*This article was also featured at at Authentic Parenting*
I strive to serve healthy yet yummy and appealing meals everyday. The goal being to not to create kitchen master pieces worthy of Top Chef (what an awesome show) but rather to capitalize on my children’ s adventurous nature and allow them a chance to explore tastes and textures.
To have fun and exciting family meals, and create an overall joy of eating, we focus on portion awareness, respecting individual tastes, opportunity, modeling healthy choices and relaxed table manners.
Sometimes its easy to forget that the tummy of a toddler/preschooler is tiny – a great way to remember is to look at their hands. A child’s stomach is roughly the same size as it’s hand curled into a fist. Aside from the small stomach, a child’s internal satiation cue (that’s the fancy name for the “the I’m full now” signal from the stomach to the brain – yay nutrition class paid off), are very reliable – especially for children who were fed on cue as infants (regardless of it was breastmilk or formula milk). So think small portions. I can be overheard at just about every meal saying “eat what you have and you can always ask for more.”
Yum or Yuck
Bread with butter, peach jelly and salami. I’ll admit this is not my ideal meal – but for my three year old it was today’s perfect lunch. Combined with a heaping glass of milk, cucumber sticks and watermelon for dessert – he ate from each food group and cleaned his plate. Are you still stuck on the jelly and salami combination? At three years this combination is deemed excellent and why not allow that taste exploration? My five year old and I ate lots of tomatoes today – nobody else went near them. My baby girl chomped on a pickle dipped in vanilla yogurt…What I’m getting at is that each one of us is an individual with different tastes and we respect that at every meal.
So how have these tastes developed you might wonder – afterall how do we come about the whole jelly and salami or pickles with vanilla? Creating opportunities for my children to explore food – when serving a new food I make sure there is a familiar food on the table as a possible alternative. This way they can try the new food but there is no need to worry if they will eat enough because that familiar food is right there in case the new stuff did not pass muster. I also invite my children to shop and cook with me so they can see and be curious about ingredients. If an interest comes about to mix flavors it’s allowed to happen – it might seem like a waste of food but remember we are working with small portions.
I believe children learn a lot from observation, trial and error. So aside from letting them make their own choices, I am hopefully inspiring them in those choices as well with what I am choosing to eat or put on the table. From eating vegetables to trying new foods, my attitude at meals (with anything really) will make an impact on my children. My husband is an avid Sushi eater and around 18 months my boys were really interested. Now at 3yrs and 5yrs it is by far their most favorite dish – yes raw fish and sea weed – it’s wierd and wonderful all in one…
Relax and Enjoy
If you ever join us for a meal,( I promise the main course shall not be jellied salami) you will not find stiff place settings, dimmed lighting and an atmosphere of the fine dinning kind but rather relaxed happy children being —-Children! Yes there silliness, spilled juice on occasion, and some food may even land on the floor. “Don’t worry, murphy (our dog) is a vacuum cleaner” was one of our boys first full sentences. Beyond the slight mess, you will also see three children eating vegetables, grains, dairy, fish, whatever it may be with a true love and enjoyment of food and family style meals!
So, what is your family’s favorite meal?