My kids are good eaters. Even the little one who we call “picky” is really just a lot more picky than her sister, but she is still a lot less picky than most other kids we know. I mean, she loves kale! And even she is getting better every day when it comes to eating. It could be that we just got lucky or it could be our philosophy on feeding them, or a little of both. But this is how feeding the kids works in our house.
They eat what we eat. A lot of the parents I know, maybe most, make separate meals for their kids. Each night for dinner, they make a “grownup meal” for themselves and they also make a “kid meal.” The kid meal usually consists of typical “kid food” – chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese – the stuff you see on restaurant kid menus – and maybe a simple veggie or fruit on the side.
We don’t do this. Never have. From the time they started eating table food, they ate what I made for us.
They have to try everything. Not just once. Every time I make it. Tastes change. They aren’t allowed to say, “I don’t like this.” Okay, so they’re allowed to say it, but it’s not considered a permanent state. The next time I make that particular food, they have to try it again. One bite. If they still say they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat any more of it at that meal. But they will have to try it again the next time I make it. The rule is that they have to try at least one bite of every thing on their plate. And, yes, there are definitely foods they have claimed to not like at one time that they now eat. Just the other night, we made my 4-year-old try one bite of the grilled onion on her plate after she once again said she doesn’t like onions. She ended up eating every bit of it on her plate, all on her own.
No being sneaky. I absolutely do not believe in that whole “sneaky chef” thing – sneaking healthy foods into other stuff you know your kids will eat. I firmly believe it is important to educate our kids about food and healthy eating so they can learn to make good choices both now and as they get older.
Now, I do put vegetables into things as I often as I can, but they are not hidden. For example, my kids love macaroni and cheese with vegetables in it – spinach and broccoli are their favorites. My older daughter is actually disappointed if there are not vegetables in her macaroni and cheese.
Don’t deny them treats. After eating spinach omelets for breakfast, grilled chicken and veggies for lunch, carrots and celery for snacks, and kale at dinner, my kids are absolutely allowed to have a piece of chocolate or some ice cream as a treat. I like to have “treats,” especially when I spend most of my time making sure I eat healthy. So should they. They’re kids. Teach them good habits, but also let them be kids and enjoy. It’s also part of learning about food and learning to make good decisions. They are learning that as long as you are eating healthy most of the time, it is also okay to sometimes have the things you enjoy that aren’t as good for you. They are learning about moderation.
The week before Easter, my 8-year-old told me that she decided she didn’t want to have any “treats” at all that week because she knew she was going to get a lot of a treats that weekend. Completely her idea. And she did it. That’s my 8-year-old making a responsible decision about her own eating because she has learned about food and healthy eating. That’s also why I don’t buy the whole “sneaky chef” thing. Education is too important.
Home vs. Away. These are our general habits for feeding the kids in our every day life. When we are not at home, the rules change a bit. If we are at someone else’s house where all the kids are eating chicken fingers and french fries, my kids have chicken fingers and french fries if they want. Although, I think my older daughter often prefers the grownup food. At home, we only drink water. If we are with other kids, they can drink what everyone else is drinking if they want. We don’t deny them these things when they see other kids eating them. When we are with other kids, these are their decisions to make. Although, I am happy to say, I see my older daughter more and more choosing to stick with the healthier option.
I once worked with someone who ate a LOT of pop tarts. She said it was because her parents wouldn’t allow her to have them when she was a kid and she always saw her friends eating them. Now that it was up to her, she ate them all the time. I don’t want that. So I don’t deny them anything in moderation and educate them to make healthier decisions on their own.
Again, maybe we just got really lucky, but of course, I like to think that our parenting strategies had at least a little to do with our kids’ good eating habits.