Years ago I read Ellyn Satter’s Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense and have tried to adopt her mind-set in the division of responsibility. The parent is responsible for “what,” and the child is responsible for “how much.” Knowing that I can’t make my children eat, I try to focus on what I am providing.
My children don’t have the mind-set, motivation, or desire to eat “SANE” they just want food when they are hungry and they want it to taste good!
I am trying to consider what my kitchen is stocked with. When they know they have options for processed crackers, sweetened yogurt, packaged snack bars, etc., they will almost always choose this over fresh food. So it’s up to me to prepare and provide tasty food. The following ideas work in our home:
- Put out colorful trays filled with veggies. Do this often at prime “hungry times,” like after school or before dinner.
- Pack containers of crunchy carrots and sweet peppers for running errands or making trips to the park. Make your “just in case” snack something that you want your kids to eat, not something you have to resort to.
- Let your child pick a snack from the produce carts at the grocery store.
- Encourage your kids to help prepare meals: We have a “chef of the day.” My kids like to sample what we prepare; they get some extra veggies in this way.
- Keep the food you want to be eaten in sight, and put away things you don’t want them to ask for. (Better yet, don’t have them at all!)
- Presentation is important; eliminate middle steps for children: Peel the fruit or veggie, cut in smaller pieces, use straws for green smoothies, serve things on colorful plates and bowls, and use fun utensils and containers. I’m not talking fancy, but everyone is more likely to try and eat things that look appealing, kids most of all.
- Find the tastiest version: My kids prefer eating steamed cauliflower and roasted broccoli to eating those vegetables raw; they prefer raw baby spinach instead of cooked; they prefer their kale in a smoothie instead of a salad. Sweet potatoes they prefer diced and roasted instead of baked whole, and when it comes to munchables, they like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, baby sweet peppers, and sliced cucumbers. No one likes overcooked anything, so experiment and take notes on how your family most enjoys their vegetables.
- Change it up. Sometimes I peel whole long carrots and let my kids munch on these, or let them eat the apple to the core without chopping it. It doesn’t seem significant but sometimes just eating the same thing in a new way is novel for kids.
- Be open to new things. I don’t love everything we try, but it’s fun to experiment. Recently we tried zucchini noodles and will soon try cauliflower rice. When we are adventurous, our kid’s palate will expand.
- Do something silly to make it fun. On a morning when the smoothie is a bit too green we call it a “dragon smoothie.” We often see who can make the loudest “dinosaur” crunch with their sweet peppers, or who can look most like a bunny nibbling their carrot.
- Try something new! It’s good for kids to try new things. Decide on a family rule so that everyone is trying at least one bite. It’s okay if they don’t like everything. They can always go with my husband’s favorite tactic which is to chew fast and drink a lot of water.
- Everyone eats dinner together, so don’t get in the habit of serving “kids food.” Even if you are farther on the SANE journey than the rest of your family, don’t make your dinner significantly different than your kid’s dinner. If your dinner is wrapped up in lettuce instead of a tortilla offer your kids a small sample wrap or ask them to try a bite of your own.
It is certainly true that kids can be fickle eaters, but it doesn’t mean that veggies have to be the enemy. If you view the pile of peas on the plate as a necessary thing to get down so you can get to “the good stuff,” you are missing the point and your kids will too. Consider your own statements and opinions about food, because your children will pick up similar attitudes. Enjoy your food, be patient and creative, and show by your example how to eat and fill up with real whole food.