Tips for Raising a Good Eater
By: Shauna Armitage
Many, many young children are picky eaters and refuse to veer away from “kid’s foods” such as grilled cheese or chicken fingers. The most important thing that a parent can remember at meal time is that there is no such thing as “kid food”. There is just food. If you allow your child to believe that there is a different set of rules for his dietary intake, he will learn that he isn’t expected to eat like everyone else. If you only give your child what you eat at breakfast, lunch and dinner, that standard will be his norm and he will be accustomed to eating the same foods as everyone else.
When a baby starts eating solid food, there are a great deal more options today than there used to be. Parents opt for quick and easy options such as prepackaged toddler meals or boxes of snack crackers, when they really could be offering their child a modified version of their own meal instead. Encourage your little one to eat whatever it is that you are eating—such as spaghetti and meatballs or grilled chicken and rice. Make sure that everything is cut small enough for baby before serving.
Get the Littles Involved
Children take pride in their accomplishments the same as adults do, so make food a part of this equation. Cook together, shop together and look out for seasonal opportunities at “pick your own” strawberry fields or apple orchards where children and adults alike will relish the chance to spend a day together gathering food for the family table.
What’s in a Snack?
It won’t be long before prepackaged, processed snack crackers and cookies will become normal for a midday treat. Where did children learn this from? They learned it from you.
Canned fruits in light syrup or 100% fruit juice is a great snack for kids of all ages and is quite simple to prepare. Open the cans, portion into Tupperware containers and place in the fridge. Voila! You have healthy snacks ready to go for the entire week.
Raw vegetables take a bit longer to prepare, but it is definitely worth it. Take the lead when it comes to your child’s snacking and stop stocking the house with unhealthy options; when a child has only raw green peppers and a bunch of grapes to choose from, there is no wrong choice.
Do Away with the Fillers
When we grew up, a cup of apple juice was considered a healthy option. Today, we know that juice is entirely unnecessary. Children can easily get their vitamin supply from juicy fruits and are better off getting their liquids in the form of milk and water—both of which are essential for healthy, growing kiddos. Things like sports drinks and sodas contain even higher levels of sugar than juices have and should be held off until little ones are older, and even then, moderation is necessary.
Stand Your Ground
One of the most important rules at my dinner table is “You must try it.” During the older toddler years when my son decided that he didn’t like a food simply by the way it looked, this was essential to our plan to keep him eating well. It wasn’t always easy and sometimes included a bit of trickery (I bet I can eat my broccoli faster than you can!) but 9 times out of 10, my testy toddler would realize that he did, in fact, love the food on his plate. If it does turn out that he isn’t a fan of a particular dish or side, he isn’t required to eat it. A child’s taste buds are constantly changing, so always try to reintroduce foods that may have been deemed unworthy every six to twelve months to see if there is a change in your toddler’s preferences.
With delicious processed foods sitting on shelves for a fraction of the price of other more wholesome options, it is difficult for parents to steer clear in favor of healthier and far less convenient choices—but it can be done. Modeling good behaviors and being firm with young children is essential for raising a child who licks the plate clean after every meal. Persistence and consistency are key so start early and stand firm. You can do it!