I am willing to bet that after sleep, the next most researched topic in parenthood is food. In fact, in my homestead of three young kids, there is never a moment when I am not thinking about food. Even as a self-professed foodie who loves to cook and read cookbooks and food blogs, I am constantly exhausted trying to stay one step ahead in my children’s questionable and ever-changing eating habits.
The problem usually lies in what I believe they should be eating, versus what they want to eat. Or their instant rejection of something based on how it looks or its newness. I’ve called my mom plenty of times wondering if things were this complicated when I was a kid. And of course, she gives me a resounding YES! You mean, I wasn’t the best eater who gobbled up everything you put in front of me as I hummed songs of praise to you? What?? Me? Nooo….
It’s called the circle of life dear friends, and here we are today, as grown adults with logic and knowledge, and long forgotten personal food aversions, asking our littles to not only eat without complaining but also love wholeheartedly, their fruits and vegetables. So how do we accomplish this?
We do it by being patient and persistent – two words that are pretty much universal in anything that you are trying to accomplish as a parent. So congratulations, you already have the first step down. Moving on to step two, here are a few tried and tested tricks that go beyond just a recipe. Think of them as tools to cultivate a positive relationship between children and their food. All of it without sacrificing your own sanity and taste buds!
If I could, I would make a jazzy, loud, and very-pink infomercial selling the benefits of broccoli and cabbage, just like the TV ads that sell them crappy toys and fast food. But since I can’t, I at least try to be a good salesman. For me, this usually means frequent trips to the grocery store where we linger and take our time shopping for our food. We appreciate how nicely and colorfully the produce is laid out. We touch, smell, and sort out the best to add to our cart.
Similarly, farmers markets are a wonderful opportunity to expose them to the source of “that thing” that mysteriously shows up on their plate. And if you are really going for the gold, plant a few things in your yard (lettuces, cucumbers, zucchini, and herbs are low maintenance and can be grown in a container if you don’t have space) and get them invested in growing their own dinner!
In our busy lives, grocery shopping often feels like an errand that just needs to be checked off the neverending to-do list. There will always be times when you do need to make it a quick trip without the kids or rely on your grocery delivery service. But more often than not, use your grocery shopping time as a reason to slow down and bond with your kids.
The logical next step to shopping together is, you guessed it, cooking together. My 3-year-old and 5-year-old are usually perched on the kitchen counter whenever I cook. I assign them little tasks like chopping vegetables with a butter knife, or sprinkling seasonings, or mixing and stirring. Sometimes they just want to sit and watch. Either way, I like to encourage their interest and get them invested in the outcome.
Shopping and cooking together certainly are the enemy of what we consider efficient and quick. But the time that is “wasted” in working together to create a meal, will be more than made up during dinner time when you won’t need to nag about finishing what’s on their plate. Treat them like your co-captain in the kitchen, so that they take ownership and pride in what’s for dinner.
Create An Inviting Space
We eat with our eyes before we eat with our mouth. I find that a good display is critical in marketing fruits and vegetables positively to the kids! I try my best to make the dinner table look inviting. Laying down a tablecloth, using plates that are cute, (cloth or paper) napkins with fun prints, a bunch of flowers from the yard, all can help you achieve a good display with relatively low effort. Better yet, get them to help you set up the table. On nights when I am running a little behind schedule, I leave out a small cup of markers and papers on the dinner table too, so that they can ease into mealtime at the table, while I finish the last bit of dinner prep. Or mix it up completely, by announcing that you will be eating out in the yard picnic style. In the end, space, where we come together to eat, has to be a space that creates joy rather than anxiety over how they are going to be forced to eat something they don’t necessarily like.
Create A Grazing Board
I am such a big fan of grazing boards, especially on nights when I don’t want to cook. All you need is your biggest chopping board or a big serving platter and then pile it nicely with colorful things like grapes, chopped figs, roasted beets, edamame, bell peppers, carrot and cucumber sticks arranged in a nice cup along with their favorite dips, cheeses, nuts, boiled eggs, olives, some slices of bread or crackers. There are no rules to this except that it should look so appealing that they can’t wait to get their hands on it all. Watch them pile those things right up on their own plates!
Prepare Foods Using Different Techniques
Maybe Timmy didn’t like the raw piece of carrot on his plate, and Sophia hates the shriveled heap of asparagus that you sauteed in really expensive olive-oil. Move on, and next time, try a different technique to prepare that same food. Perhaps that carrot looks more fun when shredded in tiny confetti using your box grater. Or maybe spirals are Timmy’s thing (spiralizers can be gotten for pretty cheap these days). Maybe tempura or fried asparagus is more crunchy and less intimidating for Sophia. Point is, try different ways to introduce the same thing. One of them is bound to stick and become their favorite!
Again, I am willing to bet that after sleep, the next most written about topic in children’s books is food. There are so many cute books out there for picky eaters, or even just to introduce the idea of eating fruits and vegetables. (two that come to mind now – Lauren Child’s I Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato and Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Little Pea) Get your hands on a few at your library or local book store, and read them with your kids without any added commentary about how you want them to eat well. Just play it cool and have fun. Another idea could be to play a game of kitchen-kitchen and see what kind of foods they serve you. Then casually just ask for “the yummy and crunchy apple” or “a super green salad”. After all, kids listen best when we aren’t telling them what to do.
So are there any guarantees that after following these tricks, your child will finish dinner tonight without complaining? I really hope so! But if not tonight, then just know that good things will happen at your dinner table in the very near future! Good habits take time, patience, and persistence. Enjoy the small victories and try to be more creative for something that didn’t work. Above all, don’t let your standards dwindle by giving into less than wholesome foods just to get dinner over with.
Keep positive and look forward to that day, when at a party filled with lots of temptations, your child just naturally picks the fruits and vegetables because they are yummy. That day is coming and it is going to feel so good! Happy eating my friends!
Follow Chika’s adventures with her family as she travels around the globe on The Antibland.