Our children have never been picky eaters. Partly this might be because their parents had such healthy appetites they knew that if they left any food, our response would be, “Oh goody, more for us!” I was also lucky to work at a childcare center owned by a nutritionist. She gave me lots of tips on healthy eating for children, and her advise really fits in well with the Montessori practices of following the child, allowing the maximum amount of freedom within a very structured environment, and allowing children to make their own choices and develop their independence. Here are some suggestions for healthy eating:
- Serve all of the food, including dessert, at the same time. Then there is no opportunity to bribe a child with dessert for finishing eating the main course.
- Make sure all of the food served is healthy, including dessert (fresh fruit, canned fruit in 100% fruit juice, apple sauce, yoghurt, milk pudding, rice pudding – dessert can be an important source of vitamins and dairy for a child). This allows the child to only make healthy choices.
- Serve food family style and allow your child to pass food bowls and serve him or herself. If a child has control over the food on the plate, he or she is more likely to try a little taste of something new. Never force a child to try something new, but remind him or her that it can take four or five tastes on different occasions before a food is liked.
- Involve your child in food preparation – growing, harvesting, grocery shopping, cooking, serving. We are growing cherry tomatoes, squash, radish, corn, ‘jack o’ lantern’ pumpkins, beans and strawberries at school. Strawberries and cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden, warmed by the sun, are unbeatable for taste! The children have been gobbling up all of the produce they have grown in their gardens.
- When you are at the grocery store and farmers’ markets, allow your children to choose some of the items you will buy and serve to your family. Ask them, “What looks good to you?”
- Have a standby that your child can prepare for him/herself as an alternative to the meal. Our children could always fix a PBJ sandwich or have cereal and milk as an alternative. This prevents mealtimes becoming a battle scene between parents and children. There is no pressure to eat the meal as the child can always fix the alternative. The child can still sit at the table and enjoy the conversation and does not have to go to bed hungry.
- Involve your child in lunch preparation. We had a chart of food choices for lunch. Our kids could choose a fruit /vegetable (fresh or juice or apple sauce or canned fruit, dried fruit, salad, vegetable sticks), a dairy (cheese stick, pot of cottage cheese, milk, yoghurt), a protein (peanut butter – in a sandwich, or for dipping fruit into, or spreading on celery – now we would use tahini or almond butter, hard boiled egg, cheese, chicken) and a carb (crackers, cereal, bread, bagel, muffin). So a lunch might be bowl of cereal, pot of blueberries, thermos of milk, cheese stick . . . or tahini sandwich, yogurt and apple juice . . . or cheese and crackers, grapes and milk . . . or salad and cottage cheese and canned peaches . . . or leftover slice of vegetable lovers pizza and fruit juice . . .rice/pasta salad with hard boiled eggs and cheese . . . the combinations are endless!
- Prepare lunch the night before.
- I always made the salad first for dinner and left it on the table as I prepared the rest of the meal. Our children were at their after-school hungriest and would graze through the salad as dinner was prepared. For many years, all that was left of the salad for my husband and I were leaves. All of the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, celery, mushrooms, etc., had already been eaten. This was a small price to pay for knowing that our children had eaten a lot of raw vegetables.
- When your child says, “I don’t like onions, peppers, mushrooms,” etc., try using the blender to disguise the unloved ingredients. We served so many of the unloved food items in spaghetti sauce just by blending them until they couldn’t be recognized! My husband and I ate the unblended version for texture!
- Invite your children’s friends over for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Make mealtimes fun.
My family still loves to grocery shop, cook and eat together. All of my children love to cook. They continue to eat very well. I love this photo of one of my daughters inhaling the smell of fresh produce. We love the smell, texture and taste of fresh produce!