Most parents know kids should be eating more vegetables and less goldfish, more fruit and less juice boxes, more protein and less spaghetti-o’s. But how do you get them to eat what you serve? With goldfish and juice boxes it’s easy. Put them out for snack time and they get gobbled up. Why don’t celery sticks and apple slices fly off the plate and in the stomach like that? It’s not that they don’t taste good; it’s just that they don’t taste as good. Flavor is king. With sweet and salty snacks as comparisons, real food often comes up short.
What’s worked for my kids is making real food relevant to them. I connected the real food I was offering to their body, brain and activities. This gave them a reason to eat up.
Carrots give a kid energy to run and antioxidants to keep a big brain running smooth. Chicken grows a kid’s muscles to run fast and repairs the inevitable scraped knee. Almonds give a kid’s brain fat so they have good mood control. Olive oil and salmon help a kid’s brain remember all the letters of the alphabet or lyrics to their favorite song.
Before offering a new food or one they haven’t yet accepted, do some thinking. What do your kids use their body and brain to do? Think of a connection between the food they eat and the activities to articulate to your child. Plan to share this connection with your child when you offer a new or unaccepted food. If you’re stuck, use the internet. A keyword search on the Web with the food in question and “health benefits” or “brain function” will often give you the information you need.
Learning to eat real food is like learning to read. Kids need lots of practice and lots of encouragement. As parents, we don’t set the alphabet before our kids and expect them to read. Likewise, it often takes more than offering real food for it to be eaten. Even if your child has barely tasted a new food, consider that success and offer them praise for it. The most meaningful kind of praise is delivered when the activity you connected the food is underway.
When your kid is hollering “look at me” from the top of the playground, it’s a great opportunity to respond with “Wow, that celery stick gave you enough energy to get all the way to the top!”
When your kid brings home a perfect score on Friday’s spelling test, respond with “Wow, that salmon really did make your brain remember all the words perfectly.”
And when your youngest child waits patiently as her brother takes his turn on the computer, you can chime in with “Wow, those almonds really do keep your brain calm while you wait.”
Progress will eventually turn into success. You will be surprised how many kinds of real food you can get your kids to eat with this method.
What do you do to get real food down the hatch? Please share in the comment section!