1. Assure them that they don't have to like everything.
Seriously! As adults we don't like or eat everything that is put in front of us. So, why do we expect our children to do so? I always allowed my boys a couple of items that they really didn't care for. They didn't get to make an issue of it or yell "yuck"! But, they could quietly pass the green beans to the next person and just take seconds of something else if they wanted to.
2. Give them the healthy stuff first.
There is nothing wrong with letting them start out with fruit or raw veggies with healthy dip. There is no rule that says you can't start a meal out with what they like and enjoy.
3. Give them healthy treats.
Be careful that they don't get white flour, sugar, oil, and salt on a regular basis, If you give them whole foods, they will develop a taste and prefer that to prepackaged junk. It is so easy to make roasted chickpeas or homemade granola!
Try this! Spread homemade hummus on a tortilla and top it with some fresh spinach or shredded romaine lettuce, fresh tomato slices, and a drizzle of salsa or homemade dressing. Wrap it up tightly and then slice it into little rounds. Kids will love it! And it's good for them!
4. Try it another way.
If you have served green peas and they have responded with "yuck!", don't get frustrated and don't give up! Make them green pea hummus! If they ask for seconds, you might tell them that it contains green peas. Have a talk about how amazing it is that when we first try a food, often we don't like it, but after a few different recipes, we find that we do, indeed like it! If they still do not find green peas to be a taste sensation, it's not the end of the world. Don't make food an issue! Be patient. Be kind. Model good eating behaviors yourself. I assure you that they will grow up to be like most of us: enjoying a wide range of tastes and textures in food and finding that just a few are not our cup of tea.
5. Give then reasonable portions.
For a new food I always put just a couple of tablespoons on their plate. If they wanted more, I was happy to oblige. But, don't put so much on their plate that they could not possibly eat it all in one sitting and then get frustrated when they don't. If my kids got half way through their meal and said they were full, I took their plate, wrapped it in plastic and replied, "Okay. If you get hungry later, let me know and I'll heat it up for you."
6. Let them graze.
As a new mom I adhered to a strict eating schedule. No budging! But, then I had my last baby at the age of 43. By that time, I learned to pick my battles and eating by the clock wasn't one of them. I had figured out that if I had some healthy food that I wanted them to eat, I just arranged it nicely on a plate or tray. Raw veggies or fresh berries disappeared like magic. If you feel like you need to, set some rules: "We eat in the kitchen" or "We sit at the table". By all means, if you have little ones who could choke on raw broccoli, then don't put the "grazing tray" at a level which they can reach. We often got the "grazing tray" out at mid-morning. My boys all knew that when 10:30am came it was snack time. If I forgot, believe me, they reminded me.
7. Let them help cook.
I saved most important tip for last. A 2012 study from the University of Alberta showed that kids who cook are more likely to enjoy fruits and vegetables. When my boys went to the store with me, they helped pick out produce. We talked about how to tell if a melon is ripe. We looked for peaches with no bruises. We inhaled the aroma of ripe strawberries. They got to pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try each week! When we got home, they helped put the fruits and veggies away. Later, we chopped, mixed, and cooked. Allow your preschooler to arrange colorful raw veggies on a platter for dinner. Let your 2 year old dump ingredients into the bowl and then mix the apple salad. A three year old can slice bananas with a table knife. Kids love spending time with you! It may take a bit longer to do the shopping or cook the meal. But, the dividends of quality family time are immeasurable!
*Special thanks and shout out to Kira and Nathan for the lovely photos of their children for this post!
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Do all to the glory of God,