Although this is a blog mainly about my son and mostly about parenting I rarely brag. If you are a regular reader you know that I am a firm believer that all children are different therefore how they are raised should be different according to the children and the needs of that particular family. I am only on my first child so far, but yet, I keep finding how amazed people are at how my son eats. Xavier loves to eat. He eats everything! Yes, everything, I have yet to put something to him that he will not like. His favorite foods are mushrooms, yogurt, cheese and black olives. He has a huge appetite and is never fussy. That being said just to clarify, although he is a "big guy" (I'm sure you have noticed in the pictures) he is at a very healthy weight for his age and height plus he also eats very healthy. So I have been asked by many moms what my secret is. It is not a secret by any means, perhaps it is the fact that I was brought up this way and so I am a very healthy eater and not fussy at all. However, I am willing to dispense what I have learned over the past year from having Xavier eating with us. As well as what I have researched from the American Academy of Pediatrics, parenting magazines and columns and the Women Infants and Childrens Nutrition Program. I hope this will make meal time at your household much easier.
First of all, it helps if your child does NOT have parents who are picky eaters. If you are a picky eater and you do not want your child to be a picky eater it is time to broaden your palate. If you have a baby there is not much you can do before they turn six months, but there are few things that I have learned and did that I do think really helped us out.
HOW TO GET YOUR CHILD TO BE A GOOD EATER
Children Before Six Months of Age
- If possible try to breast feed your baby as long as you can. The taste of breastmilk constantly changes with what the mother eats. Therefore, babies that are breastfed already are starting to use their taste buds before those that only have formula
- Bring baby to the table with you for every meal possible. Every meal you eat at home, sit at the table with your partner and/or other family members and bring baby as well. You do not have to put them in a highchair. We kept Xavier in his bouncy seat on the table and then rotated to the bumbo seat on the table while we were eating. That way baby is already aware that food time is at the table. It should be that the only time you eat should be at the table. I would be lying if I said every time I had a snack when Xavier was a baby was at the table, but I at least tried. You will want to do all meals at the table later on when your baby is older so the earlier you start the habit the easier it will be to do when it is necessary later on.
Children over the age of one
- Only eat at the table. Your child at this age should be getting three meals a day and two to three snacks a day. Have these at a table. Preferably with you or anyone in your household also at the table eating. If you are out and your child wants a snack sit on a bench or picnic table. You want your child to learn to sit and only eat, not to walk around and snack while playing with toys. This way your child learns that if they want to eat they need to eat at the table and they will learn to be excited to eat at the table.
- Variety is the key to nipping that picky eater in the butt. Do not have the same foods week to week. Do not make Thursday spaghetti night. You should change your foods all the time. I have many recipes for things. Of course we have our favorites but they may only make an appearance once or twice a month and that is it. Same goes for snacks. If your child likes eating cheese and crackers that is fine but change the type of cheese and crackers. Xavier loves cheeses, anything from colby to extra sharp cheddar to pepper jack!
- The three meals a day need to be from all three food groups. Grain, meat and fruit/veggie. Do not skimp on the grain. Children do not need to be gluten free like adults. They actually need the carbohydrates to burn and help them grow. Just be sure to feed them whole grains. Also, when preparing their plate, it should be in fourths with one half of the plate fruits/veggies, one quarter meat (or beans, legumes for vegetarians) and one quarter grains. Your child should get food from the five food groups each day. That is six servings of grain (serving is 1/4 slice of bread, 2 Tbsps of rice or noodles, 4 tbsps dry cereal or 3 crackers), three servings of vegetables (serving is 2 Tbsps or 2 ounces of vegetable or tomato juice), two servings of fruit (serving is 2 Tbsps or 2 ounces of 100% juice), four servings of milk (serving is 1/2 cup of whole milk or yogurt, or one slice of cheese), two servings of meat and beans (serving is 2 Tbsps meat, 1/2 egg, or 2 Tbsps cooked beans or tofu). Please note all children need the same amount of servings for each food group but these serving sizes are for toddler in the 1 to 2 year age range. You need to check the food pyramid to be sure of the serving sizes appropriate for your children's ages.
