Making changes to your habits around food is difficult even when you are only concerned about your own health and wellness. When you are also worried about the nutritional needs of your children (and trying to sell them on why they will not be consuming their favorite snacks nearly as often), it can feel impossible. Kids need autonomy and choice, just like any other human being, but as you try to meet your own need of caring for them and their growing bodies-it can seem like mealtime is a constant conflict. Not exactly the best environment for trying to digest food.
Many people ask us how we choose to approach quality nutrition with a family of six. With four kiddos, it doesn’t always go as smoothly as I would like. Each stage comes with its own growing pains (for all of us), but a few tools and mindset shifts have really helped us to have relative success with getting our kids to nourish their own growth and development.
Consider trying the following tips:
Include them in the kitchen.
Start small, make tasks age appropriate, and consider your own needs. Being realistic with your expectations, how much patience you have, and how often you do this gives the best chance for a good experience. Ultimately we want everybody to cherish this time. It’s going to be messier than you would like—expect that going in.
Talk about the why behind the quality nutrition.
I appeal to the child on this one. My oldest is more likely to go with something if he knows the details. “Greens help your body process and absorb all the other stuff you eat. If you don’t eat those, you won’t get as much out of the meat you just ate.” My youngest, however, just wants to know what will make him bigger, faster so he can do all the things his big brother does.
Let them make choices.
Let them pick the meals as frequently as possible, as long as it meets your needs. For instance, in our family we do a veggie, a meat, and a quality carb at dinnertime. The kids get to pick what those are occasionally. They may pick rice noodles, lots of ground beef in the sauce, and snap peas on the side, but when they get to choose they are more likely to eat what's on the plate, and last time, they actually did most of the cooking themselves, because they were so excited. #momwin!
Set boundaries on snacks and second helpings.
Predetermine snack options. Our kids can eat snacks whenever they are hungry between meals, but they only have a few options. Carrots, almonds, cashews, and sometimes another veggie. Nothing too sweet or salty. Snack time ends an hour before dinner. That way, they get one huge meal before bedtime and that helps them sleep better
Decide on a “substitute” meal.
Especially if you are just starting out, this is a great option. Choose a meal that isn’t so appealing (I’ve heard of cottage cheese being used) that your kiddos want to eat it every night, but one that is also quick and easy for you. If they don’t like dinner and want to eat something else, they can have that meal as their only alternate option.
Try out some of these options with your own kids over the next month, and let me know what works for you! The hardest part for me is I have to follow my own rules and leading by example.