Raising kids to be healthy eaters is not only important for their bodies and future, but it can also be a fun, memory-making experience. Preparing food for your family can be the highlight of your (and your kids’!) day, if you take a little time to set the stage. Here are 7 tips for creating positive food experiences for you and your kids.
Make Some Traditions
Traditions don’t have to be grand, extravagant experiences. Oftentimes it can be as simple as having ice cream for dinner once a year. When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately created a short list of traditions I wanted to implement as soon as possible. One tradition stuck out above all the rest: making the kitchen the focal point of our home. This is the place I want our child and future children to remember most from their childhood. I want our children to be active participants from the time they are very small. Once we purchased our first home, this dream of mine became reality. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to plan events and special moments in advance. This is no different!
Once each of my children reaches the point where they can sit up in a high chair, they will be in the kitchen with me on a regular basis. My daughter just turned two, so I go back and forth between letting her stand on the step tool and having her in the high chair.
Talk Through the Process
I go through each step of the recipe out loud. While the conversation is mostly one-sided and she doesn’t have a full grasp of what I am discussing, she is learning. Here is a short version of our daily kitchen conversations. “Now I need three eggs.” She repeats, “Eggs!” “I cracked one egg.” She repeats, “One!” “Here is the measuring cup.” She repeats, “Cup!” “Yes, now I need to put one cup of flour in the mixing bowl. Do you see the number one on the measuring cup?” She repeats, “One!” as I am pointing to the number on the cup.
By the time my daughter is five I plan to have Gallon Man posted on our pantry door. For those who don’t know Gallon Man, check out this free printable. Children can learn number recognition, addition, measurements, and fractions all through cooking. Doing something as simple as cooking can make math a more enjoyable subject, especially to the hands-on learners.
Give Kids Responsibilities
As our children grow I want them to take on more of a lead role in the kitchen, regardless of gender. A former co-worker said she used to have a rotating schedule for her children. Once a week it would be one child’s responsibility to cook a meal for the family. This is a part of my kitchen tradition that I hope to carry out. My goal is to teach them our weekly grocery budget and have them add up the cost of their ingredients for a healthy dinner. Then, with adult supervision and guidance, teach them “how to fish,” so to speak.
I recently read a post about a mom who was frustrated because her children were at her feet while she was trying to prepare dinner. My daughter is no different, but I find including her in the process does make it a happier experience. I won’t lie – it’s not always easy. What was once a twenty-minute prep could take an hour, leaving a messy trail through the kitchen. Sometimes I honestly wonder if it’s worth the hassle. Then I see her face light up when I crack an egg. Seriously! Her eyes get so big and she laughs deep and loud! I wouldn’t trade those precious moments for the world.
Encourage Healthy Eaters
Recently I have received a few emails asking how I was able to get my daughter to eat some of the healthy meals I have posted on Facebook. “Magic! I wish it were that easy!” I naively assumed we would bypass the picky food stage. Then, at 19 months it happened – we gained a PICKY EATER! How do you combat this? Every child and household is different. Our family is on a tight budget, so I cannot afford to purchase several different meals to accommodate her. If she doesn’t eat something, I don’t offer an alternative for that particular meal. My daughter does receive 2-3 snacks and 3 meals a day, so she is eating, I assure you.
I began with Spinach Fruit Smoothies. I have my daughter stand on the step stool and put the fruit and spinach into the blender. Make it fun and exciting when talking about it! In the beginning she didn’t really drink any of it, but I didn’t give up! I learned she prefers citrus fruit like oranges in her smoothies. I use a few tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon of honey, ½ cup of fruit, and a handful of spinach. These have become our after nap staple! The smoothie idea came from an awesome blog I read religiously about one inspiring mama who loves to cook. Check out this recipe at babyboybakery.com for her toddler-friendly smoothies!
Find Recipes for Inspiration
Pinterest is my main source for recipes. Click here to go to my Pinterest board, Healthy Toddler Recipes. Wait! Some of them do not appear healthy, you say!? Easy, change the ingredients. I do! Take the Mini Deep Dish Pizza (our Minnie Mouse Pizzas) on my board. We use Whole Wheat Tortilla, fresh pepperoni from the deli, and a homemade marinara sauce from the Baby Bullet Book. My daughter loves to help push the Minnie head into the tortillas! Another tip – put spinach in every recipe possible!
Cooking healthy meals is about learning your child. Take the Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese for example. My daughter doesn’t like it with cauliflower, but a bag of frozen peas and we are in business! To make it a little healthier I use whole-wheat pasta and substitute Plain Greek Yogurt for sour cream. For wraps, use ingredients your kids will love and add some they haven’t tried before. My daughter will pop spinach leaves into her mouth without hesitation since she has been putting spinach into the blender for about 6 months now. She is too young for foods to have a negative connotation, especially if she is helping me prepare her own meals.
Learn Your Child’s Preferences
It’s really about learning each of your children’s food habits, starting slow, and allowing them to be part of the process from the time they are small. I found making a half a cup of smoothie motivates my daughter to drink the majority. A full cup was too overwhelming. I have also learned my daughter prefers to pick up a whole waffle to eat it, which is great, because that means NO syrup! She doesn’t like certain textures on her hands.
My daughter needs at least 30 minutes for every meal – especially new ones. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t eat it right away. Children need to try recipes multiple times in order to decide whether they like it and sometimes what was a success one week may not be two months from now. Don’t hover or get frustrated. I move about the kitchen, so she doesn’t feel as though I am staring directly at her. If she doesn’t eat what we made together, I don’t say anything. I just toss it and try again tomorrow.
Stock Your Kitchen
You don’t need to spend a lot to make cooking fun! The photo below has my staples for cooking fun, healthy meals with your children. The Mickey Mouse Waffle Maker is great for making toddler sized waffles. It was $9.99 at Younkers on Black Friday. The Minnie Mouse Sandwich Cutter (a.k.a our pizza cutter) was $2.00 at Wal-Mart. The Baby Bullet Recipe Book is for 4 months to 3 years and is sold separately from the Baby Bullet. I received a used copy from Amazon.
Food should be an enjoyable experience, so make it one! They learn from us!