Sadly, I’ve had to spend way too much of my time thinking about this. Miss Fruitarian (age 5) and Mr Meat-&-Potatoes (age 3) used to make most mealtimes about as joyous as stabbing myself in the eye. However after many mealtime disasters and much trial and error, I think I’m almost there with them reasonably able to consume most ingredients in moderate amounts. So I’m in a position to provide a helpful list of ways to get your children eating healthy food without complaint….
Hiding healthy food in yummy meals
Some people are anti hiding food, thinking kids just need to learn to eat their vegetables. This is true. But my logic also states that once the kids are eating healthy food that’s hidden, their palates become used to the flavours and you can gradually reduce the amount you have to hide things until they will happily munch down anything.
Chop things small
Once food is grated or chopped finely, kids are much less able to identify and pick out foreign items. If it’s all mixed together in a yummy delicious meal that their tastebuds approve of, the battle is won. Use a grater, learn knife skills and invest in a mini food processor to make blitzing food quick and easy.
Keep it colourful
There’s a reason why kid’s toys are all bright. They love it! It attracts them and it looks fun. Use this logic in your mealtimes and you’ll have kids thinking ‘yum’ as soon as the plate is put down.
Kids love flavour
At some point around 8-12 months, both my kids went from loving bland, to needing much more challenging flavours. Don’t dumb food down thinking that they will prefer it. Sure, leave out the chili and olives, but experiment a little and you may be pleasantly surprised by how much the kids like interesting foods.
A British study found that 1 in 4 families ate the same meal on the same night of each week. If this works for you, fine. But my kids get really bored and uncooperative when being fed sausage rolls every Thursday night (I found this out the hard way). They like the surprise of ‘what’s for dinner’. It keeps it interesting and more playful.
Understand the current stage of your kid’s development and realise that it doesn’t matter if they don’t eat every meal. Perhaps it stems from the early frantic days when you shove as much milk into your kiddie as possible in the hope that they will sleep all night, but some days they are not hungry and do not need to eat. Maybe freeze their dinner, to avoid the frustration of scraping a whole bowl of food into the bin.
Yes, it’s boring. But it’s also a key to success. Know what’s for dinner before they ask you. It doesn’t mean you have to cook every night. When you do feel like cooking, make double batches and freeze portions so that even on hellish nights you have something good to give them.
You get what you get and you don’t get upset
This wonderful mantra is from Australian chef Bill Grainger. Visit him at www.bills.com.au. It sums up a couple of important things – 1. What you see in front of you is dinner. I WILL NOT go and make you toast or open a tin of beans. 2. You must TRY what is in front of you. You don’t have to like it, but you must try it.
However, if you kids are visibly gagging over something, or even you concede that perhaps things didn’t go so well in the kitchen tonight, then offer them a banana or a bowl of cereal. No interesting specials like spaghetti in the tin or cheese on toast. Please don’t prepare food twice in a night – they will sniff food victory.
Look at your own diet
Kids copy you. Assess what you eat and make modifications so that you are setting a good example. Quit crappy snacks. Start eating fruit again. Include more vegies in your cooking and rediscover how good fresh food can be. Perhaps your mum wasn’t’ so great in the kitchen and perhaps you didn’t have a good introduction, but now is your chance to eat well.
I’ve taken up knitting. Truly. So that I can sit at the dinner table, am present and can participate in dinnertime talk without having to actually watch the carnage. I breathe deeply, remember lessons learnt from the Buddhism for Mothers book and remind myself that food flying around everywhere, being smeared on chairs, spat out and pushed aside is part of children being children. If I watch them my blood pressure rises and I start yelling. Knitting seems to be more of a positive activity than guzzling wine which incidentally does also distract me quite nicely.
So there you have it, they’re the top tips that I’ve discovered. But what are yours?…