My children have always been around a multitude of different types of food. They love “kid foods” but they also are not afraid (most of the time) to try new things. Kids in America today are bombarded with messages from the processed food industry. Sure it’s easier to give them dinners of chicken nuggets, frozen fish sticks and french fries. But, the food messages we give our children today are the messages that will stick with them throughout their life. I truly believe that raising children who have a broad palate helps them make better food choices and to be more thoughtful and appreciative of food in general. To help with this I’ve created five tips to encourage diverse eating habits with children.
- Be conscious of what messages you’re sending. Let’s face it we’ve all fallen victim to this. How many times have you caught yourself telling your child, “oh no sweetie you won’t like that.” I know I have. One day last spring we had gotten a bag of ramps and as I was cleaning them M asked what they were and what they tasted litke. I told him, and he then asked if he could try one. I started to say, “oh no..” but caught myself. How did I know if he would like it or not? Surely I had a feeling he wouldn’t like it but I didn’t know for certain. I handed him a raw, clean ramp and he took a bite into it. I was right he didn’t like it but allowing him to make this decision was important. If we are always deciding for our children what they will like, they will never have the opportunity to expand their palate.
- Offer New Foods Several Times and in Different Ways. I’ve found this to be true with my husband as well as my kids. Maybe your children won’t like raw spinach, but they love it cooked. Or maybe your spouse is like mine and can’t stomach cooked cauliflower and broccoli but once they try it raw they enjoy it. There are so many different ways to prepare individual ingredients, don’t give up if your kids don’t like something.
- Encourage kids to help you select new meals. One of the best ways to get kids interested in trying new things is to let them help you select and prepare it. An activity I like to do with my kids is to select a country that they are interested in. We then search the internet to find out more about the country and what they eat. Sometimes the kids already have an idea of what they would like to make but other times it’s an adventure. We find recipes to try and make a shopping list. Sometimes this means we visit ethnic grocery stores or have to figure out how to substitute ingredients we don’t have. When it’s time to cook, I try to let them be as involved in the preparation as possible. When it’s finally time to eat they have truly gotten to know about another country through their food. Trust me, they rarely reject food that they have helped make.
- Use All Your Senses. Food isn’t just meant to be eaten, it can be explored using all of your senses. Encourage your children to talk about how something looks, smells and feels. What does it sound like when it’s cooking? How do the spices smell that you’re using? How would the taste of the dish change if you used a different ingredient. Exploring food this way helps kids to learn how ingredients work with one another and about different cooking techniques.
- The Two-Bite Club. My youngest son K is picky. One day he came home from school with a small book called the “Two-Bite Club.” In the book there is a picky little dinosaur who doesn’t want to try new foods. Instead of rejecting food outright he is encouraged to give it two bites. I’ve found that this concept is pivotal in creating diverse eaters. Whenever we are eating my kids are asked to take two bites of the food. They are then allowed to not eat the item if they don’t care for it. Along with this, they are not allowed to make a face in disgust, say “ewww,” or make any other outward rejection. I feel that this is important as they are welcome to taste and not care for food, but as we eat with other families, in different countries they must learn not to offend the host. Certainly we all have foods we do not care for but when we are guests we should not insult the person who has prepared food for us.
I hope that you’ll find these tips useful for raising diverse eaters. Children learn these skills first at home. Promote a lifetime of new, and healthy food experiences by creating a solid foundation. Do you have other tips to recommend? I would love to know them!
As a member of Clever Girls Collective, I was selected to participate in the Healthy Habits program sponsored by Kimberly-Clark and Colgate-Palmolive. The content and opinions expressed here are all my own. #healthyhabits #cgc