Feeding kids and getting them to eat healthy foods can be difficult. With a 16 year old and an 8 year old, I’ve had a lot of time to try and sort this out. I’ve even (by accident) performed the sociological experiment by the different ways I raised my own two kids in regards to food. Both turned out to be quite good eaters, however one was much easier than the other to get there. Read on while I share my Tips and Tricks for Feeding Kids.
First let me give you a little background. My first child was born 16 years ago. I was deep in a residency where I worked crazy hours. We were living thousands of miles away from family or friends. I did not know how to cook. My husband and I were trying to keep our heads above water. We started feeding our then young daughter the traditional way-rice cereal and then single fruits and vegetables. She was “picky” and we were not equipped for the challenge. We fed her chicken nuggets and buttered noodles with whatever fruit she would eat (which wasn’t much). So now, at age 16 she is eating most foods, but I have had to use all of my tricks to get to this point.
Eight years later we had our second child. I now was working a full time job, but variable hours, so I had time to cook. I also had a Polish nanny who would bring Polish foods while she was watching him-pierogies, borscht, radish and cream cheese sandwiches. We were having family dinners and instead of feeding him rice cereal, we skipped that all together and gave him fruit and vegetable purees, chunks of banana, avocado, roasted sweet potato. At 6 months I pureed homemade beef stew and homemade chicken and rice. At 9 months we started feeding him bits of whatever we were having for dinner. Once on vacation I had forgotten his food in my friend’s freezer. I tried to feed him baby food I bought from the store. He preferred to eat my husbands BBQ chicken pizza instead. By 1 year he was eating everything. Although he will go through “picky phases”, overall he is a great eater and usually game to try new foods.
So my tips and tricks for feeding kids: (aka the very best advice I have for feeding kids)
1. Start them early. The phenomenon of baby led weaning is perfect for raising good eaters. We started my son eating what we ate from 6 months on. Obviously sometimes we had to puree it, or mash it, or cut it very small, but we weren’t short order cooks and we weren’t making multiple meals each night. We vowed not to look at food as “kid food” or “adult food” -just as food. We frequently remind our kids that it often takes NINE times of trying something to know if you truly dislike it or if it is just a foreign flavor. I remember my Polish nanny offering my 1 year old borscht and I was sure he would hate it. But he didn’t. He loved it. So instead of thinking a flavor is “too grown up”, I offer my kids all of foods without judgement and just see what happens. They often surprise me!
2. Offer healthy foods. Kids can’t develop a taste for the carb-laden, salt filled, greasy fast food if they never eat it. Sure, you may need to eat at McDonald’s every once in a while, but hopefully very rarely. I tried to teach my kids there was no “never food” but instead “sometimes foods”. Instead offer them (and yourself) fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. As I mentioned before, beware the trap of “adult foods” and “kid foods”. Sometimes sharing from an adult plate is a better plan for your kids than ordering off of the “kid’s menu”. (although luckily, some restaurants are overhauling their kid’s menu and starting to offer better choices.) Also don’t be afraid to hide healthy foods in their beloved foods. Spinach in the smoothies, butternut squash in their mac and cheese, carrots and zucchini in their spaghetti sauce.
3. Feed them healthy foods first. This works well for older kids-you know the ones that “hate” their vegetables. Put a plate of cut-up veggies and hummus or ranch dip out on the counter while you are making dinner. When your kids complain about being hungry-point them in the direction of the veggies. You’ll be surprised what they decide is “good” when they are hungry. Likewise, if you think there is a veggie they are unlikely to like or have complained about “having to eat” -serve it before the other food. Don’t wait until they’ve filled up on the other offerings.
4. Give them choices and make them interesting. Everybody likes choices. Everybody. Even your kids. When feeding kids, I usually place multiple options on the table and they (after trying a bite of everything) can choose how much more of each thing they would like. I try to make several types of vegetables for each meal. I have them take a spoonful of each vegetable, but they can choose to eat more of whatever vegetable they like. Currently my daughter likes roasted broccoli and green beans. Currently my son likes cauliflower and mashed potatoes. Both of them change their minds about what their favorites are frequently, but that is great-variety is the spice of life! It’s also easy to make your choices interesting! Instead of traditional carrots, offer rainbow carrots. Instead of white potatoes, offer sweet potatoes or purple potatoes. Try to get your kids to “eat the rainbow”!
5. Model good behavior. Those of you with toddlers know, they are little mimics. And they always want to do what you are doing. Show them that you eat your veggies and fruits and they will be more likely to eat them too.
And since I can never stop at just 5 (and number 6 is by far the most fun!)-
6. Teach them to cook. Bring your kids into the kitchen. Let them see you cook. Bring over a stool and let them help. Let them measure. Let them dump. Let them stir. Give them some ownership of the food and they will be much more likely to eat it! You can teach them about ingredients, you can teach them about reading a recipe and cooking is a great way to teach your older kids fractions! I bought my son The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs and have let him choose a recipe every week or two that we make together. He loves choosing what foods we are going to try! I recently mentioned that I was going to make some hummus and he went running for his cookbook because he wanted to use the recipe for hummus that he had found in his book! Not only will you have fun teaching your kids, they are learning a life long lesson on how to feed themselves in the future! I tease my daughter, she will be the one throwing college dinner parties as she loves to cook and has become quite good at it!