I really love food. Eating and talking about food are two of my favorite activities. I think there are few "daily legacies" we could leave with our children that are as important as teaching them how to fuel their bodies with wonderful, delicious, fresh food from the diverse bounty that God has given us for our health and enjoyment.
I fully recognize that every child is different and every parent is different--below you will simply see what has worked for me. And while all of these approaches have worked for us, it's not always easy and there's still plenty of progress we need to make.
Please share in the comments what has helped your children get excited about different food, and some tasty foods for tots. Here are some tips from my personal experience.
- Start young. As soon as my boys are old enough to hold onto something and put it in their mouth, I hand them fruits and veggies. A baby that puts everything in his mouth will also put a carrot, celery, broccoli, apple or whatever you hand him in his mouth (of course, don't give them anything so small they can put it all in their mouths and choke). Veggies are great for teething babes. I've never met a baby who didn't enjoy destroying a broccoli.
- Feed them what you're eating. I never bought baby food, and I never really made anything different for my baby than we were eating. When my first son showed an interest in eating, I tried to give him the baby cereal. He would have none of it. Then I tried it and found out why. I started introducing foods to him slowly as recommended, but he didn't show a bad reaction to anything, so from then on I just fed him what I was eating. The best invention ever is a baby food mill. It's cheap (especially when compared to baby food!), easy, portable, etc.
- Be excited about food. For my 14 month old, I just stay happy and positive and expect him to like everything. For my three year old, if he says he doesn't want his food, I say, "Oh great, can I have it? I love it!" That's usually enough to make him change his mind. My parents are great food enthusiasts. I always had the attitude growing up that if I didn't like something, it was okay because if I kept trying it, I'd like it as an adult because my parents liked everything. Worked for me with bell peppers and mushrooms.
- Involve your child in the kitchen and garden. I know, it's SO HARD! We start dinner prep around 3:00 at our house. It's a pretty big deal. We have a stool for my older boy, and I usually end up wearing #2 most of the time. If children are involved in the creation of beautiful food, they're more likely to try it.
- Snitching is OK. Well, depends on the kind of snitching. At our house, the boys are always allowed to snack on raw vegetables. While we're cooking, none of us can help but snack a bit. And since I'm always cooking with lots of veggies, that's what we snack on. I'm not worried he's going to fill up on vegetables and ruin the rest of his appetite. And you know how it is--if you're hungry around 5:00 and you haven't eaten anything, even a raw broccoli is going to be pretty good.
- If you don't want your kids to eat something, don't have it in your house. At a pretty young age, kids understand "all gone." If you are worried about their peanut butter/hot dog/mac 'n cheese consumption, give it all to a neighbor. Then you can take your tot on a house tour and show them there are no hot dogs in the house. He/she will just have to find something else to eat.
- Your child won't starve him/herself. It's important for your children to see that you're not going to make a special meal for every member of the family because of certain likes or dislikes. Children need repeated exposure to some foods before they start liking them. Offer to them what you're having. Leave it on their tray/plate. Let them explore the food and get a little dirty. If they go to bed without having as much dinner as they would normally have, they'll have a good breakfast in the morning! (I especially don't worry about nursing babies or toddlers getting enough food.)
- Stick to your guns. Sit down with your spouse and figure out the rules of your house concerning food. Do your children have to finish everything on their plate? Do they have to eat their vegetables before the less-healthy portion of the meal? Before dessert? Are you going to make something different for everyone? Some families eat all their vegetables before the rest of the meal is even brought out. Decide what you're going to do, and then stick to it. At our house, our 3 year-old has to eat a small portion of everything before he eats anything for a second time. Perhaps some time we'll let him have a list of three things he never has to eat, but that hasn't been necessary yet.
Here are some of my kid's favorite foods. Please share what your kids love!
Breakfast- If you start young enough, any baby will love hot oatmeal or porridge with raw milk or almond milk, apples, cinnamon and nutmeg, or any other fresh fruit. Add a little natural sweetener if you need it, but I think it's tasty as is. Add flax-seed or other grains and this is a super healthy, filling, tasty breakfast for anyone not too addicted to cold cereal :)
Good luck and happy eating!