Admit it: before you had kids, you gave those parents who only fed their children chicken tenders and french fries a little side-eye, did you not? Because laying down the law about eating fruits and vegetables is called “parenting”… at least, that’s what non-parents call it, until they, too, are responsible for the care and feeding of their own toddlers. It seems like there are only two choices: a steady diet of beige foods, or their little ones’ imminent starvation.
So how do you make sure you’re the kind of mom or dad you expected to be, back in your idealistic, pre-parenting days? When it comes to encouraging healthy eating, your best intentions can actually cultivate palate pickiness. For example, hiding vegetables in other, more kid-friendly foods, might seem like an easy way to squeeze in squash, but it prevents your kid from learning to enjoy the taste of some fresh, in-season butternut. “I know a lot of parents resort to this, and it may work sometimes, but it doesn’t educate your kids about where veggies come from and why they’re good for you if you’re always hiding them in pancakes,” Frances Largeman-Roth, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, told PureWow.
Serve your kids dinner — without a side dish of drama
Another way parents may unwittingly encourage picky eating is by making a big deal about the food — from the classic “here comes the choo-choo train…open up!” to over-hyping the meal the child is about to eat. Your kid is no dummy, and your sales pitch about the virtues of baked tilapia will only serve to make him or her suspicious. Similarly, don’t negotiate how many bites must be taken before dinner is considered “over,” explains Dr. Michael Dickinson, head of pediatrics at Miramichi Regional Hospital. “You can give them a little nudge, but if they don’t respond, it’s better to back off,” he said in an interview with Today’s Parent.
The best way you can sell the deliciousness of a family meal is to eat it yourself with enthusiasm, Largeman-Roth added. “Show your kids how much you enjoy your fruit and veggies and whole grain. Parents are the biggest influence on kids, even though it doesn’t always feel that way.” Above all else, don’t give up too easily; a child may need to be served a food 10 to 15 times before willingly eating it (via Family Doctor). You can also try serving fresh veggies with a yummy dip, or pair them with foods you know your child loves … like chicken nuggets.
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