My husband and I LOVE all things food. We love cooking food. We love looking at food magazines. We love shopping for food. We love trying new food. We are total Foodies. So when we had our first child
we knew that we wanted him to grow up to love food as much as we do.
Fast forward to today. Our son Paul is 9, almost 10, and William just turned 6, and they are totally “Little Foodies”. And let me tell you – it is awesome!
Going out to eat and trying new foods is a fun family adventure for us. Meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking are things we all enjoy doing together. Healthy, nutritious foods are requested by our kids and not something we have to force them to eat or “sneak” into sauces.
Now don’t get me wrong – my kids are still kids. They love candy, ice cream, and junk food just like everyone else! But those things are treats or for special occasions. And honestly, 9 times out of 10, my kids choose the healthy option on their own! They will choose the fruit cup or the broccoli over french fries most of the time – no lie.
Here are our top five tips on how we raised our boys to be Little Foodies:
- Start when they are a baby. Seriously. Make wise choices on what foods you expose your kids to from day one. Where is it written that baby cereal and jarred pureed fruits/veggies are the only things you can offer? The very first “solid food” my son tried when he was a baby was mashed up avocados. He LOVED them! We also opted to make a lot of our own baby foods at home. We would cook a bunch of sweet potatoes and then throw them in the blender. Soft scrambled eggs were a favorite as well. Don’t be afraid to experiment and introduce a variety of flavors at a young age. This will set the stage for the rest of their lives.
- Don’t become a short-order cook. When we make a meal at home, we all eat the same meal. No matter what. We have never offered up an a la carte menu for our kids, which in my opinion only encourages and enables finicky eaters. My kids learned at a young age that if they didn’t want to eat what my husband or I had prepared, that they would go hungry. Now don’t go getting all “judgy” on me, thinking I starved my kids. I consulted their Pediatrician about this and she assured me that my kids would not starve or be malnourished from missing one meal. If they insist that they do not like the meal we have prepared, we offer some healthy alternatives such as carrots & hummus, fruit, or yogurt.
- Involve them in the whole process. We all know that involving kids in the process of anything is the best way to get them to buy into whatever it is. When I sit down to make my grocery list, I ask my boys what kinds of fruits or veggies they’d like me to get or if there are any special requests for the week. Going to the grocery store is a fun adventure for us. Try giving them their own list of foods to find. If they are too little to read, tell them to keep their eye out for red foods or yellow foods or something they can “hunt” for. Teach them how to prepare foods, use a knife, and cook at a young age. Get some kid-sized kitchen tools that are easy for them to hold. Chopping mushrooms is a great first food to learn knife skills with because they are so soft and easy to cut. Keep a couple of fun, kid cookbooks around for kids to look at and pick out a new recipe to try each week.
- Make mealtime a fun and enjoyable experience. We strive to all sit down at the table together for meals as often as we can. I get it – some nights are busy and that is just not an option – but we try to make it happen most nights. Set the table with fun placemats or table linens, light a candle, play some nice music, and make it an experience – not just a rushed meal. We have a basket of these cards called “Table Talk Cards” that have different topics and prompts for fun conversation. You can find something similar online or make your own cards. These conversation cards keep the mood light and get everyone talking. We have seriously sat at the table long after we were done eating before, just reading these cards and having great conversations.
- Play with your food. Make food fun! Cut fruit and veggies into fun shapes, make a silly colored dip, or even just give foods a fun name – like calling asparagus “baby trees”. All of these things will make food more enticing and appealing for finicky eaters to give it a try at least. When my boys were toddlers one of my favorite tricks was using an ice cube tray as a serving tray. Pick up a plastic ice cube tray from the Dollar Store and fill each little cube with fun finger foods like cut up veggies, diced deli meats, cheese cubes, crackers, etc… Little kids love using their fingers and being able to decide which little cube they are going to try first. You can try theme nights too! Like Taco Tuesday, Fondue parties, Upside Down Night (Breakfast for Dinner) or whatever you’d like. Just make it FUN!
Raising our boys to be lovers of all things food has been awesome, and also educational. It teaches them about different cultures, where food comes from, how food is prepared, life skills such as grocery shopping, meal planning, and cooking and not to mention, it has made them grow up to be healthy eaters! And remember, every meal is not going to be perfect. There will be days when fast food is the only option. There will be days that not giving in to their request for butter noodles is just not worth the battle. But remember, all of this will be worth in the end. Bon Appetit!