I've had quite a few moms asking me lately for suggestions on what to feed their children. It seems like I am not the only one going through a picky eater stage. My daughter, Harlow, used to gobble up everything we gave her but now that she's nearing 3 years old she has opinions on what she likes and doesn't like. One of her new favourite sayings is "no, I don't like that" before she has even given it a try. It has definitely become frustrating.
The good thing though, is my daughter is a snack machine. She basically eats all day long. A friend recently told me that one of her friends doesn't let her children snack as she wants them to eat their meals.
I understand that you want your child to eat what you have prepared them at meal time. I get it. But it is SO important that children have multiple snacks throughout the day. Kids have a fast metabolism so they burn up what they eat quite quickly. They need to be fed frequently to keep their blood sugar levels stable. This helps keep their moods even, their brain focused and functioning and their energy up.
When children reach a certain age it can become a battle to get them to eat what you want. It is really important to remember that you are in control of what they eat at home but you cannot control how much they eat. They are their own beings with their own minds and willpower. We have to trust that if we are providing different healthy snack and meal options throughout the day they will get the nourishment they need. Their bodies are smart and they will crave what nutrients they need. Harlow went through an apple kick for about 6 months eating 2-3 apples a day. I'm sure there was some nutrient her body was missing and her body told her to get it from apples.
You've probably heard this before but you are the role model and you must lead by example. If you are eating a snickers bar you have to be prepared to share it with your child. If you don't want them eating a snickers bar then you have to not have them in the house (or be very sneaky where you hide it!). That is my rule. If I don't want my kid to eat it then I can't eat it. If your child sees you snacking on and enjoying kale chips or a big bowl of fruit then they are more likely to want to eat those too.
A good way to get your child to eat the things you prepare for them is to let them help make it. Harlow LOVES energy balls and part of the reason she loves them is because she gets to spend special time with mommy making them together and eating them in the process.
It is also EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to never use food as punishment or reward. For example, if your child doesn't want to eat their veggies at dinner PLEASE don't tell them they can't have dessert. It makes them think of their vegetables as boring and yucky and their sugar filled dessert as delicious. If you are going to make a dessert, make something that is delicious but also super healthy so when they don't want to eat what you've provided at dinner they will still be eating something healthy and filling for dessert (raw vegan cheesecake anyone?!).
Punishing or rewarding ("eat 3 more bites of broccoli and you can have ice cream") children with food creates an unhealthy relationship with food, giving more value to the reward food (aka the "unhealthy" food). It is an easy strategy in the short run, but in the long run it can increase the risk that a child (or adult later on) will emotionally eat. It also gives them a preference for junky, high fat high sugar foods and decreases their ability to regulate their food intake.
So what ARE some healthy snacks that aren't overly complicated to make? Check out my list below.
-Energy balls are fast and delicious and can be changed to suit your child's preferences. If your child has a nut allergy swap out the nuts for seeds or oats.
-Fruit salads using seasonal fruit.
-Overnight oats and chia puddings are great quick make ahead breakfast or snack ideas. You can easily sneak hemp seeds or chia seeds into them for added protein and minerals.
-Foods with dips! Harlow is more likely to eat something if she can dip it in something yummy. So tzatziki and baked pita chips or organic corn tortilla chips are great. Hummus and veggies sticks or flax crackers (we like Mary's brand). You can experiment with different beans/legumes (chickpeas or lentils or black beans and blend in veggies like roasted peppers or spinach).
-Try roasting things! Roasted chickpeas are DELICIOUS! We also love cutting up zucchini and rolling it in a mixture of parmesan and spices and baking it and then dipping it in hot sauce. You could also do the same with sweet potatoes or carrots.
-Try different cooked veggies with lots of butter or coconut oil (cooked broccoli, carrots, green beans) and I like to put Herbamare on Harlow’s (she LOVES it and makes her want to eat her veggies more).
-For a sweet treat you can also make vegan banana ice cream (frozen bananas blended in a food processor, add some toppings like coconut and nuts).
-Fruit smoothies (see my raspberry dreamsicle smoothie below) are easy and you can throw some greens and plant protein powder in there too if your child is totally opposed to vegetables. Smoothies can also easily become popsicles for hot summer days.
-Apple sandwiches. Cut an apple in half, smear it with peanut butter, add toppings (nuts, seeds, shredded coconut, mini chocolate chips, etc.). Kids love these because they can pick the toppings.
-Vegetable buns (takes a little more time to make these). I like the ones from greenkitchenstories.
-Whole grain tortillas (or use a big lettuce leaf) with hummus or other bean spread, veggies, sprouts, cheese, etc.
Keep offering the same foods too. It takes about 10 tries to change a child's taste buds. So if you are desperate for your child to like hummus, they might just like it the 10th time they eat it. Some kids are really sensitive to the different textures of food (that would be my husband) so trying healthy foods in different ways can get them eating the foods you want. For example if they don't like raw bananas try freezing them and making ice cream out of them, or adding them to smoothies or mashing them up and mixing into overnight soaked oats.
If you are struggling to get your kids to eat healthy or just need more ideas, feel free to send me a message. And mama, you're doing great!
Love and light xo,