When it comes to lunches, I have to admit that I am kind of boring. I would say that nine times out of ten, I eat basically the same thing…a giant salad, some form of homemade dressing, and a protein (usually salmon or eggs).
As I sat down to eat lunch today, my children glanced up from their own bento box lunches consisting of sprouted chickpeas, sweet potato crackers, broccoli and cauliflower with hummus, and almonds.
I knew immediately what to expect next…they both started asking for bites from my lunch.
When I pulled out some sardines, my kids once again asked me to try some. I had the initial thought cross my mind that they would take one bite and not eat any more, but I kept my doubts to myself and forked over a mouthful for each child.
To my surprise, they polished off their first bites and were begging me for more! I laughed at myself for having even doubted their willingness to gobble up this not so typically “child-friendly” food.
After all, the number one predictor of what children eat is what their parents eat!
I’ll back up a bit and start from the beginning. My husband and I have always been foodies. We met based on our mutual love for food…raw food that is. We both used to be raw food vegans.
Yep, that’s right! We literally ate only raw food. Far from boring, we ate things like raw “tacos,” raw “pizzas,” “cheesecakes” and so much more. Our food was made from fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, and things like coconut milk and honey.
While we have moved on from our vegan lifestyles to the complete opposite (we are now eating a mostly Paleo diet), we still eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. We love ethnic cuisines like Indian, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Mexican, and more. Basically, lots of spice and lots of flavor.
European Kids vs. North American Kids
When our children were born, I was adamant that I wouldn’t be making separate meals.
I have watched too many families feed “child food” to their kids (usually things like hot dogs and chicken nuggets) and then prepare “grown-up” foods for themselves, eating at completely separate times. No wonder most children never learn to enjoy healthy choices and are afraid of the tiniest bit of spice!
I had heard about the popularity of the book “French Kids Eat Everything” which talked about the differences between children in many European countries and why they are willing to eat things like Brie cheese, exotic vegetables, and caviar!
While I am not saying we should be dishing up these French delicacies on Elmo plates for our kids, I do know why children in France are willingly eating them in their daycares instead of Goldfish crackers, yogurt tubes, and sugar laden cereals.
It’s really not that complicated…they’re just eating what they’ve watched their parents eat since the time they were born!
I can’t promise that your children will like every food that you eat (nor would you want them to…hello secret addiction to paleo cookie dough bites). They are unique little people, and they will develop their own tastes and preferences.
What YOU Eat Matters Too
Oftentimes, people assume their child doesn’t like a certain food such as raw tomatoes because they’ve inherited the same taste buds, but that simply isn’t true. Taste buds are individual but food preferences certainly can be passed down based on behavior! So if you are constantly turning your nose up at raw tomatoes and picking them out of your meals, chances are your children will do the same.
Be sure that your children see you trying a wide variety of foods and even if there is a certain ingredient that you aren’t particularly fond of, don’t shy away from offering it to your kids. Talk it up, and keep your distaste for the item to yourself.
Children require anywhere from 7-15 times of trying a new food before they acquire a taste for it. So even if your children aren’t particularly enthusiastic about broccoli the first 7 times around, keep on putting it on their plates and encouraging them to try it.
There are a few things that you can do to gently persuade your children to try new foods if they are especially hesitant.
10 Tips to Getting Your Kids to Try New Foods
1. Offer new foods first.
Try offering the new food before giving them the rest of their snack or meal. Hungry children have been known to gobble up entire plates of raw veggies when they’re really hungry.
2. Minimize snacking to maximize eating meals.
On a similar note, be sure that children are truly hungry for the main meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Limit snacks outside of meals and be sure that they are at least 2 hours apart from meal times. Too often I see Moms serving entire mini meals to children at snack times and then wondering why their children aren’t hungry for the main event. This is especially harmful when the snacks are consisting of pre-packaged, sugar laden things like cereal bars, sweetened yogurt, cheesy crackers, etc.
3. Presentation is everything.
Make it special! Children love miniature things and are especially thrilled with fun presentation. Why not make a car out of apple slices and grapes, or a veggie plate in the shape of a face. Lots of compartments are also tons of fun for kids. Bento boxes are really popular with children, but an ice cube tray filled with small amounts of different veggies, beans, meat, dip, and nuts can be really enticing too!
