My husband and I have been blessed with a kid who loves to eat. So far, we’ve never had a problem with his eating habits. While much of this depends on a child’s personality, I believe we’ve set some guidelines that have led us to successfully growing a good eater. Hopefully, they’ll help you, too!
Let them be messy!
This is a big one, and I struggled at first. It’s so easy to get frustrated when it seems like there’s more food making it to the floor than their mouth! My advice is to take a breath and let go. Allowing your little one to experience their food through touch and smell, as well as taste, is integral to their development. The sensory food play helps them get used to new foods–especially textures. It will lead to less fussiness at the table and allow them an uninterrupted and less stressful eating experience. If you just can’t take the mess, I suggest a mat for under their chair and an art smock with elastic around the wrists.
Eat together, at the table.
You know who their best example of good eating habits is? You! Unknowingly, you’re modeling behaviors that they are definitely picking up on. By eating together at the table, you’re teaching table manners and how to eat a variety of foods. I can’t expect my son to know intuitively how to eat a sandwich–instead, I show him how I pick it up, holding it together, and bring it to my mouth. I’m modeling that meals are a time to slow down, enjoy our food, and talk to each other. A good reminder for us, as well.
Modify what you make & keep offering.
Once I finished the period of introducing basic baby foods, I served my kids what the rest of the family was eating. Sometimes, this meant slight modifications, such as setting aside a portion before adding certain spices or ingredients or serving things in a slightly different way. For a long time, when I served tacos for dinner, my toddler got a plate with the fillings and a base of rice. Did you know that it sometimes takes eight or more tries of a new food before acquiring a taste for it? So keep offering those veggies, even if your little one throws them to the floor after one bite. Try preparing them in different ways: roasted, sauteed, boiled, mixed in a sauce…there are endless options!
Try new things (you too!)
Variety is the spice of life, y’all. Exposing kids to a variety of foods (and textures!) early in life can help to establish healthy eating habits going forward. It’s good to go outside your norm and try new things. If you’re not up for changing up your whole menu, try a new-to-you side for your next meal. Or perhaps introduce a new spice. Start small and build upon these changes, and before you know it, your kid will be chowing down! Something that helps me is to bridge the gap. That means if your child likes crunchy chicken nuggets, maybe try some panko-breaded fish sticks. The texture will be similar, even if the taste is different.
And finally, don’t force it.
Sometimes, it just takes time. Stressing over your child’s lack of appetite or their pickiness isn’t doing either of you any good. When you feel yourself becoming frustrated, take a moment and breathe. They will eat. There are many resources available if you believe your child is severely struggling with their eating habits, but to start, I recommend asking for a referral to an occupational feeding therapist for an evaluation. These professionals can tell you, with certainty, if your child needs any sort of intervention, and give you the tools to turn things around.
Ready to eat? Check out three of my recipes for quick & easy plant-based meals kids will love!