I have three boys, ages 5, 4, and 2. One is super picky, another in between, and the last is a vegan food blogger’s dream. Each one was born at a different stage in my cooking experience, and although it can’t necessarily be proven, there is strong evidence that what we were eating during their earliest years has had a big impact on their food preferences today.
When we had our first we were living with my mom and all the adults were working and/or going to school, so we ate mostly high sodium, high fat, processed convenience foods. When our second son began eating solids, I had just started staying home full time and had begun my healthy eating conquest, so he ate mostly baby food I made for him at home. By the time I was pregnant with our third son I had been eating mostly vegan for a year, making it possible for him to reap the benefit throughout the entire pregnancy. My healthiest eater? My third, by leaps and bounds. But, the good news is, the other two have come a long way as well. So, if you have a picky eater (or several) on your hands, here are a few things I’ve found to help ease the stress, at least in the long run.
It can take twenty or more times of being exposed to a food before a child will try it, let alone start to like it. Parents and siblings can play a big part in this, for better or for worse. If you won’t eat something, it’s likely they won’t either. And if other siblings, especially older ones, are protesting, don’t be surprised when the younger one pushes his plate away, too. Be patient, with them and with yourself.
When I was younger I would nearly barf if I accidentally took a bite of something with tomato, onion, peppers or mushrooms in it. And by younger, I mean up until about 4 years ago. I had to force myself to try new things, and after trying them, often several times, I began to like them. Now all of the above are staples in our house. If there is something you don’t like, trying it together with your kids could be fun, even if they only observe you for the first few times. If you gag, they’ll laugh, and you’ll be having fun. You’ll also be teaching them something great, even if it ends up taking years for them to do the same.
Another huge help is seeing other kids try it. Talk with your friends about what their kids eat, then plan a little play date with them where your child will be able to see his friend eating carrots, or edamame, or apples! Of course, this could backfire on your friend when her child realizes his buddy won’t touch hummus with a ten foot pole, but hey, it’s worth a shot. On second thought, only try this with your really really really good friends, who have a sense of humor.
Blending is not hiding. Unless you want it to be. If there is no other way to get veggies into your child (and I’ve been there), then turn your back to them, throw in the ingredients with rapid speed and don’t step away from the blender until all your child can identify is a color. I had to do this for a while, but as number one’s palette started to change he became more accepting of veggies in general and didn’t mind eating them pureéd. Asking him to bite into them was still a different story.
At this point all three of my boys will drink green smoothies, with the middle child being especially keen on stuffing the blender with kale. It did take a while to get to this point with the older two, but they eventually came around on their own. Seeing their younger brother with a huge smile and a green mustache, or references to “The Joker” may also have helped convince them.
Don’t limit yourself to smoothies, either. Many a time chunky salsas, sauces, and soups have gone from “The sight of that is causing me to have a mental breakdown and act like I’m melting into the floor” to “Can I have some more?”, all with the flip of a switch. Giving them something fun to dip is a big bonus, too. Think chips, hummus, bread, crackers, veggies, fruit, pretzels.
3) Teach them about food
I used to think I was pretty book smart until my oldest took an interest in the world around him and started barraging me with questions about how cars work and what worms eat and why tomatoes are red. Turns out his dad is a genius and I’m more of a social scientist. However, I do know what foods are good for you and why (in layman’s terms, but still). As we’ve talked about food and sugar, especially, I’ve been surprised at how it’s affected his food choices. Just yesterday we were at a get-together and he handed me his half eaten cookie, hollering back at me that it was too sweet as he ran off. For the record, this cookie ranks in one of my top three favorite chocolate chip cookies ever. Granted, he did come back later and accidentally eat his younger brother’s leftover piece, but I’ll take what I can get.
(Click on picture for original source)
Talking with your kids about the science behind eating, what our bodies need to function properly and where we get those vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, can have a strong influence over helping them to try new foods for the first time, or even to help them “eat their veggies” in spite of it not being their most favorite part of a meal. Using someone your child looks up to as an example (super heroes, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, older kids, their favorite character) can also help. “See how defined Superman’s serratus interiors are? And those unnaturally huge bulging veins? He gets those from eating his broccoli!” (Seriously, though, have you seen the comics these days? Nuts!)
4) Let them cook
Allowing kids to get familiar with food in their hands can lead to them being willing to get familiar with it in their mouth. It may take a while, but hey, even if they never eat a raw onion (raise hand) at least they’ll remember you let them help, and that’ll have its own payoff. Now, don’t go calling CPS on me but I do let my oldest two handle sharp knives (sharp is relative, our set is super old). I’ll let them help me cut up fruits and veggies (after practicing with them for a long time and starting them with foods that are soft and really easy to cut, think bananas, for starters). They help peel potatoes, pour things into bowls, combine and stir sauces and my oldest will stir things on the stove for me (I’m always there by him, put the phone down…that means you, Mom).
Not only does allowing them to help get them more familiar with food, it’s also a huge opportunity to teach them some cooking basics. Another perk: they’ll be able to take over the kitchen in the not-too-distant future on days where you just don’t feel like it, and they’ll probably jump at the chance.
5) Give them options
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, kids love making their own choices. I know, huge revelation, right? I can’t tell you how many times per day I hear my youngest shout, “I do it MYSELF!” They like to be in control (huge understatement). I try to have at least one veggie for them to choose from every night, and our go-to’s seem to be carrots, celery, or broccoli with ranch dressing or hummus. They have their preferences, but they also tend to branch out occasionally and eat something they don’t usually eat regularly. Another idea is asking them what they’d prefer before you make it. “Would you rather have edamame or cucumbers with dinner?” Again, with more than one child, you may end up making both anyway, or designating nights where someone gets to pick may help.
Try different things, find what works for you, and above all, be patient. Don’t give up, friends! Celebrate little victories when they come-they will!
Erin writes at PolitelyVegan.com. She currently lives on the east coast with her husband and three boys. She has a great sense of humor and is even willing to eat meat if someone else prepares it for her. Head over to her blog, your taste buds will not be disappointed!