When I was growing up, my parents insisted that we taste new foods–more than once. We had to try different things, but we didn’t have to like what we tasted, so we were allowed to ask for a “no thank you helping.” (Translation: the smallest amount possible.) Sometimes we were good about trying new things; then there was the rest of the time. Tasting interesting (translation: weird) foods when we were young definitely made us more open to trying interesting (translation: new) foods as adults.
Girlfriend Guru LISA HOLCOMB has some great ideas about helping kids to try (and enjoy) all kinds of foods. Wish we’d known about her when we were little–I might not have had to take “no thank you” helpings.
Got picky kids when it comes to food, at least nutritious food? Do your kids try to crawl under the table when they see broccoli on the table? Do they try to slip the dog their squash only to find the dog won’t eat it either? You’re not alone. It seems to be a fairly common phenomenon among households with kids. And, not just young children either. Older kids can be picky eaters as well.
I have been blessed with having both teenagers and younger kids at the same time. Both sets with different dietary needs and different likes and dislikes when it comes to food. My teenage boys are athletic, physical, growing boys. Even though they both look full grown (at 6 feet tall) they are still growing and their bodies, inside and outside, need the right foods to help them with this.
My two younger children have different needs both physically and emotionally when it comes to food. They are both adopted and we’ve had to learn the challenge of dealing with children who have had to go hungry in their past. Hunger can do many things to you emotionally. We’ve had to learn to help our children understand they won’t ever go hungry again. That they don’t need to hoard food or over eat. It hasn’t been easy and it will be a long road but we are trying to help them understand by always having nutritious meals and snacks (and sometimes not so nutritious snacks just for the fun of it) available for them.
All of my kids are different eaters with different taste. My 15-year-old son has a sweet tooth that never seems to end. I think sweet teeth would be more like it. It’s a constant struggle to get him to lay off the sweets. My 18-year-old could really care less about the sweets. My 8- and 9-year-old are very food focused and just want to eat.
In the process of raising 6 kids (2 of mine are already grown so they and their taste buds are on their own), I’ve come up with some things that have helped my family over the years.
1. Respect their appetites – If they really aren’t hungry, don’t try to force them to eat. Don’t bribe them to clean their plates. And please don’t use the starving children act. Likewise, if your child has a tendency toward overeating, help him or her to understand what it means to be full. We quite often ask one of our younger ones , “Is your tummy comfortable?” That’s when you need to stop. Don’t make them feel guilty or bad for how little or much they eat.
2. Encourage but don’t force – Encourage kids to try new foods but don’t force it on them. They’ll just hate that zucchini even more. When our 15-year-old was younger, he would never eat his spaghetti with the sauce. Just the noodles. We kept telling him he was missing out on the best part. One day we asked him to try a little taste of the sauce and if he didn’t like it, he didn’t have to eat it. He obliged and took a tiny little taste. Then he grabbed up the spoon and started eating the sauce straight from the pan. Stinker has been eating sauce on his spaghetti ever since.
3. Let them help with the meal planning – That’s easy for me since I own a menu planning service. After the menus are out for that week I will let the whole family decide what we are eating for the week. It makes a huge difference when they have had a say-so on what to eat. They don’t always agree, but we manage.
4. Let them help with the cooking – I hear moms say that they would love to let their kids can i buy xanax over the counter help in the kitchen but they don’t want to deal with the extra mess. Well, put on your big girl panties and deal with it. It’s a great bonding time, a time to teach kids responsibility (you helped make the mess, you help clean) and if they cook it they are much more likely to eat it. Trust me, it works.
5. Have fun with meals – My family LOVES breakfast for dinner. Pancakes, waffles, omelets, you name it. Try having special dipping sauces (Ranch dressing works wonders) for veggies at meal times and snack times. For some reason kids love to dip their food in things.
6. Give them their own cookbook – There are a lot of cookbooks out there that are geared to kids of all ages. My younger boys love to look at the pictures and plan the things they are going to make. My youngest one now wants his own apron, chef hat, and cooking show. Hmmm….
7. Become friends with the smoothie – Do you know how much you can hide in a simple smoothie? Lots. And, your little picky eaters will never know the difference. You can pack a lot of nutrition in a smoothie. So what if it’s consumed through a straw?
8. Set the example – You can’t get your little Mini Me-s to eat nutritiously when they see you eating McDonalds and Dunking Donuts. Not that I don’t love donuts. Because I do. I really LOVE donuts. However, donuts aren’t the norm for us. Set the example by making nutritious eating a priority in your own life.
9. Pizza, Fries, Sodas, Oh My! – Teenagers are notorious for wanting to live off junk. Mine are no exception. They want their bodies to look good so they can strut their stuff but they want to eat junk. As a parent of teens, it can be a real challenge once they start going off on their own more and more. You aren’t always there to control what they are eating. Plan on having as many sit down meals as possible (sitting down at your own table and not McDonalds) during the week. Your family needs the bonding time as well as the proper nutrition they receive from the home cooked meals.
10. Relax – Don’t be the nutrition/food police . It’s ok (really it is) to have a donut every now and then. The occasional candy bar is ok in my book as well. What you don’t want is to make it the norm. However, life is just too short to go through it without Cookies and Cream Ice Cream. Speaking of….I think I hear some Blue Bell calling me.
LISA HOLCOMB lives near Austin, Texas with her husband and their four boys, ages 8-18. (Her oldest two children are married and have babies of their own.) She and her husband adopted their youngest two boys through the Texas foster care system. Lisa’s degree is in Child and Family Development and she is a strong advocate for family meal time. She is co-owner of BuildAMenu.com a site that helps people keep grocery budgets under control and bring families back to the dinner table.
What are your tips for getting kids to try a wide variety of food?
Thanks Lisa! Check out her other great Girlfriend Guru posts:
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