Healthy eating advocate Jenna Pepper writes about reversing picky eaters and growing good eaters on her blog Food with Kid Appeal. In part 2 of our interview with the food blogger, we grilled this recovering picky eater on how she gets healthy dinner on the table every night. The Texas mom also shared how she empowers her 6 and 8-year-old boys to make healthy eating choices for themselves.
Q: How can parents teach their children to make healthy eating choices for themselves? And what do you do with your boys?
A: When our kids say they don’t want to do homework or go to school, we don’t let them make those choices. We tell them, this is what will fuel you, make you feel good, give you energy to run, play and be busy. Sometimes my kids choose not to eat, and that is their call. I don’t really like it, and they won’t choose it very often because they will get too hungry to keep doing that.
I wouldn’t just let them grab a banana instead. If they are not eating their meals, they don’t get snacks. My youngest can be resistant to eating real food because his digestive system is still healing. (Both of Jenna’s boys are suffering from leaky gut syndrome and have food intolerances.) I tell him he can have snacks only as a supplement to his real food.
Q: That seems like a very sound and effective strategy, as over-snacking is an issue in many families …
A: If you aren’t hungry when you come to the table, how motivated would you be to try something new. Hunger can be a huge motivator.
Q: Healthy eating is obviously very important to you. How do you get a healthy dinner on the table every day?
A: This is where local food comes in handy, knowing the people who grow, cultivate and harvest, and bring your food to market. You are deeply invested in that food once you get it in your house.
Know that you can’t over-schedule yourself during food prep times. It’s above soccer practice and those things. Honor your commitment to food prep. I can spend 30, 60, or 90 minutes cooking dinner each night if I want to because I work part time and my life is pretty charmed in that sense, but not all moms have that schedule. So if you honor that cooking space on your calendar, it’s a priority and you schedule your life around that.
Q: Your sons are 6 and 8 years old. Are they good eaters?
A: They are very different from each other. My oldest son is a lot more adventurous. He’s also a lot more practical. If he doesn’t like his dinner, he might say, “Ok, I didn’t really want it, but you cooked it and it’s food, and I should eat it, so I will.” My youngest son is a different story. He had a huge appetite and would eat endlessly as a baby before I weaned him. Once I weaned him, his flora changed, he started getting sick, and was just not a well child. Unless something was really palatable to him, he didn’t have any motivation to eat it. So that is all getting better now. He is starting to come out of that cocoon and is starting to adopt some of those things that he had rejected for a while. So it’s just a process. I keep telling him, “You ate this like crazy when you were a baby, you gobbled it up and you wanted more. Your stomach is healing, and your appetite is growing, and this food will taste good to you again, maybe not today, but later.” So he is on that journey of growing into a good eater.
“I have to teach him this skill, because he’s going to leave the nest.”
~ Jenna Pepper on the importance of teaching her oldest son to make his own healthy eating choices.
Q: What’s your strategy for teaching your sons how to make healthy eating choices for themselves?
A: My youngest has food allergies so I don’t let anyone else feed him anything, because I don’t know what’s safe for him so it’s easier to just bring his food everywhere. He’s compliant with that, but when you’re 6 and you have to watch your friends eat Cheetos and grilled cheese sandwiches and you can’t have any of those things it’s really hard. And my oldest son, his digestive system is a lot healthier than his brother’s, but he will not feel well if he eats garbage, and he knows it. His stomach is so upset he can’t even eat lunch. This happened at Disney World, where he was eating whatever he wanted from the breakfast buffet. He would want to know why his tummy was so upset, and I would say, “It’s because you ate all that unsoured wheat for breakfast. You had a muffin, a croissant, a pancake, and those aren’t real food. Your stomach is working very, very hard to digest all that, and that’s why you aren’t hungry for lunch.” I have to teach him this skill, because he’s going to leave the nest. He’s going to be making his own choices, and he’ll either know how to make the right decision because I taught him that, or he won’t know because nobody ever gave him the opportunity, they just made the choice for him.