Every parent has been there – whether you have a ‘good’ eater or a ‘fussy’ one, we all know and understand the perils and pressures that come with meal times and trying to get our children to eat a wide and varied diet. Here are some top tips gathered by, heard by and shared by The Cooking Shed on making meal times and food something that becomes a joy in your home rather than a chore.
Give thanks, not praise!
I’ve seen far too many parents jump on their child as soon as they pop something healthy in their mouth “OH MY GOD, well DONE darling!!!”…not only does it scare the child half to death and make them jump out of their skin, but it also draws attention to what it is that you want your child to gobble up – meaning of course that from then on, they’ll do the complete opposite just to spite you and prevent you from embarrassing them again with your cries of pleasure.
Let your child eat their meal – don’t try and draw attention to any specific item on the plate, other than to comment as you normally would about your own food “mmmm, I love cucumber, what’s your favourite thing about dinner tonight?” for example rather than “EAT YOUR CUCUMBER!!” Once they’ve finished their meal and are about to get down from the table, then thank them for sitting nicely or trying something new.
By growing something from seeds, it not only helps to teach your child about where fruit and veggies come from, but it also teaches them patience!
Don’t use chemicals/pesticides on your home grown crop, and keep them stored up off the ground…I’ll never forget seeing my 2 year old crouched down on his knees trying to pluck a strawberry from the plant with his teeth once he realised it had turned red – they’ll very rarely hang around to let you wash the first crop!
Eat as many snacks as you like before your dinner
Sounds like a bonkers statement?...we’re not talking crisps or biscuits here. Invite your child to sit at the table as you’re dishing up dinner and pop a bowl or two of some healthy snacks to keep them quiet – chopped cherry tomatoes, cucumber spears, florets of broccoli… essentially the nutritious bits of the dinner that would normally end up being left on their plate. By putting it on the table before, they’re more likely to eat it because a. they’re hungry, and b. they see it as a little teaser to the main event without you putting pressure on at the end of the meal once they’ve become full, agitated and just want to “GET DOWWWWWWWWN from the table!”.
Simply use the veggies/salad items that you’re going to be putting in to the dinner anyway so that you’re not creating extra work.
In our house, every Friday we kick-off the weekend with ‘Friday nibbles’. We sit at the breakfast bar or in the garden if the weather’s good, share a drink (water with ice and a slice for the kid, G&T for us!) and pop nibbles in to bowls tapas stylee. Every week we’ll add a different/new food item to the nibbles. It’s when we’re the most relaxed, our child’s willing to be the most adventurous with his food, and when he feels like a grown up, so wants to do as we do.
Ensure you have a good balance of healthy as well as treat based stuff. Bread sticks, homemade hummus or yoghurt dips, chopped cherry tomatoes, olives, (capers upon request of our son!), and a v small bowl of crisps or popcorn. Follow the hashtag #fridaynibbles for inspiration and weekly snack suggestions from The Cooking Shed.
Shop til you drop
If you haven’t checked out the Orchard Toys ‘shopping list’ game yet, it’s well worth a go (ages 2-7yrs). It helps kids to identify ingredients, and teaches the concept of gathering and looking for items from the shopping list to pop in the trolley – something that you can then carry in to the real world when you go to the shops. Get them a little shopping basket that they can take with them to the shops and a small list of items that are theirs to find from each isle you’re hoping to visit.
Let them pack and pay for the items on their list to help teach them the value of money at the end of the shop – it’ll also make them feel proud when they get home to talk about the ingredients that they ‘bought’ to add in to the family dinner. Ensure you allow a little more time for your shop so that you’re not getting frustrated/annoyed if they’re taking their time to find things…this won’t work if you’re in a rush!
Eat together, learn together
It’s important not just to learn table manners, but also to get kids trying new things. Imagine if you sit down to a meal with new food items on a plate that you’ve never seen before…do you eat the whole thing or peel off the outside? Pick it up with a fork or your fingers? Is it sweet, sharp or earthy?....the first time you try something new, it’s always easier and more encouraging if someone can help to guide you through what to do and what to expect. Sometimes an ingredient that you know your child has tried a thousand times can simply be cooked or presented in a different way and so appear as something new to your child – by being able to simply watch you and replicate how you’re eating something without having to be told/directed by you when you’re running around doing other things as they eat can have a huge impact on your child eating and trying new things.
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