Thursday, September 07, 2006

Getting Kids to Eat

Okay, maybe the title is a slight misnomer. Kids will always eat one or two things. When my older daughter Joanna was a toddler she was very fussy. In fact, one of the few things she ate was raisins. Not just raisins, but raisins thrown on the floor. She would crawl around and pick them up one at a time. Of course this was not really acceptable behaviour. Her younger sister Sharron went through a typical phase during elementary school (the kids had to bring lunches) of eating only ONE type of sandwich all year and then hating that filling (whatever it was - roast beef, peanut butter...) the next year. I'm happy to report that they both have definitely developed better eating habits and love experimenting with dishes from different cultures.

I recently reviewed a great book - Superfoods for Babies & Children. I can't wait until Joanna can use it for her baby - due in January. Now to test the book, I asked my niece Katie, who'se 6 and a half to help me make a couple of dishes. She's a very fussy eater and I must admit, I'd need more than one session with her to get her to be open to new things. She only wanted to make desserts and her mother and I negotiated - one dessert (brownies) and one other dish (chicken dippers) because she will sometimes eat chicken fingers. Well she loved the cooking part, and she did eat the brownies, but refused to try the chicken. She's not alone and many parents are frustrated so I thought I'd share some of my observations over the years and give some tips on turning your kids into better, healthier eaters by having fun in the whole process....

1. From when they're really young, have them go grocery shopping with you - I don't mean just have them sit in the cart, I mean actively engage them in choosing what's for dinner. Get them to pick one vegetable and one fruit that is new and somehow captures their attention in the store. If they don't like it when they try it, don't force the issue. Perhaps make a running list on the fridge - food I like/food I don't like and add each new trial in the appropriate column.

2. Get them involved in the kitchen. One of my favorite food bloggers, Shauna of Glutenfree Girl has told wonderful stories of her nephew, my favorites are the ones where they play the smelling game. That's when they go to the cupboard and smell all the different herbs and spices. And one of my favorite TV chefs, Michael Smith often has his young son Gabe help choose what's for dinner on his show Chef atHome. I love when he gets to choose which pasta will be used. It really is the simple things that get kids engaged and excited about meals. There are some great breakfast ideas here that you can try out.

My girls, like me with my mom, helped prepare dishes from the first time they wandered into the kitchen - on their own two feet, of course. At first it was to dump already measured ingredients into a bowl, play with left over cookie dough, and look through the oven door to check on when it was ready (my father would actually eat my hard-as-a-rock, grey "cookies" I use the term loosely and rave about them), and as they got older and more capable, they'd get progressively more involved over the years, like when they had friends over to make challah.

3. Let them choose a menu for a particular meal. Try this one out NOT when you're all in a big rush, running late from work or rushing off to some activity. I suggest a Saturday or Sunday meal. Once kids are a little older, they can even do the whole thing by themselves. You could actually do the steps below on different days leading up to the big event, so you'd only spend a short time on each step rather than trying to do it all at once. Remember....we're dealing with short attention spans here.
  • Make a grocery list together, based on simple recipes they choose (from a book or suggest something that you know they like)
  • Let them do the shopping (under your guidance, of course)
  • Allow for ample prep time in the kitchen with their favorite music on in the bacckground
  • Don't forget to ooh and aah at the outcomes!
  • Once you've all done this successfully a couple of times, allow them to invite a friend or two to partipate in the prep and eating.
4. Have your kids invite friends over to bake cookies or make smoothies as part of a "play date". One favorite game at our house when my kids were in nursery school and kindergarten was Mr Potato Head....except I'd use a variety of firm vegetables and fruit - sweet potatoes, apples, big carrots and parsnips along with potatoes to be the "body" and cut up softer veggies like sweet red and yellow peppers, green beans (which on tooth picks make very funny hair), mushrooms (great ears and eyes), etc... It's amazing how much of the cut up food ends in their mouths without them realizing it. Give it a try. Just remember to spread plastic cloth on the floor where they'll be playing so clean up is a breeze.

5. Most importantly - HAVE FUN
If you have any ideas to get kids to eat, share them in the comments or send me an email . I'll keep a running addition of all our wonderful choices.

Please email me any of your questions, and if I don't have the answer, I'll certainly try find it for you.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like your column. I must say that I've tried many of your tips with my own kids. Finally, I've come up with a tag line "Hungry people eat ... and cranky people complain. So if your hungry ...." My kids all roll their eyes when I say it, but guess what...they eat.
I don't force it - I just refuse to engage in a battle of the wills over it. "Your hungry, you got options." And this approach sure beats playing maitre d' to a 3-year-old.
I also read somewhere that one has to try a food 10 or 11 times before acquiring a taste for it. Or else, no one in their right mind would ever eat brussle sprouts or chicken liver, or liverworst, or any kind of blue cheese.
If I force anything - I insist that my kids try something new - at least one bite - especially when dining out. My 4-year-old eats sushi with chopsticks like a pro. And the others too. They eat squid, and green beans, and capers, and pate, and all kinds of foods that most kids turn their noses up to.