Wednesday, November 18, 2015

6 tips to make your kids "good eaters"

Background image - Creative Commons via David Saddler
There isn't a week that goes by when someone doesn't have a peek at Tricky or Bobbin's lunchboxes and say "Your kids actually eat that?! What's your secret?". It could be an opportunity to go all 'smug mother', or show off, but it has been little things we've done since they were introduced to solids that have been the biggest factors.

It is no secret I'm a bit of a food freak when it comes to my kids (if only I could be so vigilant when it comes to my own food). I was extremely strict with what Tricks was and wasn't allowed to eat as a toddler, and, as is often the case, I've had to relax my ideals as school started and every second day there was cupcakes for someone's birthday, and cookie decorating for fine motor skills. Which means Bobbin has been exposed to a shed load of food long before her brother ever was... to the point where we drive past McDonald's and she says "chips". Ahh, second children.

No food groups are out of bounds for my two, but I do try limit the amount of processed food they eat, keeping it mainly for birthday parties and holidays as a treat. Oh, and at the grandparents' houses, duh. Because sometimes, the memories being made take precedence over the nutritional value.

Me from four years ago cannot believe I just wrote that. Heh.

I've been a no-nonsense mama from the get go when it comes to food, and I think that has really helped turn my kids in to so called "good eaters". Some of our simple approaches have come naturally to us, and others we have adopted after reading about them.

1. We eat dinner as a family, every night

I think this is SO important. It's a way to connect after a busy day, but it also lets us model eating and social behaviours so our kids have seen that "we sit down, we talk, we eat" is part of our routine. MapGuy usually eats breakfast with the kids (while I'm trying to get a few more minutes of sleep), and whoever is home eats lunch together. Lately, with just Bobbin and I at home during the day, we have a little tea party together in the playroom.

2. No TV or devices on during meal times

We are really strict with this at dinner, but I will admit that a phone has been known to come out at the breakfast table to help us figure out what is going on that day! On the rare occasion that the TV is on, I find my two will forget to eat, then pick at their food and only eat their favourite bits off the plate before declaring that they are full, only to be starving an hour later.

3. We eat the same food

It doesn't matter what it is, we all eat the same food. Tricky and Bobbin have been exposed to a wide range of foods and will now happily eat almost anything you put in front of them. We dish up their food first, pop it in the fridge to cool down, add extra chilli to the pot because I like it spicy, dish up ours, and then serve it together.

4. Involve the kids in meal times

Tricky, and more recently Bobbin, help MapGuy with the grocery shopping every Saturday. Yes, you read that right, MG is in charge of the dreaded grocery run with both kids while I sleep in - dude, I've got it good. They help pick the food (tiny slaves, FTW!), get a life maths lesson, and learn the names of the different fruits and veggies as they go. They help with some meal prep, and a bit of baking (spoon licking counts as helping) and Tricky is in charge of setting the table. Soon, his job will change to clearing the table and Bobbin will take over the cutlery.

5. We have rules about trying food

Is there a food you like now that you hated at first? I used to hate olives, cheese and wine and now those things make up a glorious trifecta for this chick. You have to try a food a few times in our house before you can declare you don't like it.

I've lost count of the amount of times Bobbin has said "YUCK!" and pushed her plate away just as we sit down to dinner. When this happens we put it back in front and say she has to try it. If she refuses, we say she has to sit there while we eat dinner... every time (so far) she has started eating. Usually saying "ooh yummm" within two minutes and making MG and I covertly roll our eyes.

I also like to point out to Tricks that foods can taste different depending on what they're with; for example, he doesn't like avocado by itself, but if you put it with vegemite, or on a wrap, he likes it. I feel the exact same way, but Bobbin will eat it by the truck load by itself. It's all I can do not to dry retch at the site of it. So my two have to try a few mouthfuls of a food a couple of times, prepared in different ways before they can really declare they don't like it, but...

6. We're not in the Clean Plate Brigade

If they don't like something on their plate and they have at least tried it, they can eat around it, lick it, sniff it, push it around their plate, whatever. They don't have to eat it. Shocking, I know. If it is something that was declared their favourite thing ever the day before I will tell them to eat it, but mostly I try to respect that not everyone is as obsessed with roast pumpkin or whatever as me, and let them figure out their own palate, and their own hungry and full signals, trusting that they won't go around starving.

We follow this up by keeping their food after dinner if they haven't eaten much, and offering it to them later when they're hungry. I'm guilty of using saying "well you can't really be hungry" if they refuse dinner but are angling for dessert. Yeah, I've turned in to my parents.

These have worked wonders for our family, and with Bobbin being so small for so long, it's been really important to me to make sure she eats well.

What tips and tricks do you use to make sure your kids eat well?

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