Children benefit from being involved in the mealtime process in various ways. Participating in grocery store trips is a great way to get your children involved in the process. Let's face it though, grocery store trips with children aren't always the most pleasant. Here's something to get them more involved while also keeping them busy so you can get your shopping done without added stress. Download this scavenger hunt and encourage your children to circle the foods they see. You can get creative and have them look for foods that are made out of the foods pictured, as well. For example, instead of just sticking to the produce section, have them look at pictures on juices and yogurts to look for the items on their list.
“Chew with your mouth closed.”
“Take a bite of broccoli.”
“Don’t spit that out!”
“Keep your bottom on the chair.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
“Use your fork.”
“Try it. I know you’ll like it”
“COME BACK TO THE TABLE!”
Does this sound familiar? This is a fairly common mealtime soundtrack, one that I catch myself falling back into regularly. The other thing I’ve noticed is that the more instructions I give, the less likely my children are to respond. When I try to take the perspective of my children, it’s no wonder they don’t want to be at mealtime.
This time that is supposed to be about nourishment and social interactions actually can feel pretty negative and not fun. It’s a constant conscious effort to change my own behavior at mealtimes, especially after an exhausting day. While it isn’t easy, I’ll be the first to tell you it is very much worth it. So, here are some ways to be more thoughtful about mealtime related instructions to improve the experience for everyone.
I’m going to challenge you to track the instructions you give at the next few mealtimes. Pay attention to your child’s responses. Then, try the above strategies and note the difference it makes for both you and your children. Is mealtime starting to feel more enjoyable and less stressful?
It’s all over Google and Pinterest: “Smart Ways to Sneak Vegetables in Your Child’s Food,” “Foolproof Ways to Sneak Veggies into Kids Food,” “100+ Hidden Veggie Recipes,” “15 Foods You Can Sneak Vegetables into.” Recipes are named for this practice: “Sneaky Pasta Sauce,” “Hidden Veggie Sloppy Joes,” “Hidden Veggie Smoothie.” There are even cookbooks devoted to successfully hiding vegetables in kid’s food. It’s one of the most common pieces of advice parents give each other when commiserating about picky eaters who refuse to eat vegetables. However, this common practice of sneaking foods is problematic. Here are three reasons why:
Instead of sneaking foods into your child’s food, here are some things you can do:
Try these tips to make trying healthy foods fun and enjoyable for both you and your child!
This edible play dough is so incredibly easy in the food processor! All you need is nuts (or an alternative if your child has allergies - that's my next step!), white chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, honey, and food coloring.
Start by grinding the nuts (we used cashews) in the food processor to the desired consistency. I use this baby food processor because small amounts are less likely to get stuck on the sides.The nice thing is you can start out with a fine texture and work on increasing it gradually to work on textures with your child that might be sensitive. If you process it for a few minutes, it becomes a finer, sticky butter. We left it a little coarse to add some texture to our dough. At this point, we took some out to taste it and compare to a whole cashew.
Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave and stir the melted chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, honey, and a couple drops of food coloring into the food processor. Process until the dough forms into a ball - about a minute. You can also finish by kneading it by hand. Then, the play possibilities are endless!
We pretended to make pancakes, used cookie cutters, rolled it into worms, and more! I buried strawberries and melon pieces in the dough and the children enjoyed digging through to find them and tasting it along the way. Here's the recipe:
1 cup of nuts (or alternative)
1 cup of white chocolate chips
1/4 cup of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 Tablespoon of honey
1. Process nuts in the food processor
2. Place chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each time, until melted.
3. Add melted chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, honey and a couple drops of food coloring into the food processor
4. Blend until the dough clumps together into a ball. You may want to take the ball out and knead it by hand a bit too.
This recipe does turn out to be fairly sweet. Using unsweetened dark chocolate is really good too, but the brown color just doesn't look as appealing to kids.
I'm excited to share this visual recipe download with you all! I wanted to come up with a way for my daughter to participate more in cooking and start teaching her about following recipes. I came up with this visual recipe and it was a huge hit! They were so stoked to follow the instructions with more independence. It's easy - 6 ingredients, 5 steps, under 10 minutes - and delicious! Substitute peanut butter with any alternative to avoid allergies. It's also gluten free! You can download the file below.
