Let’s be honest, we all have a relationship with food. Whether its good or bad, how you feel about food will trickle into your parenting. What’s my relationship with food? I really, really like food. Like, a lot. Growing up I had a fairly good grasp on what a healthful diet consisted of. But as my babies grew out of the “baby food” phase, I became almost paralyzed with the fear that I was setting them up for lifetime of “food failure” if they didn’t love and eat everything “healthy”. Eventually, as in all parental uncertainties, being patient and giving it time gave me a lot of perspective. Here are a few things I learned.
- All kids go though phases:
My youngest literally survived off of baked beans and pureed pears for months. Months. (My other children went through similar phases, but for less time, so I wasn’t as neurotic about it). I even tried making “healthier” homemade versions of each because I was worried about the sugar content, which of course she refused to eat. But you know what? Despite my sugar worries, beans and pureed fruit are not the worst. I stopped fighting it, and eventually she finally branched out into other food groups. So, unless you’re feeding your child nonstop jellybeans, save your sanity, don’t fret. Keep at it.
- Always offer choices:
At family meal times, I always put everything I’m serving on my kids’ plates. You never know what they’re going to try if you just put it out there for them. I start this as early as they can have solids. I’ll even “baby-fy” my meal (puree, smash or cut in to teeny tiny pieces). This is how I figured out my middle child loved avocados, and that my oldest loved spinach. Exposing them to the family’s palate/cooking style as early as possible has proven successful with all 3 of my children. Now they are 4, 6 and 9, and I still do this.
Another note about food choices. If you put a piece of cake or an apple in front of a child, they will pick the cake every time. Wouldn’t you? You are in charge of when your child is introduced to junk/processed food and how often they consume it. Did my kids eat junk food at a young age? Sure! Do they still do? Yes! Is it the majority of their diet? Absolutely not. It’s all about balance. If you continually offer unhealthy choices and that’s all your pantry is stocked with, that’s what they’re going to want.
- Don’t make it a big deal:
Nothing is more enraging than spending a bunch of time in the kitchen only to have your child push their plate away and say “I don’t like it!” Am I right? The more I insist, the more my children will dig their heels in, and dinner turns into an argument. The solution for me has always come back to choices. If there’s a variety of food available, then I really don’t care if they eat just one of those items for their entire meal. Yesterday, my 6 year old literally just had brown rice for dinner. No arguing, just eating and being together. Now that they can all talk and feed themselves, our general rule is, “you don’t have to eat it all, just try a bite”. For the most part, it works.
- Have snacks ready:
Hangry. We’ve all been there. Your kids are no different. On the days where I have my act together (which are few and far between), I have snacks ready to go when they get home from school, and while I’m cooking dinner. It seems everyone is ravenous 5 minutes before dinner is ready. Cut up veggies and fruits literally disappear if they are just out on the counter while I’m cooking. It’s amazing!
- Involve them:
Let your kids meal plan, take them to the grocery store, have them help with cooking meals. The more involved my kids have been, the more adventurous they’ve been with their eating. When my son was in 1st grade, he told me he wanted to “make his own sandwich” for his lunch. He chose a wheat tortilla filled with cheese, spinach, Greek yogurt and ketchup – then he chowed down, hard. He loooooved his creation. He had this in his lunch for weeks after that. Gross? Yes. But not to a 6 year old who was earning his independent stripes, and bonus, there were a lot of great food choices in there!
- Be honest.
Instead of saying “no” to all the bad, I try explaining the “why”.
- “Sugar isn’t the best for our bodies, but it’s ok once in awhile.”
- “No, you can’t have a sandwich, we’re eating dinner in 10 minutes. You may have an apple while you’re waiting.”
- “Our body needs water to work properly, so that’s why it’s the best choice.”
These are just a few examples of discussions we’ve had. It’s so interesting to see their little minds process it all. The other day my 6 year old declared, “I’m not eating sugar or drinking soda because there are better things for my body.” Has she been 100%? No – and I’m definitely not going to call her on it. But choosing healthier food options is on her mind, and that’s the goal. Plus the Easter Bunny came – I can’t blame her.
If you’re stressed, they’re stressed. If some food is “forbidden” that’s all they will want. On the flip side, if you push food on them, they will resist it. As parents our job is to teach. Do your best to educate yourself and your kids and eventually, some of it will sink in. As in most parenting ventures, don’t be so hard on yourself. Get out there and get cooking!
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