As a kid growing up, my parents were never short order cooks. I still remember the smell of cooked liver and nearly gagging just thinking about it, but I wasn't given another option. So it was either eat what was put in front of me, or don't eat.
I can't think of any other dish my parents made that I didn't love, but liver was just the pits (I still don't like it). I have no doubt I went through picky periods as a young child, but as far as my memory serves me, my brother and I always ate whatever my mom or dad cooked for us and the large majority of the time it was delicious, except for the liver.
Since it's super important to me to provide healthy meals for Vienna, I've made it a priority to prepare home-cooked meals most nights of the week. That being said, I've learned first hand how tough it can be when you spend time in the kitchen making a wonderful meal only to have your child not even be willing to try it. Vienna isn't big into trying new foods these days which somewhat limits us, but it's something we are working on. Except she recently tried Pad Thai for the first time and loved it! I really believe in the saying:
Progress, not perfection.
I mean, are you 100% perfect in your eating? Probably not. Do you have foods you dislike and others that you LOVE? I have no doubt you do. Kids are the same. They are not going to automatically love everything you love, so patience is key. And just so you know, we do eat pizza, chicken tenders and yes, Vienna loves ice cream and apple pie -- what kid doesn't? However, it's all about the quality of ingredients you use to make food. If you use whole foods, then the difference between a frozen pizza and a homemade oneis night and day.
I know you might be thinking, but Joy, I HAVE NO TIME TO COOK. I'm not going to be the most popular person here when I say this, but my response is: you have to make time.
I look at my parents as the example. They both worked full time jobs. My mom was up at 5:30am every single day, worked at a lab staring down a microscope all day, only to come home and make sure there was a meal on the table and we ate together. It is our job as parents to be the example for our children. If we don't teach them about healthy eating, who will?
Since I know it can be super tough to do this, especially if we ourselves did not have a positive role model, then I truly hope this post gives you ideas to raise healthy eaters of your own. I've also listed some of our favourite family recipes for you at the bottom of this post!
Just remember the benefits of raising healthy eaters are 100% worth the effort and include:
8 Tips For Raising Healthy Eaters
I used to think that trying a food three times was the golden rule and if your child still says no, then let it go for while. But I've learned, you need to actually try more times than that. I suggest anywhere from 4-7 tries for a new food before you let it go. However, if your child just isn't into it, then take a break from that food for several weeks before trying again.
As hard as it is, try not to get discouraged. There are simply some foods that you might adore that your child isn't going to ever love, just like you, as a grown-up, don't love every single food. I've learned that my daughter just isn't into eggs. She used to love them and hasn't touched an egg in about two years! I've accepted it. (sigh).
Be the example
I know I've said this one before in previous posts, but it's true. Want your kids to eat a healthy breakfast? Well, you've gotta eat healthy yo'self! My mom always followed Canada's Food Guide as her healthy example. Of course we now know it's not exactly the healthiest guideline (see my review of the most recent Canada Food Guide here ), but if you're looking for a healthy guideline, you can make use of the Food Pyramid in my book Joyous Health on pg. 114.
But my point is, she made an effort to make sure we had all the five food groups and she made healthy meals from scratch. She also always had breakfast ready for us before driving to work at 7am and she always packed a healthy lunch for herself. Just by doing it herself, she taught me the importance of healthy homemade food.
Make Mealtimes sacred
"Connecting as a family over a shared meal together promotes healthy habits and creates a positive environment for kids".
According to Dr. Aliya - Chiropractor and Acupuncturist, mealtimes are sacred. Her family turns off all screens and leaves their mobile phones off the dinner table. Eating meals together as a family is her favourite times of the day. "We all sit down together and share our day with each other. It's a family tradition that I love!".
I couldn't agree more! No matter how old your kids are, this is a habit to reinforce or start if you're not already doing it. Connection and togetherness creates healthy habits that last a lifetime.
