The Fun of Food & Family
This week’s blog post is dedicated to all the moms, dads, grandparents, and care givers to little ones.
Kids are sometimes finicky eaters – as we well know (mine included). The minute we say, “it’s good for you” the noses turn up and the arms are crossed. So, how do we combat this aversion? By first making healthy food fun food. A child’s natural language is “play”. Children want to run, jump, get dirty, explore, and learn. If it’s my daughter, she wants to grab the toilet paper and string it through the house or empty cheerios on to the floor. 🙂 Whatever captures the attention of a little one, it’s our job to connect with them by using their language – make their days fun filled and educational.
The Culinary Playground
Why not use kitchen time to teach children about the fun of preparing great meals? It’s the perfect time to bond, laugh, and learn. I mean seriously – who doesn’t like to play with their food?!
Of course, this comes with a couple of caveats. First, safety. Depending on the age of the tiny chefs assigning age-appropriate tasks will keep the experience fun and injury free. Second, practice division of responsibility. Parents/caregivers decide what foods are available and children choose what to eat and how much to consume. By using this principle as a guide, adults have control over the quality of the foods while the little ones feel empowered to make a choice and use intuition to respond to hunger and satiety cues.
There’s a food phenomenon humans experience. We are predisposed to believe healthy food is tasteless and dry. For some reason, we fool ourselves into thinking healthy food is neither fun nor delicious. This is simply not true. We have to change the mindset and that starts with teaching our children that food that is good and food that is good for you are not mutually exclusive. I call this effort – “clandestine cooking”. Yes, it is important to teach children why certain foods are better options than others, but that might not be the place to begin. Remember – children speak “play” and “fun” not “Vitamin B-12” and “monounsaturated fatty acids.” Let’s keep it simple.
How to Play with Food
A great place to begin is by visiting Mott’s Teachable Tastes site. This site is dedicated to helping parents and caregivers address and overcome the common barriers associated with children’s eating habits. This particular approach uses textures, aromas, appearance and flavor to teach little ones about food and nutrition.
Other approaches to consider…
- Invest in a chef’s hat and apron for your kiddos. Let them play the part by dressing up.
- Involve children in meal planning as their age allows
- Consider purchasing kid sized kitchen tools
- Make up funny names or titles for dishes – “Taste the Rainbow Kabobs”, or “Goblin Green Beans” or “Sam’s Sweet Potato Soup”, etc. Have fun! Maybe work in the name of their favorite storybook or animated character. Kung Fu Panda-cakes, for example.
- Use cookie cutters to make food in to fun shapes.
- Add veggies to “ordinary” dishes to enhance the nutrient profile. I love to add finely shredded zucchini and lemon zest to whole-grain pancakes or butternut squash to soup.
- Make avocado hummus – great monounsaturated fat source and offers a smooth creamy texture.
- Serve fruit for dessert.
- Try to focus on the benefits of all foods versus “if you finish your X, you can have a cookie.” Using sweeter/less nutrient dense foods as rewards undermines the effort to enhance interest in other foods (fruits, veggies, grains, etc.).
- Serve foods in creative ways. It’s said – “we eat first with our eyes”. Kids are no different. Focus on colors and arrangement. Arrange fruits and veggies in the shape of a rainbow.
Whatever method you select based on what works for you and your family, your kids will thank you for helping them develop necessary culinary skills. When they reach college, they will avoid the microwavable dinner section of the market! Now is the time to foster healthy habits. Research continually demonstrates that habits (healthy or otherwise) developed in childhood more often than not carry over in to adulthood. Encourage balance, encourage joy, and relish in the time with your family.