As a parent of three school-age children and a personal chef, I am always striving to put good healthy mealtime options that everyone will enjoy in front of my family or those of my clients. However, it seems that the mealtime whims of ‘the picky eater’ are common to almost every household, often dominating mealtimes to the detriment of other family members’ enjoyment. Keeping the demands of our most choosy diners in check can be challenging and often frustrating. But in my experience, once you set a rule and establish a routine and (the difficult bit), stick to it, mealtimes can become a far more enjoyable affair dominated by conversation and togetherness.
But before you get carried away with these tried and tested strategies, it’s important to recognize that you will need time, patience and resilience. Rome was not built in a day, and people are unique in their food preferences – essentially your child may never like cauliflower or peas, even if you do. But as a parent you have the ability to help your child make an informed decision about food, just as they would about sports or academics – by presenting the opportunity to try in a consistent manner.
1. Establish a Mealtime Routine
Eat meals sitting down at the table, (not in front of the TV) preferably together as a family. Prepare a meal, one meal for the whole family – that might mean that it can’t be spicy, and for younger children in particular, it should be easily identifiable. Your aim is to put something healthy on the table that everyone will enjoy. Be clear that the family table is just that, not a restaurant with menu options. Make one meal with choices, ideally including at least one choice you know your family will eat, and do not provide alternatives. There is a difference between “I don’t like broccoli” and “I refuse to eat my vegetables.”
2. Establish a Snack Rule
Eat meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner and limit snacking. Cutting out the snacks is probably the biggest hurdle for most families, especially as our culture is so snack-prevalent, but it can be done and over time, your children will also come to understand smart snack choices and timing which are important lessons to teach in their own right. How would you feel if an adult came to dinner, having consumed a grand latte and three donut holes only an hour earlier?
Think of milk and juice as snacks too – if you calculate the nutrition and calorie load in beverages, you’ll start to understand why and it’s simply unfair to expect a child, especially a small one, to eat a full meal at 5 pm when they’ve only just consumed half a pint of milk or juice. Consider introducing a ‘No Snacks 2 Hours Before Dinner’ rule – and then sticking to it.
3. Introducing New Foods – GO SLOW!
Introduce new foods alongside favored ones. If your child will only eat carrots, offer carrots and corn, carrots and beans, carrots and tomatoes. And then keep offering it. Just because a child refuses something once does not mean that they do not like it. Yes, this may take years – no really, years! It took me eight long years with potatoes and my eldest son. I never stopped bringing them to the family table. He now eats all types of potatoes – apart from mashed. And I’m okay with the fact that perhaps he will never enjoy mashed potatoes.
Don’t make a ‘ta-da’ over the new item you might be introducing – that’s enough to put any reticent diner on edge. Less is more, in terms of quantity and fuss. Once you’ve established a food as a favored item, start to consider switching up the flavors. For example, if your child loves green beans – try presenting Green Beans Almondine. This is setting them up for more sophisticated dining and gets them accustomed to eating with combinations too, which can often be a hurdle for children. Above all else, take your time.
4. Make it Fun
Kids love to play, so if you consider making their food playful, then there’s a better chance of them eating it – there’s a reason why giant food manufacturers came up with macaroni shapes and chicken nugget dinosaurs! But consider this too – small kids don’t really eat much and they love finger food. By cutting their food into fun shapes in tiny quantities, you’ve made their food fun and put them in charge of their plate – something we know they love. However, as Mom, I can’t say carving out shapes is something I love! Find yourself a nifty cutter that makes food into fun shapes for kids.
5. Stock your Pantry Smarter
If your home is stocked with more healthy choices like fruit, raw veggies, nuts, and less processed choices like chips, candy, cheese, then there’s a good chance your family’s snacking habits will change, not to mention your salt/sugar/fat consumption! At the end of the day, the buck stops with you – in the grocery store. If you want your family to eat healthy, then buy healthy and set the example from the top.
Image courtesy of marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Guest Blog by Joanna Wallis of The Cooking Fairy
Joanna Wallis is a busy mom of 3 who started cooking over 20 years ago. Her culinary knowledge is self-taught and spans a variety of different cuisines and styles. Her love of food was the inspiration for The Cooking Fairy which started out as a glimmer of shiny magic over three years ago. Joanna works as a personal chef for a wide range of clientele and she loves bringing families together with healthy, delicious, and fresh meals prepared just for them.
For more information, visit: www.thefairycook.com.
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