- Eat what and when your child eats. You will find it is a lot easier to understand when they are hungry if you are eating the same thing. Your child just needs smaller portions then you. Plus, you will spend a lot less money if you can share food instead of having some food for your toddler and other foods for you. Do not feed your child one thing and you eat something else. Eat the same thing, even share it together. You are teaching your child that they are the same as you. Toddlers especially really love that. Plus, they need only healthy food and that is what you should be eating as well. If you need the sweets try a little snack after your child goes to bed. That is what I sneak in once in a while.
- I will admit eating healthy on a budget is unfortunately a form of art. As it is very hard to find cheap fruits and vegetables. If you do not have a green thumb to grow your own, (don't be sad I do not either) try checking out farmers markets or buy fruits and veggies that are in season. Also, buy frozen. Did you know that frozen is about as good as fresh and usually can be found at half the cost? Plus it cooks much faster when you are in a rush. You can even get frozen fruits as well as vegetables.
- You will learn with a toddler that it can be a pain to have all meals at the table as there is a lot of clean up. What I have found that helps is to have snacks ready ahead of time. I usually figure out what snacks are every week. I cut up large portions of fruit ahead of time. Buy a block of cheese and cut it up into small slices a head of time. That way you can save a lot of time on your snacks.
- What also helps to save time is instead of always making a special lunch make a big enough dinner and keep the left overs for lunch tomorrow. I love this idea. You can usually expand your dinner menu as meats and things are cheaper if you buy in bulk. I will then feed Xavier and I lunch the next day from the left overs. I like it because it's less mess and easy to heat up and serve.
- Don't be afraid to season your foods. Once your child is past the allergy age, feel free to experiment with seasonings and herbs. You will be surprised how refined a child's palate really is. Remember they have very strong taste buds so don't over do it but you will be surprised how much your children love spices. Xavier loves all sorts of indian, chinese and mexican spices a lot. I found myself trying out new ones since he has been born.
- Do not force your child to eat. Children will eat when they are hungry. Never make them eat to clear their plate or to get down. Do not tell them they get dessert if they finish their plate. Do not make the plate the punishment and the dessert the reward. Children have a knack for getting what they need through their natural instincts just be sure to always offer them all the foods in the food groups they need and your child will make up for missing last nights string beans by eating the extra mushrooms later.
- If they do not like what is on their plate give them the option to not eat until the next meal or eat what is on the plate. Do not make them something special. I always just say this is what we have you are free to eat what you want as long as you try everything. If nothing suits you our next meal is at 4:00pm you may choose to wait to eat then.
- Don't give up on foods. If one day your child does not like spinach. Don't assume they will hate it forever. Keep serving it to them. Put it in different foods, try cooking it a different way. You will be surprised how much their taste buds will change very frequently.
- I hit on this a little bit earlier, as I mentioned you should be eating the same foods as your child. This means you should feed your child adult foods. Do not buy toddler or child food. If you go out to eat order your child something from the adult menu and get it in a smaller portion (typically you can try an appetizer portion) or save the rest for lunch tomorrow. Too many times the healthier food is for adults and children's food is very bland making your child less likely to like adult food when they finally try to switch to it.
- If you are already stuck with a picky eater, try adding some additions to their favorites. Add some mushrooms into that grilled cheese, or put some sweet potatoes into that macaroni and cheese. You would be surprised how easy it is to jazz up favorites and even make them healthier. If you need some recipes try my Recipes page. Many of those are Xavier tested and approved and they usually say so in the beginning.
- One of the biggest reasons for always eating at the table is because it is family time. Your child will learn that although you are together all the time you do not always have each others' full attention. Yet, at the table you do. Focus on each other and how wonderful the meal is. Talk and laugh about your day. Let the phones ring and soak in the moment of pure family bliss by making mealtime fun. You will see how much your child will soak up the food and attention and hopefully you will have some good eats!