Parents are under increasing pressure to feed their kids well-balanced meals, teaming with vegetables and variety.
From social media feeds filled with animal-shaped sandwiches to the best sugar-free cookie recipes, messages about how many servings of fruit, grains and veg mixed among numerous ways to hide vegetables can quickly become overwhelming. Especially if you try hard and fail!
Sometimes when we’re intent on introducing broccoli and five types of beans, it can be easy to forget the bigger picture. That we are raising adults and trying to help them to become adventurous eaters.
Here are my top tips for raising kids who will try new foods, be happy at family meal times and enjoy a variety of veggies and fruit.
6 tips for raising an adventurous eater
1. Lay the foundations – educate away from the table
In English, we teach our kids the alphabet before we expect them to read books – and in maths, we teach numbers before we expect them to subtract and multiply. With food, we often forget to lay the foundations. We can’t expect our kids to eat what we serve without helping them to learn what the foods are.
There are a number of easy ways you can educate your kids away from the table. Here are some ideas:
- draw pictures of fruit and vegetables and talk about their colours
- take kids to the fruit shop or supermarket and count the carrots as you pop them in a bag
- visit your local farmers market or pick your own berries
- involve kids in cooking dinner, lunch and salads
- grow some herbs or veggies.
2. Eat together at the table, without TV
Eating at the table as a family and without TV is one of the top influences on raising adventurous eaters.
If it’s not possible for all members of the family to be home for dinner, that’s OK. One adult eating with kids gives you the opportunity to create lovely family mealtimes and for parents to role model eating a variety of foods to their kids.
3. Create a pressure-free eating environment
Sorry! It’s time to stop bribing and rewarding kids to eat. You want to encourage them to eat because they want to. Instead of pleading with them to eat their broccoli, eat with them and show them you are enjoying your food.
Swap out pleas to eat your greens to ‘this red capsicum is so crunchy, did you hear it?” Forget “eat all your peas and you’ll get dessert” and instead try “how was your day?”
4. Just believe
It can take up to 20 food ‘exposures’ (cooking, gardening, craft) to get a child to try a food and then another 20 tries to learn to like it!
Most of us give up after 3-4 times and stop offering the food to their child. Try to stay positive and remember that continued exposure should pay off. It may take a while, but believe they will become adventurous eaters.
5. Trust your kids
Parents provide, kids decide. Parents have the responsibility to offer food at regular intervals, while kids can choose from what we offer. This is not short-order cooking but more guided choice.
Let the kids choose which elements from a roast dinner with sides that they would like to eat. Give them the tongs and trust they know how much food they need and let them explore food without pressure. It will make the table a happier place for you too.
6. Deconstruct it
Some dinners can be scary for some kids, it’s foreign and unknown. Try deconstructing them. Salad finger food platters instead of mixed salads, separate the stir fry, and keep the pasta separate from the sauce. The kids can then design their own meals, but you are still only cooking one meal. This empowers the child and makes food far less scary.