We’re armed with a master’s degree in nutrition, hundreds of hours of culinary classes, and oodles of research on parenting picky eaters.
But do you know where we put all that knowledge to the test? In our own kitchens, at our own tables, with our own kids. We’re right in the trenches with you on this one, friends, and we feel your pain!
In this five-part series, we’re sharing our top tips for navigating this tough parenting challenge. Adapt these ideas in ways that work for you and your family – the ages of your children, the ways you normally eat, and how you like to parent and teach your kids. Not every strategy will resonate with everyone – choose what’s right for you!
Here, you’ll find some basic strategies to get you started, and in the weeks to come, we’ll tackle tips for meal planning and shopping, easy “marketing” strategies, ways to succeed at the table, and how to avoid mealtime battles.
1) Stop Worrying!
All kids go through eating phases. You know how it is … one day your daughter is a fantastic eater, the next she won’t eat a bite. Or, for weeks your son seems interested only in PB&J … ughhh! Don’t worry – it’s completely normal, especially in the toddler years.
Stop making yourself crazy worrying over every single meal, every single snack. It can help to look at your child’s nutrition as a balance sheet that’s totaled over a few weeks or a month, rather than obsessing over the exact amount of each food group that’s consumed in any individual meal or even in a day.
Remember – if you’re constantly nagging, worrying and complaining, your kiddo will quickly pick up on your stress and anxiety over food, and eating will become an emotionally charged battlefield, rather than an enjoyable family activity. Keep it positive (even when you secretly want to tear your hair out!), and just keep trying, one meal at a time.
2) Remember That It’s a Process
This isn’t a battle to be won or lost in a day. Eating healthfully is a life skill that your kids will develop over years. Seriously, aren’t we all constantly trying new recipes and new foods? It’s a lifetime journey!
Oh – and guess what … your little ones aren’t gonna make it easy on you! We wish we could tell you that once you’ve figured out this process, it’ll be the same for each of your kids. No such luck! You already know that every child is unique in so many ways, and most likely each of your kids will require different strategies for healthy eating success.
It’s important that you don’t compare your kids, and definitely don’t stress yourself out by comparing your kids’ eating habits with little Susie down the street!
Remember: every child is a different adventure!
Shelley has found that her own family is a perfect example. She has twins, and despite being raised in the same home, at the same time, with the same parenting strategies and introductions to new foods … they’re entirely different eaters! Her son has always, always been a super-adventurous eater and loves trying new foods, spicy foods and ethnic foods. Her daughter is uber-suspicious of new foods and is much more sensitive to textures, spiciness and bitter flavors.
Guaranteed: No two kids are alike, and in order to successfully teach your kids to eat healthfully, you’ve got to accept their strengths, weaknesses and predispositions and work with them! Do what works for your family … just don’t give up!
3) Teach Them About Food Just as You Would ABCs and 123s
Eating seems like such a natural and automatic action, that it often doesn’t occur to us that we should actually TEACH kids how to do it well.
But America has truly alarming rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses linked to poor eating habits.
Here at THK, we really believe that eating well and making healthful food choices are life lessons and critical skills that you can teach your kids – just like you’d teach them to read or to safely cross the street.
When it comes to ensuring that your little ones have a lifetime of health and happiness, this just might be one of the most important things you ever help them to learn!
4) Talk About Food!
If you’re gonna teach your kids about food, then you need to make sure it’s a regular topic of discussion. Find opportunities to talk about nutrition, why some foods are better for our bodies than others, and why making good nutrition choices matters.
Keep it age-appropriate, of course, and look for ways to tailor these discussions in ways that are interesting or compelling for your child. For example, if your daughter is really into soccer, you could explain how healthier food choices will better fuel her body and give her the energy she needs to play harder, longer.
5) Be a Good Role Model
Kids learn so much by watching and mimicking what their parents do, and eating is no exception.
If you want your kids to eat healthfully, make sure that they have plenty of opportunities to see you noshing on healthy snacks instead of chips or candy, hydrating with water rather than pop … you get the idea.
It also doesn’t hurt to be a bit obvious here, maybe actually saying things like, “Gee, I know this apple is going to give me so much more energy that those chips … and mmmmmmm … it’s just so sweet and juicy! I feel really good about this choice!” Ok – so you don’t need to sound like a commercial – just make it natural! But look for ways to get that point across! And remember – making this effort really is worth it, so don’t give up!
Want more tips to help your kids become better eaters? Check out:
- Part 2: Getting the Kids Involved
- Part 3: It’s All About the Marketing
- Part 4: Succeeding at the Table
- Part 5: Don’t Make It a Battle
Disclaimer: These tips are just suggestions and may not be right for each child or each family. If you have concerns about your child’s eating habits or questions about nutrition, check with your pediatrician or a licensed dietician who’s familiar with your child’s specific needs.