My daughter was always a really picky eater…well, no that’s not entirely true. She was wonderful about eating a large variety of foods and eating a very healthy diet until she got into Junior Kindergarten. Then suddenly, there were all these kids around her with their lunches filled with Lunchables and sweets and she claimed to no longer like most fruits and vegetables or anything else remotely good for her.
So, I had to get creative if I was going to have any hope of getting good healthy food into her body! I came up with a bunch of strategies that worked wonders with her and now, I actually teach these ideas as a workshop that’s part of my Community Food Advisor volunteer work. It’s my most popular workshop and one of the most requested topics.
1) So, you want to make eating healthy foods fun (and therefore more appealing and more likely to happen) for your kids but where do you start? Well, I think one of the best places to begin is by involving your children in the process as much as possible. It’s that idea that we are more likely to have a fondness for something we’re fully invested in. Do you garden? Set aside one little patch for your kids to take ownership over. Let them plant their own veggie seeds, water and care for them, and for many, this will encourage them to eat the final product.
2) When you sit down to write out a meal plan – wait, you don’t do meal planning? Hmmmm, well I won’t go into my speech of the values of meal planning at this time but I do strongly encourage it for several reasons including nutrition and finances. In any case, menu planning is another great activity to do as a family. Once again, it gives kids some ownership and makes them more likely to eat what they have chosen. It gives you the chance to talk to them about balanced meal plans – you can introduce Canada’s Food Guide (or the equivalent in your country) and talk to them about why those different types of foods are so important for us. It can even help you learn more about your child’s food preferences, what they’re perhaps tired of, and might just get the whole family out of a meal rut! For our menu plan, I made a chart system out of fridge magnets – there were labels for each day of the week and names of the meals as well as pictures of different types of foods (you could just use the words for older children). It’s fun for the kids to put the chart together each week and serves as a wonderful visual reminder to keep everyone organized.
3) Ok, now this next idea might be a bit radical, but here goes. Take your kids grocery shopping with you. I know, I know, it can be a HORRIBLE experience and you think I’m crazy for suggesting it but hear me out. I pretty much had to take my daughter shopping with me most of the time because I was a single mom. So, again, I had to come up with strategies to make it a more tolerable experience…strategies beyond out and out bribery for good behaviour. The strategies I came up with didn’t just make it tolerable; they made it valuable. So, even if you only take the kids now and then, I believe it’s a good idea. You could even do your big grocery shopping alone and then just take the kids for a quick trip to the store! A lot of grocery stores have child sized carts that kids love to push around. If yours doesn’t, you can always bring along one of those plastic ones they sell at toy and department stores. Then, I always gave my daughter her own list – we’d cut pictures out of store flyers and glue these onto her list. I’d always label them too – having the pictures and words there together helped boost her reading power! She got to pick out the items from her list and put them in her cart – you can even go one step further and give them the money to pay for what’s in their cart, teaching math and money skills. This can also provide a valuable lesson about the costs of food and budgeting, how to shop – how do you tell if produce is ripe, cost comparisons, checking those best before dates, and more.
4) Get your kids involved in the cooking process too! Even when my daughter was a baby, I’d put her in her high chair in the kitchen, nearby to where I was working (yet of course at a safe distance from the hot stove or anything else that might hurt her) and let her “help” me get dinner ready. Sure, her help at that age might be more of her sitting there nibbling on bits of the food while I actually did all the work, but she felt involved and that’s what counted. As she grew, I’d put a step stool right beside me and we’d work side by side to prepare dinner (being sure to give her age appropriate tasks). The bonus of this was that while we worked we could talk about things like kitchen safety and when she was old enough, she could practice her math skills by measuring and counting out ingredients.
5) What about those school lunches and snacks? I have a TON of ideas to share with you about these in the coming days but one of my main tips is again, get your children involved! We had what we called our “snack drawer”. It was a drawer at the right height for my daughter to access it and I would fill it with healthy non-perishable snacks. This doesn’t mean you have to go and buy the prepackaged snacks – take larger packages and divide them into appropriate serving sizes, using those mini Ziploc bags or small plastic containers. For the perishable ones, I’d put a bin in the fridge to hold those healthy choices. You could use a bowl or basket or whatever works in your space. My daughter knew that when she wanted a snack, she could go to the drawer or the bin and choose anything out of there to have as a “mom-approved” snack. Afraid that if given the opportunity, your kids will sit down and eat the entire contents of the drawer in one sitting? That they’ll fill up on snacks and “spoil their dinner”. Remember too, that if you are stocking these containers with really healthy choices, it’s not going to be the worst thing for your child to have filled up on them and perhaps not want dinner. At least they have still eaten nutritious foods! I found that really only happened when first introduced to it anyway – once the novelty was gone, my daughter used the system appropriately BUT if you are concerned, you can put the majority of the foods up out of their reach and only stock the drawer/bin with an appropriate amount for one day. Or you can keep a basket of snacks out of reach but then bring it out at snack time, thus still allowing them to choose their own. Another system I have used on some items is to put a sticker with a smiley face on it onto foods that are “Mom approved”. If my daughter saw the sticker, she knew it was ok to grab as a snack anytime – no sticker and she had to come and get my “ok” before she could have it.
Whew! This post is pretty long but I just have so many ideas I want to share with you in hopes that you, too, can keep your kids making healthy food choices. I have TONS more to share on this topic in the next few posts!
This blog post is part of a month long series. It's part of a blog hop of sorts - many different bloggers are taking part, presenting a variety of topics in a 31 day series. To catch up on the days in this series that you may have missed, go here: http://cynchronicity.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/31-days-of-family-fun-the-basics/ To check out the other 715 (wow!) participants, go here: http://www.thenester.com/2011/09/31-days-participants.html Oh and while you're here, if you like what you see, I'd love for you to become a follower/subscriber of my blog!