I really love good, healthy food! And I do love my treats. Thankfully, we have kids that love good food too! They really do eat almost anything I put in front of them, and for that I am so grateful.
I believe that a big part of our food culture at home being positive and healthy was that I never expected that they wouldn’t eat and enjoy what is put in front of them. I have never really used the word “picky” around them, not wanting to even suggest that they might not enjoy something. It’s definitely not the picture of peace and tranquility around here, but we rarely have food battles and our gang is healthy, fit, and thriving with vigorous appetites! Here are just a few snapshots of what I think has worked well in our home to keep food a positive, life-giving, non-stressful part of our days.
1) We give thanks.
This is so simple, and something I’m sure most of you do in your own families. But, I have to say that I love how even our little guys remember to start every meal with “thank-you for this food, and thank-you for the fun day we are having…”. I am convinced this little heart check has helped prevent the crankies at the table! I’m pretty happy with the way mealtimes and family life happen around here and very grateful for the overall health of my family. So I’ll give credit where credit is due! (Thanks God!)
2) We pick what and when, they choose how much and whether they eat or not.
This is the most fundamental tip I learned way back when my oldest ones were babies. I loved the positive, warm, no-nonsense wisdom of Ellyn Satter, a popular dietician and social worker with over 40 years of experience. She breaks down the responsibilities of both the adults and the kids, for each age and stage of development. Depending on where your kids are at in the pickiness spectrum, this is a really concrete way of viewing the whole issue of food and control.
In its most simple form, it’s still how I “do” food with my family. It means that when I prepare a meal, I try to consider seasonings and flavors that appeal to “most”. I really want the meal to be enjoyable, so I always include some “safe” items: plain brown rice or potatoes, carrot sticks, healthy bread, sliced cucumbers and a salad. Everyone needs to have at least a spoonful of the main entree (a meat entree, sauce, stew, or stiryfry) and some salad. Beyond that, they can choose the amounts they eat. (There are never leftovers and with nearly any meal, they all gobble and ask for seconds and thirds!) We don’t force kids to clean their plates, but I do make sure they don’t take too much either. They come to the table hungry so I rarely have to face them not wanting to eat!
3) We sit down to eat, and usually together as a family.
I grew up in a home where food was highly valued. Meals were prepared from scratch and we sat down together. We enjoyed a variety of traditional as well as ethnic meals, cooking shows were part of the weekend culture and recipe books were frequently brought home from the library. I still enjoy this for our family, so if I’m “on” a meal (which is most of the time), we sit down together at the table for breakfast and dinner. If someone needs to eat early, or run out for a practice, we still sit together for a short time before one has to go. Eating is an activity that connects us as a family. It gets loud, messy, and it’s a fair bit of work. But I highly value the time we have together and it’s something I rarely compromise on for these two meals a day.
Lunches are more casual- I usually put out options buffet-style. There may be some leftovers, some sandwich fixings or a big pot of soup. We don’t necessarily sit together (in fact, this is often my time to sneak into another room, or outside and enjoy a big salad to myself while chatting with my hubs or reading a book!) But we do sit down and enjoy the meal in front of us.
Snacks are not a big part of our day. Kids can have a carrot, an apple or a small handful of almonds, and I’ll make a big bowl of popcorn in the afternoon if we have friends over. But we don’t “graze” on food and if someone is really hungry, I try to make a high-protein and high-fat snack that actually fills up those little bellies! (Trim Healthy Mama has been great for giving me some new ideas!)
4) Attitude is everything
New foods and recipes provide a bit of adventure in some otherwise ordinary days! I have also been a healthy-food-nut over the years and I do love trying new recipes for my family that are life-promoting and taste great! If I keep that attitude of intrigue and fun with me when I prepare food or bring something new to the table, I can hope they will catch the idea and thrill of trying something new. It really is rare that they don’t like something, and for the occasional ingredient that they don’t enjoy (sliced mushrooms for someone, or cooked red peppers for another, or only raw broccoli for another), I’m OK with a few bits quietly left to the side of the plate. (It will likely be enjoyed by someone in the family anyway so little is wasted!)
Let’s face it, if I’m in a grouchy mood and think to myself, “those critters better eat what I put in front of ’em or else…”, chances are there won’t be that peaceful feeling at the dinner table I was hoping for. When I’m feeling less inspired, or am not entirely happy with how it turned out, or if a meal is a flat-out “epic fail”…it’s best to laugh! Not take food or the table too seriously. I think this kind of goes along with choosing your battles, and if I bring a battle-attitude to the table, there’s a good chance I’m going to get myself into one! Which bring me to the next point:
5) “Fussing is not an option.”
It makes me laugh to overhear the 5 year old scolding the 2 year old, “Fussing is NOT an option!” In a nutshell- no complaining about food. We’ll give a warning, and if it continues, the “fusser” is excused. (I’ve even had to excuse myself once or twice) This rule crosses over well into every area of life, not just meal times.
I hope a few of these tips will be helpful as you explore new recipes and ways of eating this month with your family! How do you like to keep the peace and manage the variety of food preferences in your home? How do you work towards bringing change in your eating habits in ways that are enjoyed and not resisted?
Comment below or come on over to facebook and share the table “manners” that happen in your home!