Insert some judgemental smug parenting tosh here…
Seriously – what should you feed your kids? It’s no secret that I’m an avid healthy eater. I’m vegan for goodness sake with an aversion to sugar and a love affair with vegetables bordering on plain weird. But does that mean I’ve force fed my kids lentils? Well – only a little bit 🙂
What should they eat though? My answer might surprise you a bit. Sometimes what our kids need to eat is what they will eat. Toddlers are notoriously fussy, teenagers can be as bad. Getting either to eat anything home-cooked can be an uphill battle. But there are a few things to know which might help:
As young children start to move independently they often become averse to foods with any bitter taste so that baby who scoffed courgettes and broccoli purees will point blank refuse to touch them. Even fruits with a hint of sourness can be scorned. The reason makes perfect sense really, bitter and sour things are more likely to be poisonous to the exploring toddler who learns by putting everything into their mouth. Sweet foods are less likely to be toxic so the child can develop a survival type preference to sweet foods. The important thing about this is not to consider this a preference which is fixed for life. It’s much more advisable to make savoury foods a bit sweeter using carrots, apples, pears, sweet potatoes and squashes. What’s not a good idea is to indulge the child’s whim by concentrating upon what they ‘like’. Most children in developed countries are not at huge risk of chowing down a poisonous root or a death inducing berry so the aversion phase needs to be rode out where possible without giving in to a sweet diet which will set your child on a path to weight management issues in future.
We get an entirely new set of taste buds every seven years. Completely different. This is why it makes sense to keep trying a taste averse child with new foods or even foods they don’t seem to like. Tastes really do change. This is one reason why making meal times for the young child stressful are really counter productive because it’s often the stress or anguish associated with the food that the child avoids, not the food itself! Take note parents the “You’ll stay there until you finish it” rule may well bite you on the bum at a later point. I made a star chart for my picky toddler. We added a new star every time she tried something new, she didn’t have to finish it, just taste it. We added the name of the food beside the star as a record of all the things she was at least trying. It totally worked, ’til she became a teenager but that’s a different story…
My Mum tells me your kids grow up in spite of you and I think that’s a dig at me (can’t blame her there) so I tried not to forbid junk foods but offer them in moderation. It can be very hard to be ‘that mum’ whose kids don’t get McDonalds and all the crisps. One daughter’s friend commented she ‘always’ got rocket at our house and I traumatised another one with a spicy bean dish called ‘Gypsy stew’ which still terrifies her to this day. Fortunately mostly kids liked my (sometimes random) cooking and we weren’t complete pariahs in the after school play dates which extended to tea time.
There is a pressure on parents to feed their kids properly on the one hand but huge commercial pressure to buy into junk food. There is a huge advertising budget for snacks aimed at children and almost all of them are absolutely awful. High in sugar, salt, chemical additives, preservatives and fat – they look appealing and they tend to be cheap – parents and kids alike buy into them in their millions.
So what should you feed your kids? I stick to my original point. I have a daughter training 20 hours a week, I feed her what I know she will eat because she needs all the calories she can get. Yes I make it healthy when I can but other times it’s about making sure she’s eaten when she’s too tired to make something herself. This week it’s been tuna wraps at supper time or coming home from school to a seed-filled smoothie with her pasta in the 40 minutes before she’s back out training . One night it was plain bread ‘pizzas’ and if you’ve never smothered a few slices of plain bread with pasta sauce, tinned tuna, sliced peppers and plenty of grated cheddar cheese then you’ve never lived.
Your kids’ll thank you for it 😀