Do you have a picky eater who seems to call the shots at mealtime?
I’ve been around pretty long and have had ample opportunity to observe how various generations of moms deal with this challenge. I want to tell you what I’ve seen.
I also want to admit to you that I was once the world’s pickiest eater, who now eats almost everything – and lots of it. So, I’m coming from a good place.
And, as with most of my blogs, I want to share what I’ve learned about food through my many years in the food industry and much study. Please keep in mind I am not a healthcare professional. But, I am one who makes it a practice to question the experts. For the most part, I’m not all that impressed with what they tell us.
Years ago, when I was little (uh oh. I’m dating myself) moms would make one dinner which the entire family ate. Because processed food was not as prolific as it is today, these meals were usually homemade. Lucky for you if your mom was a good cook. Mine was not.
Moms in my mom’s generation usually took one of two stances: “Sit at the table until you’ve eaten everything on your plate” or “That’s fine. You don’t have to eat dinner. Keep in mind the next meal is breakfast.”
Either way, you ate what everyone else was eating, or you went without. Pediatricians’ advice was, “Little Johnny will not starve. He’ll eat when he’s hungry.”
I, and moms of my generation, tended to follow our mother’s model, but a little loosely. For instance, I tried to make my daughter sit at the table until she finished everything on her plate, but it just seemed too cruel. However, I did understand that many new textures and tastes aren’t immediately relished, but with small, regular tastings, could come to be enjoyed. So, I gave my daughter one teaspoon of everything. She did have to finish that.
Teaching kids to like food is probably not the highlight of any mother’s day. I know it wasn’t for me. They really can act bizarre and get quite noisy when they’re not happy at the dinner table. But, stand firm. It’s worth it. They will grow up knowing how to savor food and how to savor life.
Fast forward to today. My generation’s children are now parents. For the most part, both parents work and are exhausted at the end of the day. And processed food and takeout food are readily available. I’ve noticed that in order to avoid dinner table dramatics and to make life easier, so many simply allow the child to eat whatever they want – which is usually the processed foods they crave.
We know processed and fast foods contain everything that is bad for your child: hydrogenated oils, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and processed grains. And, we know they need to eat the good stuff – veggies (and fruit) and healthy proteins – to be healthy.
The problem is: finding the time to prepare good-for-you foods and making your child comply – happily.
I’ve heard so many parents remark that they feel cruel by sticking to their guns and making their kids eat healthy food. If you think about it, obesity and Type 2 diabetes – which are both rampant in kids today – is much more cruel. What you feed them today will, indeed, affect them for the rest of their lives.
So, What Should Kids Eat to Be Healthy?
Let’s talk a little about healthy proteins. Livestrong.com explains it this way:
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, so the foods with the highest amount of amino acids are those that are highest in protein. Of the 20 amino acids, nine are essential because your body can’t make them. Animal-based foods contain all of the essential amino acids, while most plant-based protein sources are low in one or more of the essential amino acids.
Are you surprised to learn lean meat is considered one of the best sources of essential amino acids? Probably not because that’s not what the ‘experts’ are telling us. Notice, I did not say Chicken McNuggets is a good protein source. That’s not real meat.
Kids need wholesome, organic beef, pork, poultry and eggs because every part of their bodies needs protein to function – especially those still forming and growing. Fish is also great. And, lunch meat and bacon, without nitrates/nitrites, are ok.
They also need a mixture of different fats and oils – including good-quality animal fat. They need enough of the stable saturated fats, the monounsaturated fats or oils, and an adequate amount and a proper balance of the essential fatty acids, which come primarily from the omega-3 and omega-6 oils.
You can supply your kids with quality dairy fats in the form of butter, cream and whole milk. Seeds, nuts and grains are also a keen source for good fats and oils – as are coconuts, avocados, and olives.
The US Dietary Guidelines tell us that we ought to use substitutes for natural, saturated fats – like margarine and shortening. Again, the experts could not be more wrong! Please read my blog that discusses the butter/margarine debate. These substitutes can cause cancer and heart disease, and can interfere with a child’s growth and the development of his or her nervous system. They can also affect sexual maturation and fertility.
Kids also need fruits and veggies because they reduce the risk of most diseases. And, again, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about French fries and ketchup or Pizza. Nor am I talking about fruit snacks, rollups or juices – unless fruit is the only ingredient listed.
A lot of parents lump fruits and veggies together and though fruit is good for treats or dessert, it still has a good amount of sugar. So, should not be used as a substitute for vegetables.
Good veggies include: green, leafy; colorful; and unusual. That just about covers all of them.
Now that I’ve explained the importance of feeding your child healthy foods, we’re still stuck with the dilemma of how to accomplish this herculean feat. I read an article which lists a few creative ideas that various nutritionists use to get their own kids to eat. I always like to learn from those who’ve actually been in the trenches – not those who simply have weird theories.
I’ve also observed these ideas to work and have touted some of them as my own, on occasion.
- Use veggies as a snack or appetizer when they’re hungriest. Serve with hummus, dip or sauce. Kids love to dip!
- Add farm fresh butter. As I mentioned earlier, organic animal fats are very, very good. I forgot to mention that they contain vitamins A, E and D3, which are extremely important for growing kids. And, fat helps their bodies absorb vitamins from the vegetables. A win/win!
- Let your kids engage with kids who you know will eat anything. Peer pressure is absolutely one of the best motivators.
- Let your kids help pick out the veggies at the market.
- Same idea for mealtime. Because kids like to be a part of the decision-making process, offer two veggies at dinner and ask if they want one or both. Liz Weiss of Meal Makeover Moms says you’ll be surprised when they feel the decision is theirs they’ll often opt for both.
- I’ve always said, and now have found out that research shows, children involved in food preparation are more apt to eat the food they’ve helped prepare. How can they not eat what they’ve helped to make?
- Be a good role model, mom and dad. Eat your veggies, too.
- Don’t be the food police, putting undue stress on the situation. If they’ve not had too many snacks and are hungry at mealtime, chances are good they will eat what’s on their plates. Remember: if they don’t – no snacks.
- Make mealtime an event every now and again. This is a good time to try various fun ethnic foods.
- Put their food on a stick. Everything is better on a stick!
Talking about sticks, I am including a recipe for a fun meat dish for kids – Porcupines (which I slightly modified) – found at Allrecipes.com. As many have experienced, kids like interesting food that looks like an animal. Putting these meatballs on a stick will further add to the appeal.
One final word. Don’t give up if it doesn’t work the first time. More often than not, it takes a few tries at different meals and under a variety of circumstances. Just remember: you’re not only ensuring your child’s health, you’re opening up a whole new world that would otherwise be closed. Food is really fun! Teach them to be adventurous.
- 1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed tomato soup
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 cup uncooked instant rice
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1/4 cup minced onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons good oil (lard, coconut oil or ghee are 3 recommendations)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
In a large bowl, thoroughly mix 1/4 cup of the tomato soup with the ground beef, rice, egg, onion and salt. Firmly shape into 16 meatballs.
In a small bowl, mix remaining tomato soup with a half soup can of water and the mustard.
Heat the oil or lard (which you can get from the butcher) in a large skillet over medium heat. Place garlic and meatballs in the skillet. Cook, gently stirring, until evenly browned; drain. Pour tomato soup and mustard mixture over the meatballs and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through.