While chowing down on a cheeseburger and trying to spoon feed my first born son jarred peas, I had a lightbulb moment! Maybe I should mirror eating good food for him to also enjoy the same? That boy and I fumbled through the baby and toddler years with so many diet modifications to figure out what I like to call now the “80/20 plan.” 80% of what we eat is from the ground or straight from an animal and not processed. The other 20% is Ranch dressing from a bottle and sweet treats! Haha! If you are looking for a nutrition expert, that is not me! But I am a Momma who has 12 years under her belt feeding children. That totals up to 13,000 meals or times that I have concerned myself with what goes into their mouth, into their belly, and fuels their body and brain!
When it comes to feeding picky kids, you need to come to terms with food yourself. That’s the only hard and fast rule I’ll suggest here. Otherwise, I’m going to hit some highlights on helping kids fall in love with good-from-the-ground foods. Let’s learn together!
Good food habits truly do start from the beginning. I mean, I’m still trying to detox from Cokes after my Aunts loaded up my sippy cups with them and chowing down on cookies in the closet when I’m sad or overwhelmed. I only say this because I’ve had three different experiences with three different eaters, and I could always trace the “off” habits back to their highchair days.
Repeat after me: Moderation. Consistency. No shame.
Moderation to me means that I’m not going to suddenly go into the pantry and dump all the “bad food” in trash bags. I don’t even use the term “bad food!” There’s good, better, and best. All food that fills bellies is good when you think about it…and I express that with my children because we don’t always know someone’s access to the best things but we know a family is doing their best when they feed their kids! (Steps off soapbox.)
Consistently expose your kids to new foods. I do have this one rule: everyone eats the same dinner. It’s been that way from the beginning. So yes, the other night two of my kids skipped out on the main course of buffalo chicken and only ate salad and tortilla chips, but there was no alternative to the main dish.
Don’t shame. I’m preaching to myself here! I so easily forget that on some days I eat eight meals and other days I’m just not really hungry. Hormones, growth spurts, emotions…all of it plays into how hungry we are.
Baby led weaning. I didn’t know that was a thing until I was six-months deep into the food practice with my third baby, Mindy. I have since heard that letting a kid feed themselves the soft, non-chokeable table foods they are grasping for will help them be better eaters down the road! This was so true as we found out Mindy would go so far as to eat sautéed mushrooms and calamari without batting an eye! Skip the jarred baby food and pack a banana and avocado. Honestly, you can mash most anything by adding breastmilk or water instead of making an entire month’s worth of frozen baby food.
Get creative! Presentation really carries over far in my house for getting the kids to try new foods. When they see colorful foods in pretty bowls (mind you, I am washing triple the number of dishes, but their bellies are happy!) they grab and experiment! Make a salad bar, taco bar, pizza topping bar or any other bar you can think of to get their little hands in on the action. Side note: if they cook it or chop it, they are also more likely to eat it!
Meal plan. Oh how I still loathe meal planning, but 100% of the time it makes my days better. I even pencil in “eat out” and “leftover” days. Eating out or take out for dinner is once a week usually. Sometimes more depending on our family budget or special occasions. I keep a recipe box with main meals I know my family likes. There’s about 20 recipes in there and we rotate through them! Stuck on what to eat? Ask the kids! Have an older kid? Let them meal prep by checking pantry for ingredients and making a shopping list then cooking one night a week. My 12-year-old loves to do this!
Before you even think that I have this down pat, let me tell you that I’ve found more wrappers than I want to count in my oldest son’s room hidden under the bed. To adjust, we made a snack basket with 100% of the time available, no questions asked food for him to eat instead of hoarding and hiding. When my daughter started kindergarten, she lost several pounds the first month of school! She just wasn’t getting enough calories and barely eating dinners because she was so tired. Took me too long to realize she was literally wasting away. But hey, there’s always the next day and a do over!
One day at a time, Momma. Address food now for healthy, happy kiddos tomorrow!