My wife and I recently had dinner at a friend’s house. During the meal, I was surprised to find out her ~ 5-year-old son loves onions (at least cooked ones). My own childhood was a much different story. Even when I was a teenager, my mom would basically have to puree any onions she wanted to put into a meal—trust me, I would find them if she didn’t. As you would expect, my dislike for onions extended to many other fruits and vegetables.
We all know how picky many children tend to be. What was different about our friend’s child?
One thing I noticed is that he was helping in the kitchen. We were making eggrolls and he was curious about what we were putting inside them. He even helped roll a few—although they needed a bit of doctoring up afterwards. All of this got me thinking, would I have been less picky if I had known more about the foods my mom was feeding me?
Education is very powerful. Children will be more likely to eat (and enjoy) the foods you serve them if they know where the food comes from, how plants grow, and how food affects your health. However, the education they receive in school is not enough; it needs to be taught at home. Get your kids involved in the kitchen when they are young; they can help you:
- Pick out fruit. Teach them how to choose healthy, undamaged fruit at the grocery store. If you don’t know how to do it yet, you can learn together.
- Choose colors. What color bell pepper do you want? Do you want to use green or purple cabbage?
- Watch. Pull up a chair for your little ones to stand on and watch you cook. You may be surprised at how interested they can be. In addition, it is a great time to bond with your children and have them ask questions.
- Help plan meals. Ask your kids what they want to eat or let them choose a side dish. Ask them if they want peas or corn for dinner or let them choose the vegetables to put in the lasagna.
- Perform simple tasks. Even young children can help stir or mix foods together. They are also great at getting measuring cups and spoons out of the drawers for you.
- Chop veggies. If your kids are old enough, you can get them involved in chopping or slicing certain vegetables. Kids can hardly be afraid to eat something they were handling and cutting. After they get the hang of it, it may even save you some cooking time.
- Taste test.
Above all, make it fun. Teach them the value and benefits of eating healthy foods. Teach them the basics of nutrition and diet. This will encourage them to make better food choices. In addition, these experiences will create good memories about food that will last a lifetime. Children love spending time and learning from their parents.
One thing to avoid is talking negatively about certain types of foods. Just because you hate cabbage doesn’t mean your child will. It is also a bad idea to entice children to eat their vegetables by offering them a sweet dessert. This will implant the idea that healthy foods taste bad while unhealthy foods taste good. We want to focus on the positives of a healthy diet and not the negatives.
Children love games and projects. There are many projects you could use to make nutrition interesting. Teach them about a new food each week and try to incorporate it into meals (our A-Z articles are full of good information). Have them graph the servings of food groups they eat at each meal (or each day) or teach them simple ways to count calories. You could also play a game encouraging them to eat foods from every color of the rainbow each day (i.e. strawberries, carrots, bananas, broccoli, blueberries, and eggplant).
Print out the blank food pyramid below and have your kids fill it in with drawings or stickers of whatever they ate that day. Fruits and vegetables go on the bottom, grains go in the middle, legumes, nuts, and fortified soy products go in the third level, and sweets go at the top.
The bottom line is, the more your kids know about the foods they are eating, the more thy will enjoy and appreciate them. Teaching children about nutrition is not hard; you just have to remember to do it. Over the years, a little learning here and there goes a long way.