Here are some benefits of involving your children in the cooking process:
We started out by reading through the instructions to make sure they understood the sequence. Then, we did one step at a time. I helped them with reading, but was really surprised by how much they understood from the photos!
Of course, their favorite part was the taste testing and they definitely approved! Oh, and in case you are wondering, it absolutely is necessary to wear that hat during the cooking process!
Here is the download for you to use! I'd love your feedback as I'm hoping to make more of these in the future!
My daughter won't eat bell peppers and we cook with them a bit, so I wanted to start working on exposing her to them more. Today we did this fun project - mini bell pepper stamping with edible paint.
She likes mayo so we just added some food coloring to a little bit of mayo to make a few colors of paint. You could also use sour cream or just different condiments (ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, ranch, etc.). Then, I cut off the tops of the peppers, gave her some paper and she was set!
She loved making art - we talked about the different shapes and mixed colors to see what we could come up with. (We had a lot of, "Oh! Cool! Brown again!" But, hey, whatever works!)
As we were stamping, something really neat happened. Without me even suggesting it, my daughter said "I want to lick the red mayo off of it!" So, I cut up some rings of pepper and she dipped them in the different colors and licked the mayo. Then, she took little nibbles and realized that maybe she does like peppers with colorful mayo on them. She ended up eating a few of the peppers!
This is exactly the purpose of this kind of activity - a no pressure way to teach a child about ways to try new foods!
So, here's an easy way to add some fun to your food. These edible eyeballs might make food more appealing to your child. Or, at the very least, it can be a way to add some fun to the mealtime. My daughter enjoyed eating the eyes and then giggling, "oh no, you can't see anything!" Little things like this can make a huge difference when trying to make mealtimes more enjoyable!
Yes, those words came out of my 3 year old this morning! My daughter has been helping me make smoothies some mornings. My goals have been to expose her to different fruits and vegetables, let her have control about what she puts in her smoothies, and teach her some self-help skills. Typically, I just put out a bunch of ingredients and she puts them together how she pleases. She loves being able to say that she made it for the family. I always include some greens but today we were all out and I happened to catch this adorable moment on video!
This is an example of why positive associations are so crucial! She would've never wanted to eat the greens plain, but loves to put it in the smoothie and watch it blend in with the berries. This is a method I use to teach her to turn things she might not like into something she will by blending flavors.
My daughter will only eat one or two slices of a raw apple but will eagerly scarf down an entire apple when it's steamed. Steaming the apple requires minimal effort and makes it soft and a little more sweet. These are the simple steps I take:
1. Core and slice - don't worry about he peels, they come off easily once it's steamed.
2. Place the slices in a steamer basket and put the basket in a saucepan with a few inches of water (don't let the water touch the apples).
3. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Let it boil until the apples are tender and can be pierced easily with a fork (about 5 minutes). You can very gradually keep them in for less time to get your child used to a harder texture and work up to raw apples.
4. Let it cool and peel the skin if desired. I encouraged my daughter to peel the skin herself to give her some extra exposure with it and because it's an awesome fine motor task! Eventually I will encourage her to try some bites with the skin on.
With the exception of the one slice she reluctantly gave up to her baby brother (another bonus - good for babies!) she devoured an entire apple in a couple minutes and asked for more!
I wanted to switch gears for a post and talk about another common mealtime challenge - the pokey eater. Do mealtimes seem to go on forever in your home, your child continuing to pick at their meal for a long time after everyone else is finished? I wanted to share a simple strategy to help with the pokey eater - the visual timer! A visual timer is great even for very young children because they are able to see how much time is left. It serves as a prompt to remind your child to keep taking bites and makes it that you don't have to be the one constantly providing verbal reminders. Here's what one looks like (this one is called the Time Timer and is sold on Amazon):
There are also apps for smartphones that do a good job. Here is an example of free iOS app called "Countdown" that I use in my home. It allows you to choose a custom photo to use and the color of the timer changes to red as time runs out. My daughter loves to be surprised with a new photo each time.
It's simple, but it's effective!