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!
Last week, with Tips 1-5, we covered some of the basics of how to help your kids be healthy eaters (and why you should!). So, now let’s have some fun and really get the kiddos involved in the action with Tips 6-10!
6) Find Ways for Kids to Contribute
Anytime you’re working on a project, you typically get better results if everyone involved in the project feels like they have some input, right? Like they contributed to the process and their ideas were heard (even if not all of their ideas were actually used). We often think about this as a tactic for business managers or committee chairs. News flash: It works great for kiddos, too!
Kids are much more likely to try and even enjoy foods they’ve helped choose and prepare. You’ll need to really tailor their participation to their ages and abilities, but it’s totally worth it – and a lot of fun, too!
So try to make time in those hectic days to get your little ones involved in your families’ meal planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation in as many (age-appropriate) ways as you can! Here are some specific suggestions to help:
7) Ask What They Want
Ask your kids what they’d like to eat. Sounds obvious, huh? Seriously, though – ask for ideas and then actually use some of them (the healthier ones!).
- Even little ones (and bigger kids, too!) may enjoy paging through colorful magazines or cookbooks with you and pointing out things that look yummy.
- School-age kids might welcome the chance to tell you about the cool stuff their friends have in their lunches.
- Also, if you don’t ask for input, you might not learn that your daughter is growing weary of always having strawberry jelly on her PB&J, or that your son kinda wishes he could have his apple cut into wedges instead of whole.
You can get amazing info out of our your kids if you just ask! Try it!
Oh – and remember in Part 1 of this series when we mentioned how important it is to make food and nutrition a topic of conversation, and to actually teach your kids about eating well? As your little ones make suggestions about what they might like to try, it’s a great opportunity to discuss whether or not those are healthy choices, or to suggest how certain choices could be reinvented in healthier ways!
8) Make Grocery Shopping an Adventure
Ok, this may not be something you always have the time for (we get that!), but whenever you can, take your kids with you to the market and make it a fun adventure for them!
- Ask them to select some new fruits and veggies (even toddlers can point out things that look appealing!).
- Challenge your older kids to hunt for a couple of healthier options they’d like to try instead of their less-than-healthy faves – make it a game!
- As you push the cart around, be open to their suggestions and willing to try some new products. You can also use this as an opportunity to teach them a little about reading nutrition labels and comparing prices and ingredients.
Then, take your fun new experimental ingredients home … and get cookin’! Which brings us to our next point …
9) Let Your Kids Help in the Kitchen
In whatever way is appropriate for their ages, get kids involved in actually preparing meals and snacks.
- Toddlers may be able to sit in a high chair and play with ingredients or measuring spoons (or other safe utensils) as you talk to them about what you’re cooking.
- Preschoolers love to help spread, mix and sprinkle! It can get a little messy, but the payoff in having them involved is worth it!
- Little ones can be in charge of setting the table, taking “drink orders” or even coloring personalized placemats to make the meal more special.
- Older kids can begin to learn knife skills and more advanced cooking techniques.
- Snack time is an especially good time to get the kids involved. Try asking them to help mix and roll Snack Bites, or give them lots of great options so they can have fun creating their own Fruit Pizzas or Ants on a Log!
Regardless – you’ll be making fun memories together, and your kids will be much more likely to give a thumbs-up to foods they helped create!
10) Don’t Be Afraid of Feedback
Once the meal is over, don’t hesitate to ask everyone what they thought, what they really liked or how a recipe could be improved next time around.
This can be tough, we know – after you’ve worked hard making a meal, sometimes it’s just not fun to hear less-than-awesome comments. But this is one more way that the kids can feel like they’re an important part of the process rather than unwilling participants.
Help them to move beyond a simple “yuck” or “yum” to more specific and constructive feedback. Did they like the noodles mixed in with the sauce, or would they have preferred them served separately? Would they like the veggies in larger chunks, the meat more spicy, or the soup more brothy? You get the idea!
And look at it this way: This is a chance to teach your kids (and maybe your spouse, too!) how to find positive attributes even in things they don’t love. (“Well, Mommy, this smelled really good!” or “Gee, Daddy, even though I still don’t love broccoli, I liked it this way much better than how we cooked it last week.”) That’s a great life skill in so many situations!
Ahhhhh … and here’s where the deal gets really sweet for you. Wanna know one of the best times to ask for this feedback? When your kids (if they’re old enough) are helping to clear the table and load the dishwasher, of course! That way, they’re actively participating in finishing the meal (clean-up is part of it, too!), while also making suggestions for next time around. And you? Well, your clean-up time just got a lot shorter! Good deal all around!
Want more tips to help your kids become better eaters? Check out:
- Part 1: Getting Started
- 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.