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Simple. Start from the beginning. Of course there are some kids that no matter what you give them they won’t have a taste for healthy foods, but in my experience that’s the very rare exception. Naturopaths who have an emphasis on nutrition most often have children who eat a wide range of foods including varied vegetables (especially greens,) spices, whole grains, game meats, healthy fats, and even take herbs, fish oil, vitamins and other remedies without batting an eye. What’s so different about how we feed our kids? We give them healthy foods. Period.
Call me a zealot but I say kids should get healthy foods and healthy foods only for as long as you can possibly manage it.
Children’s palates are a blank slate. They learn foods as they eat them. Now that said, some children do have an immediate dislike for certain textures or tastes. But even if your child rejects a food, try it again every few weeks, you’ll be surprised at how your child’s tastes change. I remember overhearing a mom say to a friend at the park “kids don’t like Chinese food.” The other mom said “What about Chinese kids?” Perfect.
A child who has never had white bread will be satisfied with whole grain. A child who hasn’t had food smothered in cheese won’t ask for mac and cheese for dinner. Oh, and by the way, dairy isn’t a nutrient, calcium is, vitamin D is, but your child will be fine if she doesn’t eat dairy on a regular basis as long as she’s getting enough calcium and vitamin D. But I digress.
Here are some tips to start your child off right. And trust me, the earlier you start the better off you’ll be.
Don’t give any food that is strictly sweet. Make sure there are other flavors: sour, bitter, salt, spicy, and umami. Example: Sweet potatoes? Add pureed chard, kale, and spinach. We actually added this to everything our son ate until he was off of pureed food. Everything. Oatmeal? Greens. Eggs? Greens. Chicken? Greens. All of it. Sometimes that and a bowl of greens. Not kidding.
Avoid the trap of “children need cake.” A mom actually said this to me when my son was under two. It sounds nuts but many (dare I say most?) parents feel it is depriving their children to not give them sugar when they’re little. It’s not.
Feed your child what you are eating (once she’s old enough) but that means YOU need to eat healthy food. Of course your child will eat pizza if you’re eating pizza. But a child raised on healthy food will also eat halibut with olive tapenade wrapped in organic prosciutto with a side of sautéed spinach.
Every meal should be served with a vegetable. Most meals with more than one. Including breakfast.
If you’re feeding packaged foods to your child, even from the health food store, read the label. If the food contains hydrogenated oil or corn syrup, drop it. If it has artificial colorings and flavorings, chemicals or preservatives, think twice. You want your child to be satisfied with the taste of real, whole food.
With every plate of food you prepare for your child ask yourself “How can I make this healthier?” And do it. Only a few veggies? Add more. No protein? Add that. If a child starts with meals that are served with several kinds of vegetables, and ideally at least a serving of greens, then that will become the norm.
Serve veggies first, when your child is hungry. We call it the appetizer and although our son will eat veggies with his meal we can get more in him if we start with a big bowl of them while we’re getting dinner ready.
Add fresh herbs and spices to the foods you serve your child. From the beginning.
Breast feeding mamas- eat plenty of varied foods, especially those greens. If it causes your child digestive issues watch it but otherwise know that if you eat bitter veggies your child will more likely develop a taste for them.
If there is a food your child doesn’t like, mix it with something she does like to get her accustomed to it. Of course you don’t have to do this for everything…my son hated button mushrooms when he was 2 and he hates them now at 10.
Full disclosure I know this is a pain in the butt and you may very well not want to be ‘that parent’ but if you think nutrition is important, and you want your child to have a wide palate and enjoy all kinds of foods, trust me here, it’s worth it. You don’t have to get into a discussion about it with anyone if you don’t want to. Bring your own food (including treats to parties) until your kid is too horrified to let you— by that time she’ll be making her own good choices (well, most of the time.)
Yours in Health,
ETA: I just read this post to my husband and he pointed out I should add that another healthy tip is to skip dessert entirely. Just because you’re used to dessert, there is no reason to give it to children. Dinner can be complete, should be complete, without a sweet ending. How many adults wish they hadn’t developed that habit of wanting something sweet to eat at the end of a meal?