Feeding kids is undoubtedly one of the most talked about topics among moms. And I get it. They keep you on your toes with their fickle tastes, lack of interest, and ridiculous demands (I want triangles… what you cut my sandwich?!). We’ve had our share of eating hurdles, more so with Kaitlyn than with Hailey. However, through personal trial and error, I’m learning that avoiding these 4 common mistakes results in overall success in raising healthy and adventurous eaters.
1: Lack of flavor.
Who decided kids prefer bland foods? I’ve found quite the opposite. While you might not be sprinkling cayenne on your 7 month old’s roasted sweet potatoes, you don’t need to keep everything super simple either. Sprinkle some cinnamon on the sweet potatoes and work your way up to adding herbs, spices, sauces, and more.
Steamed broccoli and plain baked chicken is probably as enticing to a 1 year old as it is to us. Add some lemon and herbs to the broccoli and marinate that chicken. That’s why I love the idea that everyone at the table eats the same thing. It’s much more likely to be tasty for all!
salmon, green beans, tomatoes, and mango
2: Too much snacking.
The girls don’t do a lot of snacking around here and if they do, I’m ready to pay the consequence of less eating at the main meal. Yesterday, for example, was Hailey’s last day at swim team. I really wanted to watch her, so I packed an apple and a pack of gummies to distract her. Kaitlyn flew through those in no time and moved on to a friend’s goldfish, basically dominating the bag. 1.5 hours later at lunch? She ate maybe 4 bites. No surprise there.
But what if your kids prefer snacks to meals? OF COURSE THEY DO! Think of snack foods- crackers, cookies, cheesy goodness, peanut butter balls, etc. Any kid will prefer those to green beans. But I found if I limit snacks the girls do so much better at meal time.
refried black bean and beef soft tacos with tomato and avocado
3. Not letting kids get hungry.
I vividly remember whining to my mom about being hungry about an hour before dinner when I was a kid. You know what she’d say? Dinner is in an hour. I’ve stuck with the same idea with my kids. It’s OK for a child to feel hunger. In fact, it’s a great way for them to learn their own internal cues. I’m obviously not saying to skip meals and truly let a child go hungry, but a child can make it from lunch to dinner (sometimes just a mere 3-4 hour span) without a snack. If your child has a long stretch between meals or is playing sports, I certainly am not 100% against snacks. We have days we snack a lot ourselves, but the idea that kids need a constant stream of snacks readily available to them is a concept I just can’t get behind.
roasted chicken and vegetables with ketchup
4: Not letting them decide what they like for themselves.
Have you ever come across an article showing kids’ lunches from around the world? They look really different from what you typically see in the US. I find them fascinating because it shows that kids will eat what they are exposed to. They simply don’t know the difference. By limiting kids’ options because we don’t think they will like it, we are doing their developing taste buds a disservice.
I’ve been very cognizant about how I introduce foods to the girls. I decide what food is served and when and they decide what to eat and how much. I am also very intentional with keeping my offerings emotionally neutral. If we are having Annie’s mac and cheese, I don’t get fired up with hooray it’s mac and cheese night! Likewise, if it’s broccolini or another new veggie, I don’t hold my breath or hand it over timidly. I just put down the food and let it be.
I still remember going to an Indian restaurant when Hailey was a toddler. I fell into the trap of perusing the menu and ordering plain naan for her. Well, when our food came, my mind was blown that she reached over and started eating off our plates. I had broken my own rule by deciding for her that she wouldn’t like it and have been mindful of that ever since.
This is also where I could get on my soapbox about kids’ menus at restaurants, but I’ll try to reign it in. I’m not against a good hot dog, my kids love them, but why are we limiting kids from the start to a bland menu of oftentimes fried food? I’d love to see kids menus start offering a wider selection and applaud the restaurants that offer smaller portions of regular meals for kids.
marinated grilled shrimp, spiralized zucchini, pasta shells and marinara
Well all these don’ts are great and all, but what about the dos? What should we be doing to feed kids? Personally I’ve found success by introducing textures and tastes starting with baby led weaning, followed by introducing a wide variety of foods from early on, enforcing meal time manners, and finally, staying consistent. We’ve hit pickier stages and growth spurts, but by sticking to my guns, I’ve found it has resulted in two pretty good eaters at ages 4 1/2 and 2 years old. Hailey is definitely more adventurous than Kaitlyn, and Kaitlyn has more of a sweet tooth, but day to day, meal to meal, they both eat the same thing.
It’s not always easy feeding kids. It can be frustrating and exhausting, even with good eaters. But staying consistent from the start can really make a big difference in setting them on a healthy eating path for life.
What struggles or triumphs have you experience in feeding your kids?
Do you have any rules that you follow to help ensure mealtime success?
One struggle we face is getting the kids to sit still at meal time. I fully admit, they often get up and take a lap around the table between bites (more so Kaitlyn now than Hailey). With Hailey we’ve started saying when she gets up the meal is over, but that’s tough to do sometimes with her little sister running around. Maybe we need to buy a booster seat with straps? Tips are welcome!