4. Monkey see, monkey do!
Similar to the rule about children requiring 7-15 times of trying a food, children need lots of time to warm up to a new food. We started our baby-led weaning process at about 4 months of age with our kids, not by allowing them to eat before their tiny tummies were ready, but by sitting at the dinner table with us watching us eat.
Children this young are very observant and start making notes of the things we are (and aren’t) putting into our mouths. This is actually a survival instinct to help them know what things are safe to consume and which may cause them harm. So make sure your children are seeing YOU eat lots of healthy things, at every meal!
5. Let them help.
Get your kids involved in every step of food preparation, from shopping to preparing and even serving. Children love to come along and talk about all of the colorful produce at the grocery store.
Try sticking to the outskirts of the grocery store and avoiding the aisles as much as possible. The outside is where most of the healthy, fresh items are located including fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy, while the inner aisles are full of pre-packaged and artificial foods that lack the appeal and nutritional value of “real” food.
Allow your children to help with chopping, peeling, mixing, and pushing buttons. They’ll be much more willing to try foods that they’ve helped to prepare!
6. Never bribe or threaten.
Once you start down a path of negotiating veggies for dessert, children will quickly learn that dessert is what is appealing and veggies are not. Plus, unless you plan on serving dessert at every meal, your children will only eat their veggies (or meat or whatever it is you are trying to convince them to eat) when dessert is an option.
Similarly, if you threaten children to get them to eat their food, they’ll lose trust in you and will start rejecting the food even more simply because they are being forced and coerced into trying it.
7. Have a one bite rule.
Instead of asking your children to eat an entire plate of mushroom risotto the first time you are introducing the dish, have a one bite rule and allow them to have the option of just trying the food. They will be much more willing to expand their food repertoire if they know that the expectation is to just try one or two bites and not to eat an entire bowl of this foreign substance!
8. Don’t give up!
Some children are funny about textures or the appearance of foods, and this may be why they are constantly snubbing their noses at certain foods (or even entire food groups). For example, my son always refused things with a mushy texture like mashed sweet potato or pudding when he was learning to eat. However, he gobbled down my homemade sweet potato fries or sweet potato pancakes and now that he is older will even eat mashed sweet potatoes!
Try serving the same food a number of different ways. If they still aren’t particularly fond if the item, don’t fret. Try again a few months later when they are little older (and their taste buds have had some time to develop too).
9. No substitutions.
This one can be hard to swallow (no pun intended) for many parents who are accustomed to running a short order kitchen in their homes. Serve ONE breakfast, lunch and dinner for the entire family, allowing some variation and preference at snack times since children love to make their own choices and have some sense of control.
You can certainly include your little ones in your weekly meal planning and allow them to make suggestions for meal ideas, but the final decision should be yours. If you’ve planned on grilled salmon and veggie kabobs for dinner, then that is what your serve…for everyone.
If your children aren’t happy and are begging for you to whip them up a box of KD instead, don’t! What you serve is what is for dinner. If they refuse it, you can be certain that they’ll wake up extra hungry for a nice healthy breakfast like scrambled eggs and berries. While you may worry that your children will starve to death, I can guarantee you they won’t!
10. Get creative.
I’ve made berry smoothies with spinach and kale that my children have begged me to make again, soups with beans and lentils, black bean brownies, sweet potato cookies, avocado pudding, meatloaf muffins topped with sweet potato frosting, and so much more.
Protein in the form of powders, nut butters, beans and legumes, eggs, and more can be added to things like smoothies, homemade popsicles, muffins, cookies, brownies, and breads. Fruits and veggies can also be incorporated into these same items, allowing children to acquire the taste for them more slowly.
These subtle additions are an easy way to encourage nutritious choices and work towards a lifelong positive attitude around healthy eating.
The Bottom Line
Most importantly, don’t stress. If your children have been surviving on a steady diet of Eggos, KD, and Goldfish crackers for a solid 5 years, don’t expect them to suddenly embrace the idea of Brussel sprouts and green beans! Start small, and celebrate each little success.
It may mean making a big change for the entire family. Look at it as an adventure.
Maybe you are the one who has a poor diet and your children are simply adopting your habits! If that’s the case, then you have to be the first one to change! It is never too late…even if you are 50 years old. I’ve known people in the late stages of their lives who have completely transformed their diets (and health) by embracing whole, fresh foods.
So don’t be afraid to embark on this new journey, and have fun trying new foods! Slowly but surely, your family will learn to eat (and feel) healthy, one day…one meal…one bite at a time!
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