My children are generally healthy eaters. I am often asked by friends how I get my children to eat the food that they eat. They love to munch of veggies and fruit and will gladly eat meat.
So here is what we do…
My husband and I eat a broad range of foods in front of our children. They see us eat lots of kinds of meat prepared in different ways. We bring a variety of vegetables into the house. We eat fruit for snacks. We model those behaviors for our children. We have very few foods in the house that are “mommy’s snack” or “daddy’s special food”. This insinuates that they are missing out on the good stuff and devalues the food we are trying to get them to eat.
The next most important step is how I feed my babies. First off, they get nothing but breast milk for at least 6 months. We also always feed on cue. There is no greater way to help your baby to regulate their own appetite than to feed them when hungry. Putting a baby on a feeding schedule has been shown to develop into bad eating habits and poor ability to self-regulate food needs. We are in no hurry to make solid food a part of their daily lives. When we do introduce it, we want them to develop a broad palate for different flavors and textures. If your first solid food is mushy, bland rice, then that is what you will start to favor. If you only get purees, that is the texture you will favor. My oldest daughter’s first food was roasted carrots covered in olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. We then moved on to roasted sweet potato, fresh slices of avocado, large chunks of banana, and spaghetti sauce with Italian sausage. My second daughter’s first food was a large chunk of pork roast that had been simmering in a sweet curry sauce. She happily sucked on it. She also devoured yogurt, roasted sweet potatoes, berries, roast beef, and anything she could steal off her sister’s plate. You will notice in there is a wide variety of flavors (sweet, savory, spicy, tart) and textures (smooth, crunchy, tough).
As they age into the toddler years and hit the picky eating stage, we never make food a battle. There is no clean plate club at my house. Your plate is filled with small helpings of what is being served. Everything must be sampled. If my child is struggling with not wanting to taste a food, I explain why I am serving it. Maybe it’s because it’s rich in certain vitamins or high in protein. I explain how those things work in your body and what they help you do. I am attempting to instill in them life-long healthy eating habits of trying lots of foods and focusing on the good that food has to offer your body.
Finally, we don’t serve dessert. If there is some kind of sweet treat, it is eaten later in the evening and never as an incentive. We try to limit these to once a week and they are usually healthy sweet treats such as cookies sweetened with honey or homemade ice cream sweetened with real maple syrup.
A great study was just released on what makes picky eaters. From the abstract : Maternal reports of food avoidance eating behaviours were associated with an emotional child temperament, high levels of maternal feeding control, using food for behaviour regulation, and low encouragement of a balanced and varied food intake. It was nice to read many of my parenting choices being backed up by research and not just the anecdotal evidence of my own children.