Real Food for Kids
Switching your children over from eating processed food to healthy real food is never an easy task. Once your children get used to eating unhealthy processed food they develop a taste for it that can be hard to break. This is a challenge that will not be accomplished overnight but is so important for helping your kids grow up happy and healthy. Try these suggestions to gradually introduce healthy real food for kids and help your children develop a taste for nutritious wholesome foods.
The earlier you start to introduce real food, the easier it is to shape their tastes. The best age to introduce real food for kids is between 1 and 2 years old. At this age babies and toddlers usually have not yet developed a taste for junk food. They also enjoy playing copycat so if they see mommy and daddy eating healthy food they will want to try it too. Since baby’s tastes are not fully developed yet this is the best time to introduce as much new food as possible. Making your own baby food is a great way to shape healthy tastes. What many parents will do is just take food the rest of the family eats, blend it, puree it, and serve it in baby sized portions to the little eater. If a child gets used to eating real food as a baby their chances for craving it as older children will be much better.
If your children are older a gradual approach to introduce real food for kids is generally needed. If your kids are used to eating white bread then try to start serving 50% whole grain bread at first. Once they are used to that switch to 80% and eventually 100% whole grain bread. Another trick is to switch to healthy sweeteners. Instead of serving food like flavored yogurt with artificial sweeteners already added, serve plain yogurt and offer fruit or honey as a sweetening option. You can also do this by sweetening cookies and other baked treats with honey or natural syrups. Going cold turkey from processed foods is hard for older children so easing them into real foods is the best way to reshape their tastes.
Modeling is Works Better Than Controlling
A mistake well intentioned parents make when bringing real food for kids into the house is trying to over-control their children’s eating habits. Studies show that when healthy eating is forced on children that they grow up eating more unhealthy food than average. Kids need to make positive associations with healthy food. Threats like “you can’t watch TV until you finish your carrots” tend to make the child just wind up disliking carrots.
Parental modeling is much more effective than parental control. If you eat real food around the house then your children will be more likely to accept real food for kids. You can model healthy eating habits outside the home too. Take your children to a farmer’s market and let them pick out what they want. Joining a community supported agriculture farm allows you to get fresh organic vegetables that you can pick up every week. Bringing your children along to see the farm, pick up the vegetables, and letting them help cook with these different veggies is a great way for them to become interested in eating real food. Most importantly, do not keep junk food in the house. This sends mixed messages to children and makes it much more difficult for them to accept healthy eating as something that everyone in the home does.
Make it Fun
Making meals more fun is a great way to help your children think positively about eating real food. Getting your kids to develop a taste for real foods requires some creativity. If you present food as edible art it helps your kids get excited about eating it. Try these tips to make eating real food fun or try some of these edible art suggestions:
- Whimsical waffles: Make fun faces from fruit cutouts on top of whole grain waffles.
- Perked up pasta: When cooking whole grain pasta, add more spices and seasoning to the sauce to make it extra tasty and distract from the less tasty pasta.
- Pretty pizzas: Make faces out of slices of cheese or vegetable toppings over a healthy crust and sauce.
- Smiley sandwiches: Cut up your kids’ sandwiches with cookie cutters.
- Cute cookies: Bake with whole wheat flour and use raisins or honey as a sweetener.
- Colorful caterpillars: Cut up slices of fruits and vegetables and put them on a skewer served with yogurt dip.
Children are more likely to enjoy real food for kids in the context of a pleasant experience. Make mealtime an opportunity for enjoying good conversations with your kids to distract them from unfamiliar foods and to bond as a family. Making kids laugh (between bites of course) is a great way to perk up their spirits and make eating real food for kids a better experience. In the Sears household we practiced the KISMIF principle for mealtime conversations: Keep it simple, make it fun. Save more serious conversations for another time.
Getting your children to eat real food for kids does not have to be a battle. Modeling positive nutrition and making eating real food an enjoyable experience will help reshape your kids’ tastes. It will be a long process but reinforcing lifelong healthy eating habits in your children is well worth the effort.