I’m not particularly fond of the word, “picky”. I think kids deserve better than that. However, it does seem the most apt description when one day they LOVE (insert any food) and the very next day it’s the worst thing they’ve ever eaten. How is that even possible?!
Because I’m a health-supportive, whole-foods chef, most people think my kids eat perfectly, at every meal. I thought they would, too. But, it turns out kids don’t care if you’re a chef and love vegetables and whole foods. They will eat what they want and when they want it. Instead of calling them picky (no need for labels, right), I just tell myself that their tastes are changing as are their needs to assert their independence. And I take lots of deep breaths as I imagine this will go on for years to come.
So, armed with this knowledge and a few years experience (I don’t freak out anymore when all they want is carbs for days...I now know it doesn’t last forever) I get on with the daily fun of feeding my girls. And, it is actually fun. In the process I see how they move into and out of phases all on their own and instead of fighting them, begging them to eat one more bite, to try something new, I encourage them. They want to make their own choices, too. They don’t like being TOLD what to do or eat either. And, when they're brave and do try something new, it's a huge accomplishment, a choice they made on their own.
So, these are the things we do at home, to keep us all sane, to keep us all as healthy and happy as possible, while still instilling good habits for a strong and healthy food foundation.
We keep talk about food (especially around the table) positive. Food isn’t “gross” or “disgusting”. If they don’t like it, they can say so and choose not to eat it.
We offer a variety of whole foods all the time. Foods they know and love as well as foods that are new. We let them see us eat everything and we offer them tastes of new foods. We encourage, but never force and if they choose not to, then we leave it for next time.
“Next time” can turn into several times, 15, 20, 30 times of them seeing the food, seeing us eat, wash, prepare, cook the food. They eventually come around to trying it.
Make everything delicious! Boiled cauliflower isn’t tasty. But this recipe for Garlicky Golden Cauliflower will delight most taste buds. I promise! Don’t shy away from quality fats (extra virgin olive oil for sure, but pastured butter, too), a little salt or some acid like lemon juice to spruce up a dish.
Model a great love of food! Kids will believe vegetables (and other whole foods) are delicious if YOU do.
Treat desserts like what they are, a rare and fun treat to enjoy together after eating a balanced meal. (We use the word “balance” a lot at home so now they are aware of at least needing balance even if they don’t know how to get to it.)
Make meal times a FUN time. Leave the stress, the iPads and other distractions off the table. Eating well is also about enjoying the company and ambience.
TRUST your little eaters. Give them plenty of real, whole foods regularly and they will choose the things they want and need to eat.
Lastly and possibly most importantly, WE COOK TOGETHER. Not every single meal, of course, but we cook together often. And if they’re not cooking, they’re usually in the kitchen with me at some point.
In the classes I teach to kids, sometimes with their parents, the feedback I’ve gotten on the tips above have been great. Amazing, in fact. For those of you who want to move at your own speed or don’t have access to kids’ cooking classes, I highly recommend the Kids Cook Real Food (affiliate link*) series. Katie does a really good job at making cooking accessible for kids of all ages and levels. In the meantime, my family is on holiday/vacation and we’ll be playing with cooking in a traveling kitchen and tasting all sorts of new foods. Yes, there will be some work thrown in a bit, but for now, I’m taking a much needed break. Please share your thoughts, comments, recipes and any other kitchen goings-on this summer. You know where to find me and I’d love to hear from you! In good health, Nathalie
*It's the first time I participate in affiliate links. I promise it will only be to products I've tried, used and believe in. It's a great way for us to support each other, earning some income to keep us all going!