The parents of picky eaters predicament: How do I optimize my child’s nutrition intake without compromising my own sanity?
Look, I’m going to start this by saying, I’m not about to pretend that I have this whole vegan parenting thing figured out. Every time I read an article about vegan snacks or meals for kids, I cringe. If you thought nutrition and how people eat was a sensitive subject, try talking about parenting. Our every moral and belief goes into our parenting techniques, whether we realize it or not. Not only are our kids a reflection of ourselves, they’re also human beings that we would give our life to protect. So, when someone suggests that we might not be feeding our kids the right foods, we go off. Mama (or Papa) bear emerges from the den.
While there are many great resources out there, I do find some suggestions to be unrealistic. Not unrealistic in some households maybe, but certainly in ours. If our son catches a glimpse of chopped green pepper in a veggie burger, he won’t touch it. He eats nothing mushy – think mashed potatoes or mashed beans. No hidden onions – he’ll spot them every time. And, for the love of Pete, no half-hidden carrots. Our kids are smarter than we give them credit for and they love to exercise they’re decision making skills. So, when they feel like I’m trying to trick them, they call me on it every time. It’s better to just be honest and face the carrot, head on, in it’s full form. A side of dip definitely makes it easier to digest.
Here’s what I learned about from being a mom trying new recipes over and over again – try/fail, try/succeed, try/partially succeed and subsequently fail. It’s a vicious cycle and we can’t let it get us down.
- Be straight forward. Tell them why kale is important. We found that by addressing the issue straight-up, even with our 6 year old, that kids appreciate honesty. We have explained the necessity of healthy eating for muscle growth and energy production, in kids’ terms. We’ve complimented the kids on their growing muscles and brains while the broccoli is going down. It’s always fun but, there are also rules. Like, regardless of what you leave on their plates, the veggies must be gone before dinner is over.
- Involve them in the food preparation and cooking process. Let them Google new recipes. Make a dessert one night a week, when every one has the day off and let your kid choose the recipe. While Vegan Cupcakes might be an obvious choice, your child might also be interested in trying Strawberry Tofu Ice Cream or a Dreamsicle Smoothie.
- Ditch the rules. Does everyone in the family really need to eat the same thing at dinner time. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not suggesting anyone make 3 different dinners every night – ain’t nobody got time for that. But, you can keep cut-up veggies in the fridge for the kids to grab with their favorite dip or pick out the veggies your kids like from a stir-fry. Mix things up with a Vegan Pizza night and make a rule where everyone has to put at least 3 different veggies (or fruit!) on their own pizzas.
- Try new dips or sauces with their veggies. Our kids really like ranch dressing. So, I made a ranch version of my cashew creme dip and our daughter ended up eating it on everything from toast to carrots.
- Be a good role model. Regardless of what you tell them, our kids are going to follow in our footsteps. Having an 11 year old has definitely opened my eyes to this fact. I know a 2 year old who eats uncooked onions regularly because he sees his dad do it. Like it or not, these kids are watching us. Intently.
- Don’t stress. We want our kids to get the very best nutrition as early in life as we can give them. However, what I have learned by now is that kids change their minds. Regularly. Yearly, monthly, daily. You can’t predict what THE food will be to change their minds. Also, we need to factor in who they shared their meal with, what they did when they ate it and how the whole event made them feel. Just as we have memories related to foods, our kids are creating them everyday. Let’s let them create their own positive memories around healthy, nutrient dense foods so that they can enjoy a lifetime of healthy eating.