We hear so much these days about how important healthy eating is for our long-term good health. It seems only sensible to introduce our kids to good eating habits and a healthy diet at a young age and make sure they know what good eating habits are.
But just how important are good eating habits for children? What are eating habits anyway and how do you teach them to your child? Let’s take a look and see if we can work it out.
Many toddlers are picky eaters and may refuse to eat most new foods given to them, preferring instead to stick with what they know. My 3-year old son Benni is definitely one of those kids. By looking at the science, we can work out why this is and learn how to encourage them to eat and enjoy vegetables and other healthy food.
Exactly when babies should be weaned from breast milk and introduced to solid food is a subject for much debate! The World Health Organization states that all babies should be exclusively fed breast milk until the age of 6 months at which point they can start to be introduced to solid foods. (Obviously, I’m not talking steak and fries here 🙂 I’m talking pureed vegetables.)
Babies and Toddlers
Great! So your baby is ready to taste their first food other than milk? Awesome! It’s an exciting moment, particularly if it’s the first time we Dads have had the opportunity to get involved with feeding our little kids.
For the first two years of my son’s life I was a Stay At Home Dad myself and, boy, I can tell you: Mealtime can be really challenging, especially for us as Dads! FYI: If you want to read more about “surviving” as a Stay At Home Dad, make sure to check out this post!
It seems simple to just go down to the store and pick up a few jars of baby food. Well, that’s where you will find you’re wrong. The choice is pretty overwhelming and there are different foods for different ages, (they get lumpier).
Well, I can let you into a little secret. Science has discovered that babies have a “flavor window” – a time between 4 and 18 months – when they are receptive to new flavors. The more times you feed a 6-month-old the same food, the more chance there is they will continue to like it as they get older.
So rather than rushing down the store to buy mixed up baby gunk, go out and buy some lovely fresh organic veg. You’ll also need a really good blender. Now, cook up your veggies, blend it to a smooth, creamy consistency and try feeding that to your baby instead.
If you decide to feed them a sweet potato, peas and carrots, rather than just mixing the three purees together, put them into different bowls instead and feed each flavor individually. This will help teach the taste buds to enjoy each of the flavors. The more variety of veg you can feed your child regularly, the more they will continue to enjoy eating it as they get older.
Oh, and a fair warning: Don’t feed all orange-colored vegetables, as you’ll probably end up with an orange baby!
As they get older, you can start adding other things to the vegetable puree and make it a bit lumpier, etc. But keep feeding lots of veg variety all the time.
If you’ve missed this window, don’t fret. By consistently giving veg to toddlers or even older children, even if they spit it out or say they don’t like it, eventually they will learn to like it. Just give small amounts and be sneaky. It has been shown that if you can get a toddler to eat food 15 times, they will start to enjoy it.
Also, another thing to keep in mind is that some kids are fine with the taste of food. It’s the texture they don’t like. Again, making mush can help in that case.
The important part is not to give up. Just try and see what your kid enjoys eating. Offer them new stuff and if they refuse it, accept it and eat it yourself. But never force your kids to eat something they don’t like!
Great news, you’ve won the first battle and your one year old loves their veggies! Ace, now it’s time to teach them how to eat it on their own. Naturally, kids eat with their fingers and it can take a while to get to grips with cutlery. Persistence is the key. Show by example. Let them watch you eat with a fork or spoon as children of this age learn best by imitation.
As they get older, their motor skills will improve, and their dexterity with cutlery will improve. It will take a while for them to always remember which hand to hold their cutlery in, and how to use a knife properly can literally take years to master, but master it they will. Try not to reminding them over and over, but be a good role model to them. Your kids will follow!
If you want your kids to love all aspects of food, then get them involved in all aspects of food. Growing it, harvesting it, preparing it and eating it. Even if you live in an apartment building, you can still grow basic vegetable on a window ledge, cut and regrow varieties of lettuce, cherry tomatoes, spinach, peppers, carrots, sprouting seeds, microgreens (cress), radishes and dwarf varieties of beans or peas. We have good friends who literally have their entire balcony overgrown with vegetable plants in flowerpots. It’s always fun to visit them 🙂
If you have a yard, well the sky’s the limit! Get creative and build easy to care for raised planters to make maintenance easier. It takes very little DIY skill, and your kids will love helping out. My wife recently started to grow strawberries in our backyard and Benni loves helping her with it!
