When people say you never get two the same, I don’t think I appreciated how true this would be until after my son was born, similar babies, both easy and relaxed, Francesco cried more than Adelina, she just smiled at everyone in the world, as they grew, however, their wild and crazy differences became more and more obvious, particularly when it comes to food.
Feeding kids has to be near the top of the list for ‘most stressful part of being a parent”. It is high up there with the screaming at me and can be a weekly cause of increased gin consumption (big shout out to Carounn and Fever Tree for keeping mothers across the world sane). It’s a constant struggle to make sure they are getting enough food without forcing them to eat, worrying that could create issues of its own, vowing you will never make two separate meals then realise you just have to go with their flow and letting them eat Shreddies for breakfast, lunch and dinner if it means they eat that day.
Food is a BIG deal in our house, it’s an Italian thing, it’s important that several times a week we all eat together, we live in the kitchen, we have family and friends dropping in for food all the time, it’s social, it’s enjoyable, we talk and we laugh: it’s just what we do. I always remember my friends asking me what the hell was going on if they came to our house for food on the weekend, several courses, everyone is loud, you keep the same cutlery for all your courses and sometimes pasta was a side to meat, one friend in particular just couldn’t get her head around this but they loved it, and still do when the occasion arises.
However, despite the normality of eating a big variety of food in our house I have one who eats everything under the sun, she requests paella and calamari, she likes the continental meats and cheese, twists her spaghetti with her fork the right way and is a joy to feed.
Then there’s the other: he eats bread, chips, shreddies and more bread…he likes some fruit, will enjoy the odd raw carrot but has no table manners, I am trying, I promise and my days are spent lifting him off the table, that he has yet again climbed upon, bribing him to eat certain food and clearing up the sh*t he has thrown across the room.
I try to be cool about it, but every now and then I remember the science of food and that good nutrition is vital for brain development and to help prevent disease and I worry, but I have two healthy kids kicking around and after 4 years of feeding kids I have a few tricks up my sleeves. I am no expert, these don’t work EVERY time but often they do and if any of them help make your life easier, BRILLIANT.
So here are my top tips on how to encourage a little eating and what to avoid to keep the bad stuff away:
- So despite my son telling us he does NOT like pasta, he does love lasagna (go figure?) so now, on top of the carrot and celery that’s already in there, I chuck through a handful of frozen spinach, sometimes grate a courgette and I know he is getting a balanced meal with plenty of goodness in it. I also do the same when making meatballs (called ‘polpette’ in our house) and mix some spinach and whatever else is kicking about the fridge in and he devours them, with a side of waffles obviously.
- Funny shapes: So recently, I have time consumingly and painfully started cutting cucumber etc into funny shapes, they find it hysterical, can’t wait to see what shape we have today and wolf it down, can someone please invent a cucumber shape cutter already?
- When they are old enough, let them cook with you. Both of mine help me with meals, they mix the polpette with their hands and roll them into little balls, then dip the chicken into the flour and polenta for ‘chicken goujons’ and they help grate carrots and chop celery. My mum is particularly good at this but I swear she has imposter children when they do it because they don’t seem to create the same amount of mayhem in her house as they do mine (oh hi there, raw mince stuck to my cupboard door). When they have put so much into prep, they often cannot wait to taste it plus they just love getting involved and being part of it.
- Give them choices: so I often ask “ok for dinner tonight are we having Bolognese or are we having chicken?” or I will ask them what they want and we chat about it, we have a compromise if they both want different things.
- Watch Masterchef with them, yes, really. This is now my kids fave programme (sometimes) and every meal has become ‘Masterchef’ so I tell them what I’ve made for them, what is on their plate and they taste it all and give me a score. The best thing about it is, they often taste things that normally receive a flat out no and often find, oh I like that. Give it bash.
- Avoid crappy, sugary snacks as much as possible. Now, I am not anti treats, mine get their fair share but it’s rarely a replacement for a good choice, so we may have tuna sandwiches and fruit for lunch then, as a treat we can have some chocolate after that. If they are getting the treats so easily, they won’t even bother to try other stuff. I have seen it on weekends maybe my kids eaten more rubbish than usual and it feels like a chore getting back to normality.
- When you go out for food, avoid the kids menus as much as possible, firstly they are usually full of crap, processed chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, rarely does it hold any nutritional value. I mean it’s ok now and then, of course, who doesn’t love the drive through? We definitely have days where a happy meal is on the cards, the kids are delighted but if you are going to eat steak and veg in a restaurant, then why can’t they? Kids can share one portion and they are eating better quality food and more often than not they want to eat the same as mummy and daddy.
- A hearty breakfast is a good start to the day: sometimes my daughter is not mad on breakfast, I am the same so I can’t argue too much when I don’t sit down and eat it, but we all know it’s a great way to stabilise blood sugar during the day, so on those mornings, we make a smoothie, I chuck in some berries, maybe a banana, some oats and a bit of yogurt, she doesn’t feel like she is eating but I know she’s kicked off the day the right way. On the weekends, we all have a light breakfast then a nice brunch of eggs, salmon, avocado, toast, tomatoes, asparagus and everyone can help themselves. Both kids will find something they like and what’s more fun than runny yolk?
What are your tips for encouraging kids to eat? I am always looking for new ideas to encourage my kids to eat well.