Lately, food has become really fun around here. All of a sudden I have children who request broccoli, salmon, shrimp – and watermelon. Watermelon, you say? Yes. Both of my boys have refused to touch it, look at it, or eat it. But then I just started buying it – because I am not crazy and love watermelon in the summer – and oh shock! The boys were intrigued, and now we buy fresh watermelon every day.
So this pretty much sums up all my feelings about food and kids. Just don’t stress, eat what you want, cook what you like, and they will eat it.
It’s definitely been a learning curve. When Julian was a big baby/little toddler, I would occasionally make him a special dinner when I didn’t think he would like what Jeff and I were having. Arthur was never granted this luxury. From the get-go, he ate what we ate. Now we all eat the same thing. If someone doesn’t like something, they don’t have to eat it. But they have to try it. I will make an exception when I make something for dinner that I know one of the kids doesn’t like. For example, the other night I made a salad with shrimp for Jeff and me, and rice, shrimp and veggies for the kids. Julian has tried shrimp and doesn’t like them, so he was allowed to pick another fish and chose salmon. I just threw it in the same pan as the shrimp, so it was no extra effort at all.
I don’t know if Arthur is a good eater because of how we eat, or because we just lucked out, but he is, and it is such a joy to see him eat. Julian went through a phase of not wanting to eat most vegetables (“Is it green? No thanks.”), but he always ate everything else: plenty of fruit, meet, dairy, grains. He got a good dose of veggies in smoothies, baked into pancakes and muffins, and hidden in sauce.
Now Julian eats everything. I think it’s because he’s older, we’ve continuously encouraged him to try new foods, and he sees the rest of us (especially his baby brother) eat veggies and enjoy them. He declares one thing or another his new favorite veggie almost every week: peas, broccoli, spinach salad. And the most wonderful thing of all is that he is open to trying something new (watermelon!). Sometimes he thinks vegetables make his legs and arms grow longer, and he’s showing me the progress his limbs have made. I’m not sure where that idea came from, but I’m fine with it.
Here are the top 5 things I would tell parents of toddlers who may not always eat everything:
- Don’t stress. No kid will starve if they don’t eat a meal, or if they only eat certain foods for a few days. Also, no one other than our generation of parents ever even thought about food and kids the way we do, and we all grew up fine (I think). I’m pretty sure I was raised on orange juice and vienna sausages, and I turned out all right.
- Give healthy options. I love the boys’ lunch boxes and plates with different compartments. Arthur, for example, definitely prefers his food to not be mixed (for example, I don’t mix his yogurt and granola but rather put them next to each other). Options also make the kid feel empowered, and who doesn’t like the power to choose?
- Don’t overload on snacks. The boys get one snack between breakfast and lunch, and sometimes another one before dinner, but nothing too close to dinner. Except of course the many pints of ice cream we have consumed all summer long.
- Involve the kids! Julian has been so into shopping, and lately I’ve allowed him to pick certain foods that we prepare later. It gets him so excited.
- Make dinner joyous. Sit at the dinner table, talk about your days, make dinner a happy occasion. Sometimes when we linger at the table, the boys keep picking at their food and it just disappears. And if not, who cares? You had a good time hanging out with your family.