We do a disservice to our children when we ask them what they want to eat. They are young and do not have the knowledge of all the foods, tastes, textures that are out there. It’s up to us to provide a selection of healthy choices to expand their horizons and taste buds.
If you ask a toddler what they would like to eat, they may say peanut butter and jam or cookies. Instead, put out a colourful plate of cut up fruits with a healthy coconut yogurt dip. Or some snap peas, carrots, celery and little cherry tomatoes cut up with some hummus or black bean dip. They still get to make choices, and most children will eat this all up.
Food is beautiful and colourful and flavourful. It is meant to be enjoyed, and social times often revolve around foods. Get your family excited about trying different tastes, textures.
Get creative about making food and mealtimes fun. For tiny tots, take out some pots and pans and put them on the floor where they can reach them. Fill one up with a little water and have your toddler wash a carrot or a celery stalk. Touching, smelling and tasting different foods aid in their stronger digestion and keeps them open to all foods.
Older children can stand beside you at the sink and help to wash vegetables, scrub sweet potatoes, or open up pea pods. If a few choice pieces get into their mouth along the way, why not?
Grocery stores are great places to teach kids about food. I really enjoyed bringing my children to the grocery store. We would make a list beforehand of foods we would like to have on hand to make sandwiches, soups, tacos for family taco night, pizza ingredients, and veggie trays and other snacks for when their friends were coming over.
My background is customer service and marketing and so my kids and I often spoke about packaging and how something might not be healthy (for example, a sugary cereal), but it’s designed to be appealing to them. When they were old enough I taught them to check labels for things like aspartame or sucralose, or words that they couldn’t pronounce, and not buy foods with those ingredients if at all possible.
Eating out can be a challenge for all of us, but even before I became a holistic nutritionist I taught my kids to take it easy on the fast food. If we stopped after a hockey game or event we’d all share a drink and an order of fries. There were no unlimited refills of pop. I knew that more junk food wasn’t going to make anyone feel good. If they were still hungry, they could get something else at home – where the options were healthier. So we still had fun at the restaurant, but we didn’t undo our healthy habits.
My daughter liked to look through the many cookbooks I had from working for a cookbook company, and also from my grandmother. She’d put sticky notes on the ones she wanted to try. My son took less interest in food, but he’d eat what I put out. So even though there was the odd snack item in the house, he could easily accompany it with veggies and fruit because they were readily available.
As parents it’s our role to teach our kids healthy eating habits and make those choices available. But it doesn’t have to be a lecture, a chore, or a bore! Find ways you can all have fun with your food and see just how much healthier you will be.