I love to read books about food. I have read plenty of books about kids and food. Mostly though, I have cooked for my kids everyday for the last five years, and learned a thing or two along the way. I don’t have any experience feeding teenagers yet but I like to envision my kids as teenagers coming in from sports practice starving and sitting down and eating every last thing on the table, and then wanting more, without a single skeptical look or bad attitude. Someday, someday. I think I have pretty typical toddlers when it comes to food, they have both been picky, not picky, and somewhere in between at different ages. My son only ate oatmeal when he first starting eating solid foods, and I remember wondering if I was going to be making oatmeal four times a day for the next eighteen years. Overall, though, I would consider them fairly good eaters, and I think these tips are part of why that is true.
- Cut it smaller. This is probably the most overlooked tip for kids but it makes a huge, huge difference. Even the tiny bites that we think we are cutting up are probably too big. Kids often have texture issues, not taste issues, with food, and most of the time it’s because the textures are too big in their tiny little mouths! Have you ever really stopped to think about how tiny a two year olds mouth and teeth are? Except when they are having a tantrum in aisle seven of Target, in which case their mouths seem huge. Back to my point, as soon as I am done cutting up the pieces, I remind myself to go cut those pieces in half again. For things like sauces, soups, or chunkier foods, I often get out my immersion blender and give it a spin. You wouldn’t believe how much vegetable soup my kids will put away when it is blended up and served over small noodles. I’m not talking about a baby food puree here, just small, small pieces.
- Have your kids try a bite of everything served at the table, but don’t try to force your kids to eat things that they wouldn’t be otherwise interested in. For example: cauliflower rice. Not only is it overdone (but it’s gluten free! wait for it…so is rice) but why are you trying to have your kids eat cauliflower rice? To be healthier? To eat more vegetables? Well, that I can jump on board with – so take your cauliflower rice and MIX it with your kids brown rice. There is nothing unhealthy about brown rice – nothing. In todays world everyone seems to be scared of eating any type of grain or carb, but the low-carb era is over people. Carbs = energy. Kids need energy. It’s not hard, please don’t try and make it complicated. Don’t lie about it, tell them that there is some vegetables in their rice, and move on.
- Dip it. Go to Amazon, buy yourself a set of silicone muffin liners (like these), and watch them change your life. My kids get their “dipping cups” out for nearly every meal, and I simply find something to put in them! Believe it or not, I rarely put ketchup in these things, but think of hummus thinned with water, blueberry syrup, melted peanut butter, plain old real butter (my kids will eat an entire head of broccoli if they can dip the trees in butter), pesto sauce, honey mustard, or often plain whole milk Greek yogurt. You get the idea. Kids LOVE to dip, and they will certainly eat more of what’s on the table if they can dip it in something. Note: Please make sure that you buy colors according to how many children you have – if you have to listen to screaming about who gets the orange dipping cup every meal you will quickly toss these puppies in the trash. I once tossed out an entire set of children silverware because I could not take one more “I want the green fork” meltdown.
- Change it up, but always have one familiar thing on the table. All parents have those few recipes in their back pocket that usually make a weekly appearance because they are the recipes you know your kids will eat for certain without a single complaint. Mine are lasagna roll ups and tofu stir fry with peanut sauce. Guaranteed happiness. The trouble with those recipes, however, is you never branch out to see if perhaps their might be another sauce or style that your child enjoys. So next time make a pineapple teriyaki sauce to go over the stir fry, and the child still sees the tofu, broccoli, and rice on the table and feels instantly calmer knowing that yes, they like those foods. I really believe in the research that states that a child has to try a food fifteen or more times before really deciding if they like it. My son hated avocado at least the first twenty times he tried it, as in a total gag fest at the table. It would have been easy for me to write it off saying he must just not like avocado, but I kept trying it different ways and now it’s one of his favorite foods and he actually asks for it on his tacos and wraps. Close call, because who wants a life without avocado?
- Make it fun. After feeding two toddlers multiple meals a day for what feels like an eternity, I have really found that trying to figure out how kids might find something more fun to eat makes all the difference in the world. Take last weekend, when I made a sweet potato kale soup. They both stared at their bowls with a look of defeat on their faces, and then I broke out a box of oyster crackers. I let the kids add oyster crackers to their own bites, and they both ate every drop. They were excited about the fun of adding tiny crackers to their soup! Another one I use is magic sprinkles. If I could tell you the number of times that my kids initially turned up their noses at something I put on the table, and after I took a deep breath, tried not to lose my mind because I just spent an hour preparing the lovely meal, I acted like I didn’t care and sort of off-hand said “does anyone want any magic sprinkles on their vegetable stew?” Two pairs of eyes instantly lit up. I got out my can of Herbamare (love this stuff) and pretended to read the back, saying that the ingredients contained rainbows, stars, sunshine, and fairy dust. They both asked for a sprinkle and then ate their whole bowls. Sometimes kids just need to get out of their own heads, you know what I mean? Make it fun, don’t make it stressful, and I promise they will follow suit. Just make sure you always have a jar of Herbamare lying around. I especially think this stuff works wonders because it is in a colorful, different container. You might not get these results if you try with plain old salt – just a warning.
There are some of my tips for feeding kids, I hope one or two might work for you!
Note – for further reading, here are a few of my favorite books about feeding kids:
French Kids Eat Everything and Getting to Yum by Karen Le Billon
Disease Proof Your Child by Joel Fuhrman
It’s Not About the Broccoli by Dina Rose