A healthy diet will have a massive impact on our children's lifelong health. A family that eats well will be happier, more productive, sick less and have more time for the important things. One of the most important ways I aim to support my children's health is by feeding them good healthy food with lots of vegetables!
Here are some ways that I am trying to ensure that my children are healthy and diverse eaters.
As parents, we define food for our children. When we put food on the table, by how we talk about food, and by what we eat as adults. In our house we strive for a whole foods diet, minimal packaged food and half a plate of veggies with most meals. My boys are not surprised to come to the table and see tons of vegetables because that is how it has been every day since they were babies. They also know that our kitchen contains very little packaged food so they tend not ask for snacks that are unhealthy as they know it's simply not available.
Green Is Not A Dirty Word (healthy and delicious are not opposites)
How we talk about food will have an impact on how are children think and feel about it. Since I genuinely enjoy the food that I prepare I try to express that to my children regardless if it's some sauteed kale or chocolate cake. I try to avoid cultural references that paint healthy foods in a negative light.
Our culture has a concept of “kids food” that I feel undermines our ability to feed a variety of nutritious foods to children (nowhere is this more obvious than on “kids menus” at restaurants). Of course, children do tend to have more sensitive palates (regarding spice for example) but we can respect that and still offer a wide variety of foods with the expectation that they will eat it. My children constantly surprise me by what they do and do not prefer to eat so I try never to assume I know how my child will respond to a new food (and never tell them that they will not like something in advance).
As soon as my children were able to safely consume a food, it has been served to them on their plate. For example, salad is difficult for babies to eat but as soon as they could safely eat salad it has been on their plate as has every other vegetable dish, starting with very small portions. Sometimes they eat more, sometimes they eat less, that is up to them. By serving all of the food available to them, my hope is that I am making the statement, this is food that you can eat (instead of “this is adult food, this is kid food”).
Children Are Creatures Of Habit
I've noticed that the more variety in foods and flavours that I expose my children to the more likely they are to be open to different foods. Once I get into a rut and start serving the same food to my kids the more resistant become to trying something new. This is particularly important for one of my children who is more sensitive and finds change more difficult.
Talk With Your Children About Food
Mealtimes are a great time to converse about food and nutrition. Talking about eating a rainbow encourages children to eat a variety of vegetables. Talking about what foods contain fat, protein and carbohydrates and how these nutrients help us feel our best, help children understand their plate better and helps with trouble shooting at meal times. “If you don't like the chicken that I made, where will your protein come from for this meal?”
Only One Meal Is Served (mix it up or break it down)
Sometimes my kids want food that is more plain then what I would like. One way that I offer alternatives without preparing two separate meals is by setting aside some of the ingredients in my meals so that my children have the option of the dish that I've prepared or the component parts eaten separately. I try to ensure that at least some elements of the meal are things they really like.
In conclusion, feeding kids is not easy and my kids are no different then yours. They are constantly changing, what worked one day doesn't work the next. There are some days that I am right there with you, tearing my hair out! These are some of the ways that we have managed to get good nutrition into our kids with the hopes that they will grow up to be healthy diverse eaters, stronger for the good food they have eaten.
Dr. Alexis Blanks is a naturopathic doctor who would be happy to help you with any nutritional questions you may have. She is co-owner of Flourish Naturopathic at Moss Street Healthcare Centre. Learn more at FlourishND.com.