The way you introduce your child to food mirrors the way you introduce them to so many other things in their environment, and what you do will inspire curiosity, creativity and open-mindedness or fear and closed-mindedness. We all want the first for our kids, but how do we get there? Here are some tips to get your kids to eat anything - or at least give new foods a chance.
Raising a curious, open-minded child is all about providing opportunities and exposure in a safe environment. A child's natural desire to explore takes over from there.
Let meal times be happy occasions where you and your child can learn about each other. You can learn your child's way of exploring their world, their eating style and food preferences and their ways of communicating verbally and with facial and body cues. At the same time, your child can sit with you, experiencing your ways of interacting and your facial expressions, getting to know who you are.
Everyone likes to feel as though they have choices in life. Not too many, but a few. At meals, place two or three items in front of your child, and let him or her choose what they want. If they reject an item, don't force or coax. Tastes change, and you can try it again another time.
You show respect for your child as a person when you don't force or coax certain foods. You also show respect as you pay attention and learn from your child who s/he is, what their expressions mean, what they like and what they don't. You show respect in not insisting that your kids eat everything on their plates, and you respect them as you show them how to rely on their own bodies to tell them what they need. Finally, you show respect by helping your child understand the limits of appropriate behavior at a table.
This is the opportunity part. Remember, for the first year, foods and beverages other than breast milk and formula are not your child's primary nutrition. Let them try lots of different things. Again, tastes change, and moods change. What your child doesn't like today s/he might love tomorrow.
Plans meals at regular times. Never use a dessert or something sweet as a reward for eating. If kids aren't hungry, let them leave the table unless they prefer to stay. Structure is important, but kids are naturally inclined to snack as they get a little older. Have appropriate snacks they can access, foods that contribute to their nutrition. Containers of dried fruits, nuts and seeds on a low counter, boxes of cut-up fruits and veggies in the 'fridge, unsweetened yogurt, preferably whole milk and homemade, fresh water.
5. Planting and gardening
There are so many opportunities to experiment with food in a garden, not to mention, a garden is a great way for kids to see where things come from and to get a feeling for seasonal change. Putting a seed in the ground and pulling out a carrot is like magic to a kid! Gathering greens for salads and smoothies makes the salads and green smoothies taste a lot better. You might be surprised to see your child sitting in the garden happily munching veggies you'd never guess they would like.
6. Cook together
Cooking simple foods together is another way to share with your kids in such a way that they will love all things food. It's also another step in experiencing where things come from. Make soups, salads and smoothies from the garden, and let your little one proudly share what they "make" with others.
7. Stay away from unnatural food products, sugars, additives
Let your kids grow up experiencing the wonderful diversity of flavors and textures in natural foods. Let them enjoy the sweetness in fresh and dried fruits rather than overpowering everything with sugar.
8. Make meals a loving, happy experience
We all have things we associate with loving, happy times in our lives. Let meal times be one of those memories for your kids, a time when they can sit with people who love them, engaging in one of the most basic of human activities, sharing real food with others.
9. Leave 'em asking for more
Our challenge these days isn't one of scarcity but of plenty and the wrong kind of plenty. As your children grow beyond finger foods and snacks into shared meals, offer them real food in reasonable portions. The goal isn't to eat quickly and thoughtlessly and leave the table stuffed...but to taste and chew foods, savor them, appreciate their flavors, even discuss them. Take turns preparing more complex dishes, sharing them, and talking about what is good or how to improve a dish. Be sure to develop a repertoire of family favorites, but continue experimenting to broaden taste.
Make meals one of the most important times you spend with your children as they grow. Let this be a happy time, a time to share, to experiment and experience new things. Provide opportunities to appreciate what goes into bringing food to the table and its great variety.