September 15, 2011

Healthy and Adventurous Eating Starts Young

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One of the few bits of parenting advice I actually listened to was not to play short-order cook to my daughter. This came from a friend who had, indeed, done just that for her son and it had become a source of contention for them as he grew up. She resented his asking for something different and was frustrated that he wouldn’t eat the healthier choices she was trying to move the family toward.

It wasn’t so much the advice that really stuck with me. It was her frustration and agitation. She wanted, so much, for her son to try new things and eat the healthier foods she was now making but he wouldn’t budge from his standards of mac-n-cheese from the box, processed chicken nuggets and soup from a can. My friend felt awful that this was her son’s teenage existence.

As BabyGirl was starting to eat solid food I steered clear of the packaged foods and made my own pureed fruits and vegetables. I researched cereals and grains and learned how to blenderize my own so I could control what exactly I was feeding my precious little girl.

When she was a toddler and more reliant on solid foods for her nutrition I, once again, turned to my expert friends to find out how to help instill a sense of adventure in the food I was serving. I had seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding and I loved that cultural foods were so central to Toula’s growing up. She hated that her different food made her stand out, but it was how her family would hold on to their culture.

No, maybe it wasn’t the healthiest of foods in that movie, but it really touched me. So many times I’ve seen, heard or read about kids eating the same basic processed foods and the struggle to transition to variety, natural and whole grain foods. I didn’t want that. So I set out a plan to expose my very young child to foods that were ‘outside the box’. This is what I did:

5 Ways To Instill Healthy and Adventurous Eating Habits in Young Kids

1. Involve Them – sounds simple, but it is often the key to a child eating something new. Rather than just put their food in front of them, have them help wash, chops, tear, or in some way help prepare their food. Studies have shown that kids are more apt to eat something when they know what’s in it or how it was prepared.

2. Remain Silent – if you don’t like a food and are vocal about it, chance are your child won’t like it either. Or, they may refuse to even taste it. We don’t often buy, serve, prepare or even order foods we don’t like. But if we want out kids to try new things we often need to put aside our own food prejudices and allow them to make their own decision.

3. Give Them Time – the adage of ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again’ is so important in getting young kids to try new things or transition from the mystery nuggets to the baked, all-white meat nuggets. Texture, taste, and smell all play a role in getting kids to like a food. Some days they just may be more finicky than others, so keep trying.

4. Hide The Food (if you must) – while I don’t advocate duping kids, sneaking in some kale in the fruit smoothy or zucchini in the pasta sauce isn’t a big deal. While the child is getting this healthier version of the food, they’re not really understanding what they’re eating and may not realize they even like a particular food. Yes, if they continue to balk at eating greens or fruits you may need to employ your best magical meal tricks. But if you can just share it openly, I think it’s better.

5. Take A Field Trip – one of BabyGirl’s favorite things was our weekly trips to the different markets around town. I’d pick a theme (she got involved as she got older) and we’d get some food within that theme and we’d try them and talk about them. We were very popular at our local specialty markets and got to try so many things I, myself, never would have tried or even ventured to make. We started out very simply with pears and apples – buying many different kinds and comparing their taste, texture, color, smell, size, and so on. It’s amazing how different one food can vary among the different varieties. We tried cheese and olives, fish, nuts and seed, and so many different fruits and vegetables. Some were excellent, others not so much. But we did it together in a fun and interactive way. Often we’d sit down at a table in the store after we purchased them so we could try them right away, like a picnic.

And just because mom likes something doesn’t mean the kids will like it. For BabyGirl, she took on CycleGuy’s love of vanilla and caramel and will pass up chocolate without a sense of loss. Me? What I’d give for a nice piece of dark chocolate! When it came to apples, she tried them but BabyGirl just doesn’t like them. She’s probably one of the few kids who can’t stand applesauce.

However, she loves so many foods many of her friends would never think to eat – brie, hummus, curry, shrimps, fish, and so much more. And she’s always willing to try new things because her adventure with food started early. More importantly, it was a fun time with mom and dad and gave her so much pride to share her new foods with friends and family.

As parents, we hold a great deal of power regarding the foods our kids eat. I’m not a big fan of forbidden foods unless there is a medical, religious or dietary reason. But we’re the ones preparing the food. We’re the teacher. If we educate our children early on about why we make the food choices we do, they’ll be less inclined to follow the masses to the sugar, fat and empty calorie shack. And even if they do, they’ll know how to make good choices.

Share how you get your kids to eat healthy food below for a chance to win a $500 Mom’s Getaway Spa Day from BlogFrog!

Want to exchange more healthy snacks ideas, money saving tips and back to school shopping advice with other moms? Visit the Horizon® Healthy Families Back to School Community!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Horizon.  The opinions expressed by me do not necessarily reflect the view of the Horizon Organic brand.

Sara

{ 1 comment }

Grady Pruitt September 15, 2011 at 12:12 pm

“…we’re the ones preparing the food.”

I was watching Dr. Phil last week when he had on several parents with obese children. They couldn’t understand how things had gotten out of control. And yet, the very concept that they were missing and that Dr. Phil and the “guest expert of the day” were trying to get them to understand is that they (the parents) are the ones that are responsible for providing and preparing the foods the kids eat and that their own choices of what they were making available was part of the problem.

We’ve always encouraged our children to try different foods. Sometimes they like them. Sometimes, we don’t. With the older one, we always remind him of the lesson from Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham — You never know if you’re going to like something if you don’t give it a try!

Thanks for sharing!

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