I clearly remember thinking that I had successfully raised adventurous eaters by the time both of my children hit 2 years old. They loved sweet potatoes and broccoli, often asking for more. I had also been pretty successful at avoiding refined sugars, artificial food colouring and flavours. I took comfort in the fact that their diet was firmly planted on mostly whole foods. My job as a parent to establish healthy eating habits was complete. Cue laughter here.
And then they turned 3 and began exercising a little more, shall we say, independence? They began refusing some of those nutrient-dense foods and began noticing other foods.
Fast forward to teenagehood and I am feeling pretty good about where we have landed as a family. While my kids do enjoy candy & chips a little more than I would like them too, and I have to remind them to pack veggies and fruit in their school lunches, they are great eaters with a palette for all kinds of flavours. They are adventurous and will try new food experiences pretty willingly. They rarely complain about what is on the table and they know their way around the kitchen.
Believing that many of our healthiest habits begin in the kitchen, I want to pull from my experience as a Mom and Nutritionist and share with you my top 5 tips for raising adventurous eaters. For those of you that don’t know, in addition to thoroughly enjoying spending my mornings with your children, I also have my own family nutrition practice right here in Elmira.
- Reluctantly, but believing it was the right thing to do, I allowed my children to try all kinds of things that I may not have encouraged otherwise. I am a firm believer that the more you avoid something, the more shiny and appealing it becomes.
- I also remained consistent about offering plenty of whole food options. If they didn’t like something in particular, I thought about different ways to serve the same food. As my son got older, he didn’t like cooked carrots so much anymore. As he was old enough that they didn’t pose much of a choking risk for him, I began serving raw carrots alongside the cooked ones and he ate the raw ones without complaint. Eventually, cooked carrots were a go too.
- Keep a routine for snack and meal times. Childhood grazing leads to less eating overall in a day than scheduled eating times. Of course, there is flexibility, but there is value in having a child experience actual hunger. This helps us be able to listen to our bodies and eat when we are hungry and not just bored. Keep in mind that children have small tummies. Aim for 3 meals as well as 2-3 snacks per day.
- Try not to sweat it when they refuse to eat certain things. It was not always easy, in fact, there were plenty of times I left the dinner table frustrated and sometimes in tears that my efforts weren’t more appreciated and that we talked about eating a bite of peas more in one meal than anyone should in a lifetime. When a child is small, even getting them to kiss their food goodbye begins a fun interaction. Over time, this can grow to smelling the food, then licking it and then a one bite to be polite policy. All the while, this remains fun and we keep any adult frustration under wraps.
- Have fun. Eating food together should be a time to connect, a safe place to talk about the highlights and the crummy parts of our day. When we allow stress around the table, everyone loses and children especially lose their appetite.
Written by: Amy Sonnenberg