Thursday, 23 April 2015


Healthy family meals
Mum and dad were desperate to reduce food budget so they asked for help. Help came and they were taught how to shop economically, how to find healthy and good quality alternatives to pricey brands and how to make delicious food from scratch saving lot of money. But there was an unexpected problem: The kids refused to eat the new family meals and they wanted to eat only the same familiar 5-10 meals all the time.

Picky eaters or normal kids?

Kids over 2-3 years old can stick to the same familiar meals stubbornly. They are able to eat the same meals every week. They are suspicious with new textures and colours on the plate. It's really hard to get them to try new things. Why is this and that to do?

Okay, the best thing is to avoid this situation and offer them a wide range of foods from very early age. But despite the best intentions and all effort they reach the age when they refuse certain foods. We usually take the wrong direction when toddlers start to eat the same food as we do. Baby food is safe and simple they learn the basic tastes and textures and they eat nearly everything what is offered to them.
I noticed that toddlers prefer simple food - nothing complicated. When they have grapes cheese and toast on the plates they take them in their mouth separately and they give time for themselves to know food: they examine it visually, they smell it, they turn it around in their mouth a couple of times before chewing and swallowing it. This is all natural. Of course they want to want to know what they eat - they are in the learning process. They accepted mashed, unrecognisable food in babyhood, but now they want to know what is on their plate and they also want to decide themselves what to eat.

If they see a new complicated dish, they try to figure out what is that. It is not potato and meat and carrot: it is beef stew, a mixed half-mashed brownish something in some kind of liquid...
Of course, they are suspicious. They try to work out why these ingredients taste differently now. Do they know about seasoning? Adding herbs?(Hopefully not artificial, salty spice-mixes...)
Do they know about the magic of cooking? No. So what they do?
They pull out the recognisable parts from the stew and they eat only those - like carrot and potato pieces. Later they manage to figure out a couple of dishes and then they always prefer those. We think these are their favourites - but really these are their "safe" choices.

Reward charts

In the story mum and dad were advised to reward their kids whenever they adventure to try a new dish. I think this is a good advice.

They were also advised to set up a chart and reward their daughters with stickers. I do not think this is a good idea. I explain to you why.

I know reward charts are really popular nowadays and they are great when you want to achieve a short-term change or to get move a process ahead quickly. For example, they could work really well at potty training. However, rewarding food tasting  is a bit awkward. 

Establishing good eating habits is not the one week/one month process. And this cannot be done by rewarding good intention a couple of times. After a while kids get bored of stickers and reward charts and they are not motivated by it any more.

What then?

What is the best long-term reward for every child? The parents' attention.
The feeling that they are not pushed or forced but they are guided and helped on this journey.

I think the best way to achieve this:

- If you spend time with them and find out their thoughts and feelings on the subject. Like talking about food: what they think, why we need food; what is healthy; why we need vitamins and minerals etc.

- If you play with them in the kitchen: smelling spices and naming them; mixing and sorting grains; making a picture sticking grains on card board; kneading dough; cooking together.

-If you ask their opinion: "look, I've tried a new recipe and I'm really interested what is your opinion on this dish. What do you like about it? What do not you like about it?"

This way you reward them with the most important thing in life: the feeling that their opinion counts. Also, they feel, food is an adventure and fun: it is worth to discover and it is worth to be open minded. It is very likely that they will not like everything. But it is part of the process from our side - as a parent - learning to accept their own shaping opinion, taste and choices.

Of course, all these work only if parents give a good example.
You will never get your kids eating broccoli if you never eat broccoli. 

Is it too much to ask?

Taking the time and effort to educate kids about food pays off well. Not just because they will make right food choices later on in their adulthood but because this kind of approach support a great parent-child relationship too.

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