It is crucial that children learn how to eat properly – and by “properly,” I mean embracing healthy food and making it an integral part of their lives. I think that parents nowadays have a bigger responsibility than they did in the past, not only for their children’s long term health, but also because the hope for North America’s broken food system lies in the next generation. By training our children not to be picky eaters and to crave the sensation of healthiness that comes from eating wholesome food, their daily food choices will eventually become small yet effective acts of protest that, cumulatively, can help us create a nourishing, sustainable food ‘culture’.
As mother to two little children, I know how daunting food training can seem. Kids are finicky creatures who stubbornly clash with parents over food. Consequently, a number of ‘food rules’ have evolved organically in our household to help us parents maintain consistency. While they may not work for everyone’s parenting style, these rules have been very helpful in my never-ending quest to raise little foodies.
1. I don’t make special meals for my kids.
They’re expected to eat what’s served and there are no substitutes. Feed them whatever the adults are eating from a young age and you’ll have fewer problems down the road. (Yes, curry with rice at seven months old!)
2. I never buy food products marketed for children.
There are no juice boxes, goldfish crackers, yogurt tubes, snack bars, or processed fruit snacks in the house because I prefer to give them the real thing. Remember that “kid food” is a relatively new concept and many cultures don’t buy into it at all.
3. My kids have to try everything on their plate.
They don’t have to eat everything, but they must have a few bites. Most times, they end up finishing that sautéed eggplant or lentil casserole because it tastes better than it looks.
4. I don’t serve dessert on a regular basis.
Occasionally, it’s a useful bribe if I’m desperate, but mostly I don’t want it to become an expectation at the end of every meal. If there’s no room for the good stuff in their tummies, then there’s no room for sugar.
5. If, on a rare occasion, they don't like any of what’s being served, then they don’t eat.
Some might think that’s mean, but I subscribe to the unpopular philosophy that “picky eating is cured by hunger and a good hike.” That being said, I'd have a different approach if either of my kids had allergies. It's worthwhile paying attention to kids' food preferences in order to detect whether there might any intolerances at play.
6. My kids barely snack.
Snacking destroys their appetite, I’ve learned, and they pick at their food if they’ve had anything to eat within two hours of mealtime. It’s easier simply to eliminate the snack, and they don’t complain because they’re full from the meal.
7. Even kids can appreciate good flavour.
I don’t blame a kid for hating boiled frozen peas, because they are nasty, but fresh peas sautéed in butter with garlic are irresistible.
Teach your kids to eat well, and they will thank you later on.