Mom to Mom Nutrition blogger Katie Serbinski shares her tips to make mealtime easier.
By Katie Serbinski
I didn’t realize the angst and stress that would come with feeding small children. I’ll admit I was somewhat prepared for the sleepless nights, the teething, the ear infections, etc. But food? Who doesn’t love food? And Mom’s home cooking for that matter.
I was put to shame when toddler No. 1 and No. 2 decided a certain brand of frozen chicken nuggets tasted better than my own, panko-crusted version. Does that mean Mom threw in the towel? Nope. It just means I’m working extra hard to get them to pick and choose my food first — without a food fight.
While there are likely more than seven tips to raising a healthy eater, these are the “biggies” that have made mealtime less stressful for everyone in my house. And, in turn, made mealtime a happier experience.
1. Be patient. And persistent, in a not-so-pushy kind of way.
Did you know it can take up to 15 times for a food to be served before your child decides he wants to try it? And that’s getting them to try new foods. Try being the keyword here … because to get your kids (or husband or oneself) to like a food, they’ve got to try it first!
2. Make family meals a priority.
More often than not, it’s you your children want, not the leafy greens you put on the plate in front of them. Long-standing research shows that enjoying more meals as a family offers numerous health benefits — physical, mental and emotional — to children. The benefits of family mealtime go beyond what’s being served at the table. Eating and talking together can help children be happier, healthier and more successful at school. This will hopefully make life easier for you, the parent.
3. Think color. LOTS of it!
I often tell clients the more colorful your plate is, the likelihood is you are adding more variety of vitamins and minerals, aka nutrition, to your diet.
Use a variety of choices from each food group so everyone in the family not only has a favorite food at each meal, but each plate also has balanced nutrition for kids to grow healthy and stay strong. Use the basics of the Department of Agriculture’s “My Plate” (choosemyplate.gov) and choose a variety of food choices from all the food groups to make delicious meals.
4. Offer favorites with new foods.
This trick is key for my toddlers … and usually (typing while knocking on wood) works when I give them their ultimate favorite food: hummus! And corn. Corn always works! So, if there’s a new food I’d like them to pick up and possibly put into their mouths, I give them their favorite “side” as the familiar food on their plate. The nice thing about a favorite like hummus or yogurt is it can serve as a nutritious protein-packed dip as well!
5. Get the kids in the kitchen.
Children are able to manage kitchen tasks at different ages. A toddler or preschooler can stir ingredients that have been pre-measured; an elementary age child can read the recipe and do the measuring and mixing themselves; tweens can learn to cut, chop and dice safely; and teens may be able to try challenging techniques from a TV cooking show.
6. Have them learn from YOU!
Yes, you can be the best role model for healthy eating for your children. Because I’m not much of a breakfast eater and my boys aren’t much of dinner eaters, I find the best time for me to model healthy eating behavior is during snack time and lunch. From fresh fruits and vegetables to grilled sandwiches and melts, I’m always trying to alter those meals with new, healthy foods.
7. Offer some predictability.
As much as I love trying new recipes and cuisines, my toddlers think differently. So, I have a goal of one new recipe each week, which I find online or in one of my cookbooks. This helps expand my family’s palate and also helps me, the busy cook, get a new meal into our meal rotation. I also have planned meals around themed dinner nights, so the kids know Friday after swimming is homemade pizza night, Sunday after church is usually pasta night, and so on.
Still, you can’t pick and choose your child’s eating habits. But I’ve learned there are small victories in the grand scheme of feeding your picky eaters. NS
Katie Serbinski is registered dietitian and millennial mom blogger from Detroit on a mission to raise a healthy family. She shares her experiences, healthy recipes, practical nutrition advice and musings about motherhood at momtomomnutrition.com.