In today’s post, I am going to continue to further develop the two concepts I have already introduced for developing healthy eating habits for kids. You now know my thoughts on the importance of sharing the dining experience and how getting children involved in some part of the gathering and/or preparation of a meal can positively impact on their willingness to try new foods. These two points are so critical; not only for the development of healthy eating habits now but also for creating a connection to family, society and for a lifelong understanding of real food. If you’ve missed these posts you can find them here.
Why different meals?
It has astounded me over the years, how many parents prepare more than one meal for their family. No judgement is intended, though if you are doing this, know that you are contributing to the development of poor eating habits. I believe, that there are several reasons why parents fall into the habit of catering especially for children.
The western food culture
Somewhere along the line, we have been taught that young children should be fed bland, tasteless food. This possibly comes back to the food processing industry making jars of baby food (if you’ve ever tasted it, bland is too kind a description)! These foods, especially the ones marketed to toddlers (who are old enough to be eating family food), also perpetuates the concept of children needing separate meals. The food marketers are very clever indeed, further undermining the dining process by inventing food in a squeezable pouch – no utensils required; as they advertise, ‘kids can run and play whilst eating’! This really upsets me as enjoying food is so much more than taste, (and the advertising certainly ads another meaning to the term ‘fast’ food). Enjoying a real meal involves seeing it, touching it (babies are meant to squish their food in their hands) and smelling it (whilst seated). What hope do we have for developing healthy eating habits in this generation if we cannot even see, touch or smell the food we are eating! I do understand the convenience of this type of packaging, but the concept still irritates me (in case you didn’t notice)!
Kids foods and meals
The food industry also generates profit by selling us everyday foods, only packaged differently and marketed for children. I don’t mean just treat foods, but also daily foods such as yoghurt, milk, cheese, breakfast cereals, crackers etc; These often expensive ‘kiddie versions’ of foods, are quite simply not necessary, in fact very often they are even more processed. We, as a society, seem to have largely embraced this mentality. We have subconsciously categorised foods into those for kids and those for adults. Even in restaurants and fast food chains, we have meals, especially for kids.
In most cultures out side of the Western world, children once weaned eat what their parents eat. This means that they may eat rich, spicy or aromatic meals. What ever the cuisine, children eat what their parents eat, together as a family. This cultural link is being lost to us and we need to reclaim it. The reality is, that once foods have been (slowly) introduced to babies and any potential food intolerance’s have been identified, children can and should eat the same food as adults. I’ve let my children eat any food we have eaten from a very early age. My food loving husband has a pretty ‘out their’ palate, so they’ve tried it all. I’m a bit more conservative, especially on the back of my vegetarian years. However my kids have both developed a great palate, with individual tastes and leanings. My five year old is a vegetable, legume and salad sort of guy. My daughter on the other hand, is and always will be, a carnivore – she gnaws on bones like a cave woman (and has the temper of one too!). Their tastes have also continued to change over the years, so I never know what they may develop a taste for next – because of this I NEVER stop offering and encouraging them to try food. Even the ones they have rejected in the past.
An epidemic of food fussiness
The next cause is food fussiness, which I believe is also driven by the ‘bland’ only approach in the early years, amongst other things that I’ll discuss soon. All of my children’s posts (and tips for children) are working towards resolving fussiness. However if you are prepared to continue to prepare separate meals for your children and risk loosing a critically important social connection via food, then resolving food fussiness will be difficult. Making changes doesn’t mean ignoring their individual tastes or force feeding them, but it does mean setting some boundaries and perhaps altering the way you structure and serve meals.
One family, one meal
Preparing just one wholesome meal, for the family to enjoy together is essential. So many parents in an attempt to please everyone spend way too much time in the kitchen preparing several mediocre meals. I believe in preparing one delicious wholesome meal for everyone, with lots of variety allowing for individual tastes is critical. This is why I try to structure my recipes with lots of variations, so you can adapt them to suit individual tastes.
But here’s the tricky bit, how do you please everyone? Well, the short answer is you never will and the food divide in your family will continue to widen as long as you keep giving in to fussiness. So here’s some suggestions:
Put it all on the table
If you put food out on the table, then older kids can self-serve (this empowers them with choice). Young ones, you can just dish it up and they can pick through it themselves. By being on the table, everyone can see it, smell it and try it if they are inclined. For example, BBQ and salad. The meat gets piled on one plate to help yourselves. The salad, also on the table, has a little of everything, and if some of the family dislike a few ingredients, they can just pick those out (or in the case of cucumber which my daughter and I can’t stand, served separately in a little side bowl for the boys). Sauces and condiments can go on the table too. Food fussiness just doesn’t exist in many cultures, and one common aspect amongst them is this ‘buffet’ or ‘tapas’ shared food approach. This concept really is a great food fussiness buster!
Let them decide
Parents often preempt what their kids will and won’t like. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents tell their kids,you won’t like that’ instead of letting them find out for themselves. I have watched a dear friend of mine wrestle a ‘sweet chilli flavoured’ rice cracker off her toddler whilst yelling ‘that’s adults food, it will burn your mouth’. I’ve also heard one friend tell her kids ‘you won’t like that sausage, it’s not Coles brand,’ much to my shock. Extreme examples, I know, but how many times have you made a food decision on behalf of your child (I know I have)? We need to be conscious of doing this, and let our kids try any whole foods they are inclined.
If you have a very fussy older child
Then you may need to set down some rules. For example; start off at the market by letting them know they are going to eat three vegetables each night this week. They pick which ones, bag them and you serve them in a big self-serve bowl on the table, or as part of a dish, with any other vegetables you want to eat too. Remember to try to make them interesting with dressings and sauces, served on the side of course if not everyone agrees.
Make it tasty
Ditch bland food. Make curries for kids, they often love the cinnamon and other delicious spices, just avoid the chilli. I always put the chilli flakes on the table come serving so each of us can control our own heat. I urge you to give your kids the opportunity to taste as many different foods as possible. Why not encourage them to try some chilli. Start off with a small amount and if it does happen to become too hot, then just mix in a little natural yoghurt or add coconut cream to dampen the heat. My son has a palate for very spicy foods that even I struggle with. I would never have known this if I hadn’t given him the opportunity to try things like wasabi, hot English mustard and chilli (his favourite food is chilli mussels).
When eating out
When dining out with little ones, instead of ordering a bland, often unhealthy kids meal, give them a little of your meal instead. They are more inclined to sit for longer this way too. As they get older, order an adults meal and split it between them. We often order a few meals and share them amongst us. At least, they are eating real, less processed food this way. Ditch the kids meals I say!
Accept that your child won’t starve
Appetites will vary from child to child and from time to time. Most adults tend to overeat and we push the need to do so onto our children (I know I have suffered allot of anxiety feeling ‘they haven’t eaten enough’). So if I don’t think my children have had enough to eat, yet they say they’ve finished, I cover their meal and if they suddenly become hungry later, they know that’s what they are having. May seem a little harsh to some, but I really don’t like seeing food go to waste. Also, children develop really bad habits if they are allowed to skip a decent meal, only to be given a snack or treat later on.
So that’s all I have to say on this point. I hope I have given you a little ‘food for thought.’ The topic of feeding children well is a BIG one and everyone has their own issues. Please give me some feed back as the most difficult part of writing on this subject is what part to explore next. So help me out and post questions, comment, challenge my ideas – anything to help me to help you.
For the next Well Nourished Child, I plan to post on snacking. Until then, share what you find most difficult about feeding your kids? Post a comment below.
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