March 4, 2010

Getting Kids to Eat Everything

This photo just cracks me up! You can tell he's really enjoying his spaghetti. That face makes me happy cause eating shouldn't be a battle. Mealtimes shouldn't be about arguing or cajoling. And NONE of us needs to be short order cooks. Life is too hectic and family mealtime should be fun not stressful. Isn't that what those sappy Publix commercials that run during the holidays are all about?? I love those ads, I want to pull up a chair and join them at their dinner.

I share this funny photo not for the silliness of it, but more for talking about past experiences. When we had our first child, I was so frightened of feeding him the wrong thing at the wrong time. I read a bunch of books, but I didn't feel like they really helped me at all. Finally a friend recommended Super Baby Food, which has a great chart that details when to introduce each food.. After reading the book I was more confident in my

feeding skills as a new mom. My three kids were introduced to avocados, beets, and leeks right along side of the tamer standards like bananas, apples, and sweet potatoes. When they reached the one year mark, we started to introduce soft whole versions of what they were already eating: chunks of banana, mixed veggies, whole wheat crackers, tuna fish, mangoes, and more. One of my kids' favorite meals was spaghetti, specifically my Aunt Sharon's recipe. As you can see, they really got into it.

While my husband never really liked this extremely messy stage, I felt privileged to introduce them to all kinds of food that would eventually shape their palate. It's much easier to give an 18 month old a papaya or liverwurst than to introduce it at three when they can firmly say "no". Today my kids will eat lots of different foods. We just celebrated my birthday at a Dim Sum restaurant where they only thing they didn't like was chicken feet! Don't even get me started on the kids' menus at today's American restaurants, what kind of choices are those??! One of our friends asked, "don't you all ever eat American food?" We laughed wondering what exactly is American food other than hot dogs? Surely living in the Melting Pot means we get to experience foods from all over the world. Eating kalbi (grilled Korean short ribs) is like taking a vacation without going anywhere.

Of course, we have those nights where one of the kids might not like something on their plate (or the well known phase of not liking something they used to eat). Right now, my daughter is in a funk about any vegetable that's not green. Give the gal some green beans, edamame, or asparagus and they disappear, but offer her corn and it's "I don't liiiikkke that". Who can explain it? The kid can't even make sense of it herself. I'm sure the moment corn-on-the-cob comes into season, that same daughter will be chomping down on corn cobs with gusto. I try not to make these phases a big deal because then become a big deal. Our kids don't have to finish their dinner but they do have to try everything. If they don't eat much, I know the next morning when they wake up they will be hungry for breakfast with it's vast array of cereal, yogurt, or oatmeal they can choose from.

Our kids know each meal must contain three food groups. It's not uncommon to hear, "Mom, is cheese a protein?" coming from someone. I want food to be enjoyable and good for them. It's just like getting them to "exercise", they get out and play, it's not exercise for them, it's fun. Eating a variety of foods can be fun and part of their everyday life. Let them look at colorful cookbooks, let them pick out one thing from the grocery store they have never tried, and/ or let them help cook it. You might have heard these things before, but never put them into practice. Try it this week.

Oftentimes, I think we adults put our food issues on our kids making it harder to get them to eat good choices. Do you enjoy your brussels sprouts in front of your kids? Do you sneak a treat behind their backs? No matter what your preferences are, making meals and enjoying them together is really the key point. If you haven't introduced things to your kids already, it's never too late. Try something new as a family, asparagus grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper or Bee Bim Bop. How about strawberries with balsamic vinegar on them, or maybe try this fabulous fish recipe.  Whatever you do, have fun with it. You may find they even like something you don't! I can't fathom why my kids like fried okra, but they do. They have been accepted into the Pride of Southerners while I meanwhile sit firmly on the Mason Dixon line. I promise your kids will and can eat more than macaroni and cheese if you expose them to more exciting options.

I hope you enjoyed tonight's dinner, but even if you didn't, there is always tomorrow.

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