Sunday, March 3, 2013

Raise a Better Eater in 10 Simple Ways

Here are some ideas that have worked well for us, but with a mommy guilt disclaimer: I don't implement these ideas every day - sometimes I'm not in the mood, we're having a toddler meltdown, or we just don't have time. We are not the Von Trapps, people. That said, here are some very simple, effective ways to help your child become a better eater, and these ideas are intentionally woven into tasks that like cooking and meal planning, things that have to be done anyway. Try one or try a few - see what works for you and your children, and let me know how it turns out.

1. Get a kid-sized apron, some small melamine bowls, or a little bright blue whisk - something that's her very own - for your child to use when she helps you prepare foods.

2. Take your children to the grocery store and ask what fruits or vegetables they want to try. Or maybe get a chunk of imported cheese and then look up its country of origin on a map.

3. Ask for help when you're making dinner.
If I could only include one point, this would be it. My impulse is to shoo every living creature out of the kitchen when I'm working, but that's wasting a great opportunity. Instead, I'm trying to learn patience and find things for my two year old to "help" with in the kitchen. She loves moving vegetables I've chopped to a large bowl - and because she's touched, smelled, and nibbled the vegetables we're going to eat, she almost always tries them at the meal itself. Find something that needs to be torn, dried, patted, rolled, kneaded, chopped, or stirred and enlist some little hands.

4. Make setting the table an event every now and then - pull out cloth napkins and nice dishes, or do a fun mismatched look and let your kids choose the plates and cups.

5. Give your older child a cookbook to peruse and let him pick a recipe or two to make with you, and then try one that week.

6. Plant something together and then let your child help harvest it.

Don't have a green thumb? Try using earth boxes - they're in my "Shop" tab at the top of the page. They're seriously amazing and basically grow themselves. The produce from ours paid for the box after a season or two. We've grown zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, chard, and broccoli with great success.

7. Go to the farmers' market together. Give each kid a few dollars to get something that catches her eye, and then find a way to prepare it together.

8. Lead by example.
Eat at the table together without any screens on. Be together. Show your child that you enjoy eating. Talk about what you're eating. Where did it come from? What flavors do you taste? What are the textures like?

9. Snack intentionally.
 We've cut out all snacks except for a mid-afternoon bite to eat. I realized that I was using food as a pacifier to distract my fussy child, which will do nothing but set her up to be an emotional eater as an adult. We also learned to offer snacks well outside of meal times - at least 2 hours. If kids aren't hungry, they won't try new foods.

10. Be positive.
I've caught myself saying, "You probably won't like this" when offering a new food. And what does that do? It sets my child up to dislike a food before she's even tried it. Instead, be encouraging and remember that it can take introducing an ingredient up to 10-15 times before a child will eat it willingly. Learning to eat is just like learning to use the toilet, to read a book, or to play an instrument: it takes repetition.

Bon Appétit!