This is advanced stuff, but really cool: You can take growing your own food even a step further if you have room to keep chickens. Kids love looking after the chickens and collecting the fresh eggs every day. Recently we spent time on a farm in bavaria and Benni loved caring for the animals there and helping the farmer to collect the eggs in the morning!
Visit a farm and let your child see the animals that end up on their plate. Don’t be squeamish about this. Children learn from your reactions, as they have no preconceived ideas.
Choose some simple recipes they can help you prepare. They love to wash and prepare the vegetables, measure out ingredients, mix, knead, roll, etc. As they get older, they can do more and help write up the grocery list and choose some of the things to put on it. We started asking Benni to help us at the age of two! Your kids can contribute even at that age. And they will love it!
Snacks and Treats
By only providing healthy snacks and treats, your child never has to get into the habit of eating cakes, cookies and sweets. Instead, try giving snacks such as fresh fruit, whole grain crackers, carrot sticks, cucumber chunks, raisins or non-sulfur dried apricots.
Similarly, with drinks, rather than providing pop, offer water instead.
Smoothies are another great way to curb hunger and get goodness into them. Try incorporating different fruit they don’t regularly eat.
But at the end of the day, you know, a treat every once in a while does not harm either! It’s okay if your kids like chocolate, but always make sure that it stays something special. It should still be an exception, but I don’t see any reason to shut my son completely off of it.
Eating together at the table as a family is important family time. A time to enjoy each other’s company and good food as a unit. Stuffing TV dinners while slumped on the couch watching TV is no good for anyone and certainly won’t stimulate family conversation.
If your kids don’t want to join you, here is something you can try. For us, it really did the trick and was kind of the magic pill: Let your kids be involved in your familie’s meal planning. That way they get to make some meaningful choices and can contribute to the family life. Look through recipe books together. They are bound to see photos of meals they think look appetizing.
Educate Your Kids (And Yourself)
Talk to your kids about food. As they get older educate yourself and them about its values. Sitting at the dinner table, can they tell you what ingredients in the meal contain protein, carbohydrate, fats and sugar? Can they tell you which part of the meal has the most vitamins and minerals? Make it fun and when they get it right congratulate them.
Talk to them about the problems associated with eating the wrong types of foods and soon they will know which the healthy choices are.
Teach your kids how to behave at the dinner table. Table manners are valuable and will allow your child (and you) to feel comfortable eating in restaurants or at the homes of friends or other family members.
But it’s not only the kids who need education. You may as well want to get some help. I’ve recently joined Amy McCready’s online course “Positive Parenting Solutions” and Amy has prepared an entire module about “Eating And Mealtime Battles”. For us, it was super helpful and really contributed to Benni’s eating habits and has reduced mealtime battles by a HUGE margin in our family. If that sounds interesting to you, please make sure to at least have a look at my review of “Positive Parenting Solutions”, which you can find over here.
It’s pretty hard to ignore the growing problems with child obesity and the loss of social skills in our society. Give your kids a head start by teaching them the right way from the very beginning.
Some kids will be faddy eaters, no matter what you do, but don’t give in. It has been shown that persistence is the key. If you do become worried that your child isn’t getting the nutrition they need, talk to a healthcare professional.
If you have anything to add to this story, please leave a comment below or reach out to me via email or social media. What do you struggle with when thinking about eating habits of your child? Where you able to solve these problems? If so, how? What tips would you like to share with other Moms and Dads? Please let me know below.
Eat strong, live long!
Thanks for reading
P.S.: Did you ever ask yourself how to put an end to all those exhausting power struggles that can stand between our kids and us as moms or dads? If so, then make sure to read my FULL REVIEW of “Positive Parenting Solutions” HERE. You won’t regret it! I promise!!!