Friday, March 19, 2010
How To Get Your Kid To Eat Healthy Food
"Lie through your teeth"
Sew Sweet Stitches (her Etsy shop is here)made that statement a little while ago, and I'd like to talk about it. She's talking about that practice where you tell your kid whatever possible, to get them to try/eat things that they don't want to eat. An example she used was telling her child that some herbs were 'tree stars' from The Land Before Time, and her daughter flipped out over it, saying that she's not going to eat leaves!
Also telling her that grapes are berries.
And other lies/embellishments too, apparently.
I know why she's doing it- she wants her daughter to eat healthily. However, it obviously also backfires- now her daughter thinks herbs are 'leaves'. And now she's being 'punished' (forced to eat it by doing the sit and wait thing) for not wanting to eat something that she considers to be inedible. It's a tricky situation and one I think would develop some trust issues- can she trust Mum when she sees something new in her food? Or will it be as gross as leaves?
Now, we all know that Mum was simply trying to connect the gross food with something that her daughter likes watching, and something a character likes eating. But lies can backfire, which this one did.
I posted in the thread about this on a forum, and was, probably rightly, asked 'Any tips for us dummies? ' (Maybe I sounded a bit mean, saying that there's no need to lie, and that children should be exposed to healthy food from birth.)
I gave some suggestions which she liked, so now I'm going to share it with you. Some are tips for from birth, others for 'when you already have a picky child'. Please note that I am not a parent, these were just my ideas.
1. Start them off early. Feed them a wide variety of food from the moment they're starting to be weaned. Mashed banana (and let them SEE you mash the banana, rather than it being from a jar. Not that jarred food is the devil or anything, but kids won't make the connection unless they see it.), stewed apricots, whatever else you have. It doesn't have to be for every meal, I know how time poor many mothers are.
One of my extremely early memories is my mother and father pipping cherries for me one afternoon when we were on holiday- their fingers were incredibly stained. Go that extra distance!
2. Let kids see YOU eat healthy foods/foods that you want them to eat. It's an evolutionary thing- they need to see you eating it to see that it's alright. That doesn't mean that, if you hate oranges like Sew Sweet Stitches does, you have to eat oranges- there are many other choices of foods. Or let other family members feed them a variety of foods that you don't eat. This can be fruits and vegetables, or whole meals. Set a good example. If you hate the texture of certain things, get someone else to be available to be the example.
3. Give up on 'kids meals' at restaurants, and from early days. I was never allowed to eat chicken nuggets while my parents ate pasta or other, more adult things. I was fed bits from their plate, and when I was older and my brother was able to eat solid foods, we shared a plate. Most places will let you do this. Or, go to restaurants that just have smaller sizes of the adult meals for the 'kids menu'. This might require some sacrifice sometimes, but it's up to you to decide if it is worth it.
4. Understand that kids will have to try new things many times before they come to like it or accept it. So, mix up how you serve certain items, rather than, for example, trying to feed them a banana just as it is, if they hate banana.
I'm 24 and only just starting to accept capsicum, curry, and other certain flavours right now- these were things my parents didn't like, so they never exposed me to them (though they did well in so many other ways!). I think it's because I've been building it up.
5. Don't back down, but also don't force them to eat the entire plate of something they hate- would you want someone to do that to you? Instead, insist they eat three bites of their disliked food. Or, say that if they don't eat the required amount, no dessert for them (if you don't want to sit around for two hours while the cauliflower gets cold).
6. Understand that there will be some foods that they just... won't like. We're trying to minimise that here, not insist that they eat absolutely everything for all eternity. I still don't like really hot spicy foods, and I don't think I'll ever be a fan of cheese with fruit in it.
7. Try offering foods in different ways, disguised or with a different flavour. They hate cauliflower? Put cheese on it, or a sauce, or cook it til it's really soft, or put it in soup, marinade it, etc etc. They don't like oranges? Try orange juice first, or orange flavoured iceblocks.
8. Try growing some things at home, or letting them go to a farm to pick some/see them grow. Peas were infinitely tastier when picked off my grandfather's plants, and eaten right on the spot. Berries were better when picked from sharp bushes by my parents. Bananas were awesome when a man cut one down for me with a long scythe.
9. Make your own meal look AWESOME. And make a big fuss to each other about how wonderful this meal is going to be, how special, this is going to be the best thing you eat this month. Most kids will then want to try it. :P
That doesn't count as a lie, I think- it's just a jealousy thing and they'll come to the conclusion they want to eat it themselves. Most of the time you really WILL be looking forward to eating it- but how often do you express that out loud so that the kid can hear?
10. Literature! Go out and find books about food, or where people are eating food. Get the kids to watch movies like Ratatoille if that's appropriate for their age group. When I was teaching my Healthy Eating unit to the kids last year, you'd be amazed at how much they responded to the book 'Delicious'. And they were 10 year olds! It's a story of a duck, squirrel and cat who live together and ALWAYS eat pumpkin soup. One day there are no pumpkins. Duck refuses to try the things that the other two spent hours slaving over, pronouncing them gross before even trying it. At the end they trick Duck by making an orange coloured soup. The duck tries it, and realises it is not pumpkin, but that he likes it anyway! We discussed about how the squirrel and cat feel about having their food rejected, is there any real reason why Duck is refusing to try it, is it good to only eat one food forever, and so on.
And there's always the old favourite Green Eggs and Ham! My mother would always say "Try it, Sam I am!" and I'd have to grudgingly try it, because I acknowledged that Sam refused to eat things without knowing what they're like.
Seek out episodes of their favourite tv shows that talk about food- and tape them, then show them it. They'll soon start thinking about it.
11. If your child now thinks that the food is gross as a result of a lie (eg, that food is leaves) try to admit you were only teasing about the leaves thing, or, explain what other things we eat that are leaves- such as lettuce. Go into biological detail, explain about omnivores, and that we do eat certain leaves but not all of them.
12. If your child eats too many unhealthy snacks- simply stop having them in the house. Sorry kid, no longer an option. You'll eat this carrot, or you'll go hungry. Alternatively, ration them. "You're allowed one unhealthy thing today, if you eat this cupcake now, you cannot have a biscuit later, which will it be?"
13. It's harsh, but the whole 'well, if you don't eat it, you'll go hungry' thing is tried and true.
14. Not mine, but from Naturally Hip act excited over healthy snacks. "Who wants a banana??? YAY!"
15. If you have time, make your unhealthy things yourself. Desserts, biscuits, etc from scratch. Then it becomes more of a special treat thing rather than an easy fix from the pantry.
16. Involve the kids in the cooking process.
17. Let your kids have a choice. Have a recipe book, and ask the kid to pick what's for dinner based on the pictures in it. Then cook it for them.
18. Explain WHY you have done something- herbs add flavour, vegetables are needed to keep you healthy, meat keeps you strong, that sort of thing.
19. Let the kids watch cooking shows- that'll give lots of examples of people eating healthy foods.
20. And of course the old 'bribery' method- Eat everything on your plate, and I'll make you a dessert. If you eat fruit for a snack every day this week, I'll do [fun thing that is not a norm] with you! Sticker charts. Lots and lots and LOTS of praise when they get it RIGHT.
21. Make the food fun. There are ads around here where little girls are making necklaces out of fruit, and there's a whole lot of other 'recipes' too.
I hope this was helpful for you!