I'm big on walking the walk...not just talking the talk. Parents must lead by example and it's really hard to know just how to do that. Today, I'll talk about how you can get your kids to try new foods and make healthy choices.
Too often, a child says she doesn’t like something without ever trying it. I feel that parents do a great disservice to their children by not encouraging them to taste an array of foods. Some parents cook one meal for themselves and something else for the children because the kids will only eat chicken fingers, pizza or macaroni and cheese. Once the children get into the habit of demanding such a limited menu, it will be more difficult for them to want to try new things as they get older.
Also, those old standbys are not nearly as healthy as other foods, including fish, poultry that isn’t fried, and fresh fruit and vegetables. If you give your child the same meal that everyone else in the family is enjoying, and you refuse to make a separate dish for just that child, she will realize that she has to try it. Sometimes adding ketchup or another sauce that can change the food’s flavor will make it more appetizing. But, if you tell her she has to eat what everyone else is eating, and then if she refuses, you make her macaroni and cheese anyway, she will learn that she doesn’t have to try new foods.
Every Wednesday in our classroom we have healthy snack day, and one parent brings in a healthy treat for the class. We’ve enjoyed everything from fresh fruit salad to cream cheese on celery, to frozen yogurt. We try very hard to encourage every child to taste whatever the snack is. If they try it and don’t like it, we’ll give them pretzels, which is our old standby that everyone seems to like. But if we offer them two types of snacks and they refuse to taste either, they have made the choice to skip snack that day.
Here’s a story that happened in school. One day we made ‘Stone Soup’ in class after reading the story by the same name. Of course, we skipped the stone, but we put in carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, alphabet noodles and seasoning. Every child tasted the soup, and most of them enjoyed it. When Becky’s mother picked her up that day, she was certain that her daughter had refused to taste the soup. To her surprise, we told her that Becky had eaten every drop. Her mother insisted that Becky would never touch a vegetable at home, and wondered what we did to get her to eat vegetable soup.
Part of the appeal was the fact that Becky helped make the soup. We gave each child a plastic knife and we softened the carrots and potatoes enough that the children were able to cut through them. Every child also had a turn to stir the soup. But Becky also knew that we expected her to at least taste the soup. As the other children around her were enjoying it, she realized that it was okay to like it.
If you offer your child the foods that the rest of your family is eating, she has two choices – she can taste them, or she can be hungry. At some point, her hunger will force her to find something on the table that she’s willing to eat. But, if you give in and make mac and cheese and chicken nuggets for every meal, your child will never learn to eat new and healthy foods.