Teach them to understand what a "treat" really is
Marta, a mom of two, (you might know her as Organic Foods for Kids on instagram) teaches her kids the difference between foods that make you grow "big and strong" and foods that are considered "treats". So as you can see, we follow this too. Walker loves croissants and so does Vienna. But she knows it's a treat, I'm not sure about Walker though ;).
Marta also believes in the importance of grocery shopping with your child and letting them pick out a new food, bringing it home and either eating it raw or cooking it together – and then of course, talking about what you like and don't like about it. I LOVE shopping with Vienna. Even though she's a little wild with pushing the grocery cart around, she really enjoys picking out the groceries.
Don't be afraid of flavour
My good friend Meghan Telpner, nutritionist and author, has a very adventurous and super healthy little guy who's under two. You've gotta see what this little guy eats on instagram! He eats some seriously yummy food. One of her pieces of advice is "don't be afraid of flavour". She suggests addding some melted ghee , a pinch of sea salt and garlic powder to food. Coconut curry with cod, braised ribs with mashed cauliflower (ummm, that sounds AMAZING!) and roast chicken are some of Finley's favourite meals! Are you drooling yet?
It just goes to show you that children are open to flavour! One of Vienna's first favourite foods was curried scrambled eggs, (even though she hates eggs now). Her favourite meal was with a very distinct flavour – curry!
Meghan also suggests that you don't bribe your kids with dessert. I know as a parent this can be an easy trap to fall into, but if you get into this habit, it's much harder to break.
Serve veggies first
Rachel Schwartzman, naturopathic doctor and mom of three always served veggies first and started this when her kids were little. She'd start with the veggies, usually steamed, roasted or crudite and because they were hungry, they would gobble them up! Next was the protein and then lastly was the carbs, like the pasta, bread, rice etc. You'll never have trouble giving your child carbs, I mean, what kid doesn't love carbs? Rachel's advice is a gem!
Get your child involved in cooking
Vienna was in the kitchen with me when she was barely a month old. Shortly after I gave birth to her, I was dying to bake something because I'd been so sedentary after giving birth. I would put on the wrap and bake with Vienna sleeping on me. She's been in the kitchen with me her whole life. But it's never too late to start!
Now that she's three, we have a Guide Craft Kitchen Helper for her that keeps her safe and elevated to counter height and she cooks in the kitchen with me several times per week. It's never too late to start this. It helps kids experiment with new foods too, especially if they had a hand in preparing them. These moments are precious memories for you both and you're establishing valuable health habits that they will take into adulthood.
Limit sugary foods
I'm sure you've experienced how sugary treats make you feel as a parent. In case it's been a while, I am happy to remind you! They drain you, make you moody/cranky, may promote acne, increase inflammation , mess with your hormones, mess with your digestion (promote constipation, feed candida yeast and bad bacteria ) and contribute to obesity and diabetes. The same is true for children. This comes back to teaching your kids what a "treat" really means.
I've seen what sugar does first hand. Vienna has refined sugar so seldom it's glaringly evident when she does have it. She gets really wild and an upset tummy from things like cupcakes that are just pure sugar with no fat to balance out a blood sugar crash. I really limit refined sugar for this reason. I know it makes me feel crappy, so in a child that's only 30lbs it's even more evident.
There are so many great tips here! I hope you find them super helpful. Special thanks to all the mamas who contributed to this post!
If you're looking for some healthy inspiration to get started, here are some of our favourite meals in the McJordan Home:
Those are my Lactation cookies in the photo below :)
Kale & Sundried Tomato Galette (Vienna thinks it's pizza)
We also eat a lot of baked fish (2-3 times per week) and roast chicken. For sides, we do sweet potatoes , roasted cauliflower and broccoli and Walker and I eat a lot of salads so Vienna just picks out what she wants to eat.
I know a lot of you have been asking me for tips on this very subject so I truly hope you found this post helpful! My final thought for you is to just have fun with food. Try not to stress about it. As soon as you feel stressed, your child will sense that.
Have a wonderful, healthy and joyous week!