Next time you’re experiencing a battle over broccoli, take a breath. Healthy eating isn’t an inherited trait, it’s a learned habit. You can teach your children to eat well (I promise!). You’ve got this. Let’s train these toddlers together.
Every day we are teaching ourselves to crave the foods we eat. The more vegetables and fruits we choose to eat the more our bodies will desire those foods. Every new child has the potential to be a healthy eater right from the start. If you are able to instill healthy eating habits early you have a better chance of raising a healthy eater. But that doesn’t mean you can’t alter the eating habits of a picky toddler. Start by making small changes each week and you can see a big difference at your meal table.
I have had the privilege helping to raise 20 children through my in-home child care center over the last five years. Over that time I have developed routines and methods that have turned those children into vegetable-eating monsters. They devour foods that some adults wouldn’t even touch and then they ask for more. In fact, our time around the meal table is always one of my favorite times of day. So how do I get those little people to eat all that colorful food? It’s simple really: that’s all I have ever given them. To them it is our normal, daily routine, the same we practice every day.
Want to teach your children (to eat) well? Start here:
1. Eat your colors. Every day my children are served fresh fruit and vegetables. I always try to use a variety of foods but I really strive for vibrant colors. We use this to start a discussion at the table: Who knows what colors they see? Who can eat all their orange food? Who can eat all their green food? This makes a great game for them.
2. Involve your children in their meals! I ask their opinion about what they would like to eat that week. I get them involved in cooking by helping measure, pour, and stir. They feel a great deal of pride when given even a small bit of control and I find this encourages them to want to eat what they are served. I also have turned the children into tiny “foodies” by letting them discuss their likes and dislikes of every meal. I never force them to eat anything but instead ask that they try it and tell me their thoughts. This makes for hilarious table conversations and gets them thinking in a whole new way.
3. Serve dessert right along other foods. I don’t make it into a huge deal or treat it special in any way. They do not always get a sweet treat but when they do they hardly notice it. This helps to not set up certain items as highly desirable treats.
4. Plate the food in a way that is appetizing. Children are visual creatures and if it doesn’t look good, some are hesitant to touch it at all. In my home they would be required to at least taste the “ugly” food and tell what is so horrible about it. However I have found that children, like adults, are more likely to think food tastes good if it looks good. It doesn’t have to be fancy and a little thought goes a long way.
5. Gardening with your children is a fantastic way to get them interested in their food and where it comes from. We plant the seeds together, then the children are in charge of watering and weeding the garden as well as harvesting the vegetables. This has my daycare kids eating raw zucchinis, tomatoes, green beans and snap peas right off the plant. Even my pickiest eaters don’t turn it down!
6. I always keep a bag of chopped veggies in the fridge for snacking in-between meals. The kids really enjoy cut up carrots, red pepper, and cauliflower. A little light dressing for dipping and everyone’s happy.
7. Lastly, and most importantly, in order to have a child that lives a healthy lifestyle, YOU must also live a healthy lifestyle, too! If we want our kids to choose carrots of chips, we have to model that behavior, too. This is not to say I don’t indulge, I do too often, but I make a point to not keep junk in the house. If I want it that bad I have to get up off my butt, wrangle the children out the door, and go get it. Most of the time I decide that is just too much effort.