Strategies for Introducing Children to Healthy Foods

    

Today we’re revisiting a post from 2015 – just in time for summer!

Fruits and veggies and legumes, oh my!

Getting kids to choose healthy foods can be difficult, but Entertaining Family has got some great pointers and tricks to help you get started.

Let me begin by sharing a story. Years ago, I was saddened to watch a little boy, who couldn’t have been more than ten years old, walking home from a neighborhood store drinking a 20 oz. caffeinated soda and eating a family-sized bag of cheese flavored chips. With all of the choices we have in our society, this was what he was using for nourishment and comfort.

It’s no surprise. Everyday, children and adults alike are bombarded with marketing campaigns, characters, and taglines pushing food and beverages that have little nutritional content and are loaded with sodium and sugar, which our taste buds get conditioned to crave. It can make it easy to feel disconnected from the origins of our food – and to miss the fact that what we eat has a direct impact on our quality of our life. Watching that little boy influenced the way I parent and the lessons I try to impart on my child.

To begin setting healthy examples, my husband and I involved our daughter in grocery shopping early on. From the moment I was able to carry her in the Baby Bjorn, we were taking her to food stores, farmers’ markets, and community gardens. Because of this, as a baby some of her first words were “garbanzos” and “cabbage”, and by the age of two she could name almost every item in the produce section of a grocery store. And fun fact: her first dolls were named after the cashiers at our local health food store!

Seasonally we bring home new offerings and incorporate them into our cooking – fresh fava beans, ramps and fiddlehead ferns are some of our favorites. We also take the opportunity to “farm” as a family and grow fruits and vegetables in our small urban garden. Our daughter loves eating tomatoes off of the vine, picking lettuces, chewing chives like blades of grass, and using fruit from our cherry tree to bake pies for dinner parties.

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Getting children interested in wholesome, nutritious food is something that parents can nurture. Like anything it becomes easier the more exposure children receive. For example, the first few times our little one tried arugula she wasn’t a fan, but we kept offering it to her and now she enjoys its peppery taste and eats the leaves right out of our raised beds.

At her school, our daughter and her classmates tend to garden plots filled with different herbs and vegetables and they are encouraged to sample what they grow. When we help young children develop an interest in real food they grow into teenagers and adults who make better choices (at times when they have the autonomy to make their own decisions and mom and dad are no longer watching over their shoulders). It teaches that food in its whole form comes from living entities – plants, trees, and animals – not plastic, Styrofoam, or aluminum containers.

I’m not naive. My daughter won’t always make healthy selections, but she won’t always make unhealthy ones either. At the grocery store, after a long day at school, she is more apt to ask for an orange than a candy bar. At home she is more likely to reach for radishes and hummus than potato chips. Her pallet has been trained to appreciate juicy, flavorful fruits and vegetables, and to crave what is in season.

Here are some of the simple strategies and tricks that we use in our house to keep her interested in healthy foods:

  • Our daughter gets to help plan our menus for the week and design what we serve at dinner parties. We try to eat “around the globe” and let her try foods from different cultures.
  • We go through my Pinterest Boards to find new recipes and flavors, and the more colors we can add to a meal, the better!
  • She helps us chop vegetables and mix ingredients which makes her feel very proud. It also gives her a sense of ownership for the meal. If she has a hand in creating it, she is more likely to try it.
  • When we’re on a shopping trip, she is encouraged to find unusual or “new” fruits and vegetables to sample. This keeps her taste buds open to new experiences. It keeps us on our toes too! Sometimes we have to Google the food she selects to figure out how to prepare it. Some flavors she likes and some she doesn’t, but she is eager to try them. Lychee and Rambutan are new favorites.
  • We stock “special treats” like clementines, kiwis, “pickles” (cucumbers in rice vinegar) and nori/seaweed chips which makes snacking fun and nutritious.
  • We refer to sparkling water as “soda”. She is in first grade, and to this point she has never had a traditional sugar or diet soda in our home.
  • For weekly desserts we try to choose sorbet with fresh berries or fruit that is in season. On special occasions we will bake vegan cookies or cake from scratch.
  • If she is really curious about something that we consider a “junk food” we will usually let her try a taste. We don’t want things to be forbidden.

To keep our family inspired, I’ve create this Pinterest Board on healthy meal ideas that I invite you to visit. And please share your tips for keeping your family healthy!

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