Research shows that food preferences and eating patterns develop early in life, which means we as moms have a unique window of opportunity to shape our kids into little foodies. When we teach our children to appreciate and enjoy healthy eating habits, they not only benefit as they grow and develop during childhood, but also in their lives as adults.
Sound like a daunting task? I know. It can be. But there are plenty of ways you can actually have fun introducing your kids to all the different kinds of delicious foods that exist in the world. And you don’t have to be Martha Stewart or Betty Crocker to make it happen. You just have to spend a little time making food more fun.
Make the kitchen a social place. Invite your children to help you prepare family meals. Even very young kids can pluck basil leaves off the stem to add to spaghetti sauce, or sprinkle dried cranberries on a salad. They can also help you assemble simple meals like quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, or PB & J’s – and if they get to do it, they just might want to add some extra veggies or fruits to these classic kid meals.
Plant – or visit – an edible garden. When children see where their food comes from or have a hand in growing it, they’ll eat just about anything. If you have a yard with some space, plant a few fresh herbs, tomatoes, and snap peas with your kids. If your home doesn’t have any outdoor space, arrange a visit to a local farm where kids can see and taste what grows, ride a tractor, or do some digging. Even seeing that food does not grow in the aisles of the grocery store can be a eye-opening experience for a child in this generation. Buy and prepare a wide variety of foods. We all get in food ruts. But breaking free is possible! Encourage your family to try new things by buying at least two new foods each week. The easiest way to do this is to eat seasonal produce, which naturally offers variety. You can also commit to trying one new recipe each week – even if it’s just a twist on something your family already knows and loves – like subbing sliced zucchini for noodles in your favorite lasagna, or serving stir-fry over quinoa instead of rice. Talk to your kids. Use family mealtime as an opportunity to talk to your kids about food. Ask them to list their favorite fruits or vegetables; teach them that cheese, butter, and yogurt are all made from milk; show them pictures of honey bee farms. Little lighthearted conversations like these can educate kids in ways they truly remember, and all the talking about food might encourage them to actually eat some of these foods next time you prepare them.
Make the farmer’s market a regular family outing. The abundance of beautiful and delicious produce at your local farmer’s market can inspire people of all ages. Kids can discover and sample what’s in season; see, smell, and touch foods they’ve never seen, and help you choose what to buy for family meals that week. You can even give each child a farmer’s market “allowance” at the beginning of each trip, with which they can buy whatever they want and help cook it at home. Your picky kid may be eating beets or Swiss chard before you know it! Eat healthy yourself. No matter how picky your child is, he’s still watching what you do and how you eat. If you and other family members eat a wide variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, this will have a positive impact on even the pickiest eater. Over time (even if it’s years later), your child will start to try and accept new foods, and by the time he’s grown up, he will probably buy and eat a lot of the same foods you couldn’t even get him to touch as a kid. So keep up your own good habits and know that it’s shaping your children’s “food future.”