It’s imperative that our children get the adequate nutrients they need for proper mental health, physical growth, energy levels and much more. I wrote in a past post about why nutrients are essential to our children’s health, along with some suggestions for quick and easy food ideas. As parents, we play a critical role in laying the foundation for their future health and future food choices.
In a study that was done on parenting and the influence we have on children and their food choices, it was shared that “The first five years of life are a time of rapid physical growth and change, and are the years when eating behaviors that can serve as a foundation for future eating patterns develop. During these early years, children are learning what, when, and how much to eat based on the transmission of cultural and familial beliefs, attitudes, and practices surrounding food and eating—these experiences are linked to children’s eating behavior and their weight status.”
Wow, that’s a lot of responsibility for us! As parents and the main influencers in our children’s lives, it’s one that we shouldn’t take lightly given the rise of health concerns among children in today’s society.
Our son, who is three, tries a variety of foods and has a fairly diverse palette. As parents, we worked diligently to offer him a variety of tastes, textures, smells, and I like to think that it has paid off.
Here are a few strategies that we implemented that can help children eat nutritious foods:
I am a believer in the Baby Led Weaning technique, and shared our experiences here and here. Baby Led Weaning is where you start by offering your baby solid food when they are ready to eat, rather than traditional baby food purees. With this strategy, they learn different textures, tastes, and a variety of foods. They also get to put food in their mouth on their own rather than being fed with a spoon. This sets baby up for success by allowing them to make their own decisions when trying foods, rather than being a bystander with little to no control over what they want to eat and when.
You are the Best Example
As parents, we are the main influencers to our children. Whenever I pick up anything to eat, my son asks, “What’s that?” which is usually followed by, “Can I have a try?”. Kids are curious and they want to try foods they see their parents eating. The aforementioned research study looking at the parental influence on eating shared that “if we want children to learn to like and eat healthy foods such as vegetables, they need early, positive, and repeated experiences with those foods, as well as opportunities to observe others consuming those foods.” That means that as parents, we need to be offering our kids nutritious food options very often (at every meal if possible), and they need to see us eating nutritious foods too. We are their best example, and they will follow our footsteps when it comes to trying and eating nutritious foods.
Try, Try Again
If your child doesn’t like a food at first, try it again the next day or the next week. We have gone through periods of time where our son loved spinach, but then would hate it. One day he would love blueberries, and the next he wouldn’t touch them. Don’t fret! Children’s taste buds change as they grow, and certain things sound good/appealing to them (just like us) at different times, so re-offer foods to your child every so often to see if they have had a change of heart. The same study mentioned above states, “New foods may need to be offered to preschool-aged children ten to sixteen times before acceptance occurs. “ That’s a lot of times! Don’t make your child eat their entire plate or bribe them with eating X amount of something. Be patient, and continually offer nutritious foods to your child.
Incorporate Veggies into Everyday Foods
This strategy works well for adults and kids alike. Take traditional meals and add in veggies. For example, you can add in “riced” cauliflower to regular rice (or even use it as an alternative) without changing the texture or taste. You can also incorporate vegetables into muffins or breads. Another fun way to add veggies into your children’s diet is to buy a no-sugar-added, natural vegetable and fruit juice, and freeze it in your own popsicle molds. I promise your kids will not be able to tell the difference between the sugar-filled store-bought popsicles and these. Meatballs or meatloaf can include chopped carrots, onions and celery without your kiddos even knowing, and I’ve heard of some people adding pureed cauliflower to mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.
Add a Healthy Sauce, Dip or Smoothie
Many children love to dip food or enjoy foods with a sauce. Our son will eat an entire chicken breast when I slice it and he can dip it into a sauce. When he was younger, he loved salsa on his eggs. Offer your child yogurt to dip their fruit in or maybe a healthy dip like hummus for their veggies. Opt for a sauce or dip that is free of sugar and preservatives. Homemade smoothies can be a great addition to meals when you’re trying to add in extra fruits and vegetables, although solid food is best as a first priority as it helps our brain with our satiety mechanism (feeling full).
Talk to Them
I realize that talking to your kids, especially young ones, doesn’t always work. But, it is important for them to understand, even at a basic level, why they should eat XY or Z. For example, explain how eating protein is important in keeping him/her strong and for strong muscles. Or why eating vegetables like spinach, kale, and yogurt is good for strong bones. Talk about the different colors of the foods, what the foods look like, and where the food came from (maybe a garden, or the farmer’s market, etc.).
It does take time and effort on our parts, but it’s so worth it in the long-run!