Nixon is finally over his texture aversion and is eating table foods. We're trying new things everyday and it's been so fun to watch his reactions. Sometimes more ends up on him, or on the floor for that matter, but it's a wonderfully innocent time of exploration and firsts.
This new stage in his development has made me stop and think about the kind of food environment in which I want him to grow. The current culture in which we live does not necessarily support the notion of healthy eating. Out in the world and even in our own homes, children are bombarded by targeted marketing ploys for sugary drinks and fast foods. Our disease rates don't lie and provide a screaming clue that we need change, desperately. At the risk of sounding idealistic, I truly do believe that change starts at home.
Unhealthy dietary habits are very difficult to change later in life, which is why starting young is so important. And while every day won't be perfect there are things we can do to help our kids establish healthy eating habits that they can carry into their adult life. And on that note, I'd like to wrap up my series with my list of do's for raising healthy eaters.
Do get your kids in the kitchen
Children are much more likely to eat or at least try a new food if they had a hand in preparing it. Involve them in all aspects of the process- recipe selection, grocery shopping, prep and cooking. Assign age appropriate tasks in the kitchen to help build self-esteem. Even after all this, they may still dislike the food and that's okay. Give them a hug, praise them for their willingness to try something new, thank them for their help and try again next time.
Do talk about the origin of foods
It's important for kids to know that carrots and broccoli do not just come from the grocery store, but from the ground; that eggs come from a chicken and so on. Consider planting a small, seasonal garden to let them experience the pride of turning a seed into food. If you have an opportunity to visit a garden or orchard, take them and let them explore. lf you are in Las Vegas, you must make a trip to Gilcrease Orchard, where your kiddos can pick their own zucchini, peaches, beets, tomatoes and more.
Do declare mealtime family time
With crazy lives and kids going every which direction, it can be tough to stick to a nightly family dinner ritual, but if you can make it happen, do! It's your opportunity to not only reconnect with them after their day, but to establish their daily "normal" of being exposed to and eating healthy foods. Adopt a strict "no electronics zone" at the table (parents that means you too) so everyone can focus on conscious eating and each other.
Do stay neutral
You have probably heard that it can take a child up to, or even beyond, 20 exposures to a food before they decide to eat or accept it. This can be downright exasperating for a parent, but keep trying. They may refuse the broccoli 14 times, but on the 15th time, may surprise you. It is important that those other 14 times were not a negative, but neutral experience and safe place for experimentation.
In other cases, your child may decide that after eating beans for two years, all of a sudden, he hates them. Keep your cool, move along and continue serving the food. In most cases, you'll find they eventually come around.
Do expose your kids to all different foods and tastes
Once a month, try a cuisine that is outside your family norm. Have Indian or Thai night and put a new recipe to the test. Make it an exciting event that your kids look forward to by adding a quick decoration (think themed paper napkins, straws or tablecloth- Target is great for this!) to make it feel special.
Do keep the big picture in mind
It can be extremely trying on a parent when night after night, meals they worked so hard to plan and prepare are rejected, criticized, wasted or even thrown across the room (thanks toddlers). In these moments, remember that consistency is the key to raising healthy eaters. These do's may not work in a week, a month, a year or maybe even several years, yikes! But, throughout their childhood, if they are exposed to healthy foods on a daily basis- if they see you consuming those foods- they will adopt them as their own sooner or later.