Happy Birthday to my sweet son, Evan, who turns 5 today!
As a practicing pediatric and family dietitian, many people have this picture of my children being perfect little eaters. Here I am as the “Mrs. Cleaver” role getting a well-balanced dinner on the table with the kids eager to dig into the wholesome goodness that was prepared with lots of love. Floral apron on. Kids smiling and waiting for their colorful plates to be served. Kids digging in and eating a variety of flavors. Nope. Not exactly my reality.
But there is good news! Now that Evan is getting older, he is listening more about the positive effects of eating “super power” food. You see, he started a new soccer team and he really wants to run fast, kick harder and well, score goals. I explained to him that eating the same foods over and over won’t give him the power he needs on the soccer field. In the last 6 months, he has started eating new foods that he had shunned for so long including salmon, salads and broccoli. He even told me the other day that he wants to eat a big bowl of broccoli before he plays his soccer game so he can make sure he plays well. No kidding! I said, “Sure! I can make that happen.” As kids get older, their reasoning part of their brain also develops a bit more so it is important to keep a dialogue going with them.
· Serve a variety of foods and keep healthy food such as whole grains, fresh fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy and lean meats easily accessible at all times.
· Eat as a family as often as possible. Eliminate distractions and serve one meal. Avoid short order cooking or serving their favorite foods over and over!
· Serve your children what you are eating even if you think they will reject it. Avoid thinking of certain foods as “kid’s food.” This is so important. Repeated exposure of a rejected food is key to promoting eventual acceptance of that food.
· Avoid making blanket statements like, “My child doesn’t like (insert rejected food).” Verbalizations can solidify those rejections longer than usual. Instead, keep an open mind that your child may eventually like that particular food.
· Discuss the positive aspects of eating healthy foods instead of talking about the negative aspects of less healthy foods. Kids want to hear the “why” behind healthy eating. They want to know that healthy foods will keep them from getting a cold, will help their runny nose or even help them run faster or jump further. They respond to knowing how eating healthy will help them accomplish the goals that are important to them right now.
· Create non-eating scenarios with food like visiting a pick-your-own food farm or taking a cooking class so your children can be more comfortable around food.
· Last, but certainly not least. Your child’s only responsibility at a meal is to eat or not eat. It is your responsibility to make the healthy meal and eliminate the distractions for a pleasant eating scenario. If your child does not like what you fix, that’s ok! They do not have to eat. Get it? It’s that easy. I promise - they won’t starve. (But keep that plate just in case they get hungry - later because they will try and get their preferred snack afterward!)
I have not only found in my practice that all these things work, I have found it to work in my own home. Consistency will eventually yield results. So, take the pressure off yourself and your children. Your kids will come around if you provide them a healthy feeding environment.