Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dinner Time Tantrums

As a mother of a three year old boy, I know how hard it can be to persuade your children to eat right. Sometimes they refuse to eat at all, other times all they want to do is eat, but what they want is snack food. The dinner table can feel more like a battle field than a comfort zone.

Many parents are frustrated that their children won't try new foods, or will only eat a few select meal options. While it is true that a variety of fresh whole foods are essential for young bodies and minds, we must understand why our children behave this way, and more importantly, how to handle it.

Our ancient ancestors' offspring developed instinctual behavior to avoid an accidental poisoning. Once the little ones learned to walk and were able to explore, they no longer wanted to pick everything up and put it in their mouths to determine what it was. They became more cautious of unknown plants and would not eat anything unless they watched their parents or other tribesmen eat it several times first.

Our children may have been born thousands of years later, but they retain the same instincts. Studies have shown it can take up to 15 times of being exposed to a new food before a toddler will actually eat it. Once the child has tried it, they become more acquainted with the food and are more likely to eat it again in the future, even if that means years down the road.

The best thing you can do to help your children learn to eat well is to eat well yourself and continue to introduce and re-introduce healthy meals and snacks to them. It may seem pointless to serve peas and carrots to your child because she never even touches them, but if she sees you eating your vegetables every day, she will grow up knowing that it is a healthy and mature practice.

Remember that children learn by example and through repetition.  And they want to have fun!  Getting kids involved in the kitchen helps them become more excited about wholesome food.  My son loves to help stir, add ingredients, and occasionally cut fresh veggies with my supervision.  Smaller children love to mimic cooking with play food and empty pots and pans. 

Growing plants with your child is another way to help them connect with whole foods.  If you don't have a garden, try a potted tomato, bush bean or your favorite herbs.  Kids instinctively find vegetables much more attractive if they have watched them grow.

If your child is not eating something you've served, try not to draw attention to it, and never try to force a child to eat. Offer the food to them, and talk about its smell and color, etc. but just ignore it if they don't eat it. And for heavens sake don't offer them anything else if they won't eat what you have served. The last thing you want to teach your child is that if they turn up their nose at your home cooked meal they will get rewarded with a hot dog instead.

If you offer a few food choices at each meal, most kids will eat at least one of them, and even if they don't, they are not going to starve. Stick to your guns, moms! It will all pay off in a few years when your children are eating all their veggies and asking for more, please.

This post is linked to Real Food Wednesdays.  Enjoy!

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