As an eater, Jake is pretty good for a 4 1/2 year-old. He doesn't like cheese or potatoes or most sauces (unlike pretty much every other kid in this country). But he has been trying things more readily lately--kalamata olives, gravy (I told you he doesn't like sauces), various veggies, fish. He likes most of it once he tries it. As you have heard, in Maine he learned that he loves fried shrimp.
To top it off, he's a pretty healthy eater, too. He's much more apt to eat some sort of fruit or veggie (broccoli, sugar snap peas, etc) than chips or some other snack food. He loves his candy--especially chocolate--but those are a treat, not something he has a lot of.
He has a good attitude toward food that we've helped to foster in him--we talk about food and treat it with respect, take him to farmers' markets, eat a wide variety of foods, let him help prepare the food when he wants to, make meal time a time for fun.
Snack of choice at today's farmers' market?
The Morning Callrecently ran an article including an interview with Tanya Wenman Steel, the editor-in-chief of epicurious.com, co-author of the "Real Food for Healthy Kids" cookbook and mother of twin 12-year-old boys. She gives some great tips about getting kids to eat--and eat well.
Have young kids help clean lettuce or peas or whatever. Have it be fun for them to come in contact with the food. Steel says not to worry about the mess. "It's more about creating a fun environment and warm memory and a Pavlovian instinct that the kitchen equals fun."
Teach your kids that fresh foods are better. Explain how the perimeter of the grocery store is where the better foods are. Take them to farmers' markets. Get excited about the colors and textures of the foods. Let them pick out things to try--most likely younger kids will go for the colorful things, which just happen to be the most nutritious. Involve them in the preparation of meals.
Many people say that their kid doesn't eat. But, Steel says, most of the time those parents don't eat either and don't sing the praises of healthy foods.
You have to be the ultimate PR person for spinach. You've got to be a spokesperson for the deliciousness of fresh food. And that means not just talking the talk, but walking the walk and eating that way every day in front of them.
Starting him early.
Start them early. Putting something new on their plate when they are learning to feed themselves is the time to do it--they'll try it. Studies show that kids need to try something over a dozen times to get used to the flavor and smell of a food.
Challenge teens (especially boys) by appealing to their competitive side. I'll bet you I can make these Brussels spouts taste good to you.
Require them to at least try the food. If they don't like it, then they can say, no thank you. But don't negotiate with them. They should eat what's on the table--you should not be making 3 different veggies for 3 different tastes.
Try substituting healthy foods for other favorites. Make a healthy trail mix instead of chips. Offer peanut butter on an apple instead of candy.
Portion sizes are important. Steel says:
Portion sizes are probably half of what parents think they should be. It takes 20 minutes for the stomach to tell the brain it's full. So I always start my kids with fresh veggies...By the time they're eating dessert, hopefully it has been 20 minutes and they're going to say, 'I don't need another thing to eat.' But if they do, give them whatever fruit is in season that will satisfy the sweetness they're craving.
Admittedly, these tips aren't the easiest things to implement. Although we think we do a pretty good job with Jake, there are times that he just won't eat what we give him. But the key is trying to do it--try to make these tips work and you'll have a healthier kid who will enjoy and respect food much more than if you didn't make an effort.