Building Your Child’s Love for Food and Cooking

 

Feeding kids — this is a hot topic, right? As parents, we all battle with picky eaters at some point, no matter the age or stage your child is in. As an Early Childhood Speech Therapist, I work on this issue not only with families I serve, but also my one and three-year-olds at home. They are in the midst of getting to know their food likes and dislikes.  Toddlers make it VERY clear what they will and won’t eat! How can we make a change? Exposure is key: preparing, cooking, plating. Get your kiddos involved in the process! Here’s how:
Grocery Shop Together. Shop colorful seasonal produce. Pick it up, let them examine it. Talk about the colors, shapes, and textures. How does it smell? Is it smooth or bumpy? We are incorporating the senses here. Do this with kids of all ages! You can certainly take along your 6 month old and guide him through the process as you select the new baby-approved produce you plan to start them on. 
 
Garden Together. Even better than going to buy produce! Herb plants such as basil, rosemary, thyme and mint are all easy to grow and delicious! You can even grow some nice veggies such as squash, green beans, and tomatoes. Get them involved in shopping for plants and the digging and potting. Allow beginning eaters to watch. Give them a shovel to play with. We have a nice little garden just out the door on our deck in these rail fitting planter boxes
that are easily found online or any home supply store. My toddlers and I go check it regularly; they love to water with their little buckets. 
 
Secret: Since veggies and fruits take time to grow, I place store bought produce on our plants that have not yet yielded. My toddlers have no clue and love to see what we have to cook!
 
Plan It Out. Don’t overwhelm yourself daily with planning a healthy dinner. Take some time each weekend to map out your weekly menu. You’ll know what to shop for and can plan less time-consuming dishes for busier nights. 
 
Get Those Kids Cooking. Think of them as little sous chefs. Give them a task with safety considerations in mind. Do this with any age! Try a Kid’s Kitchen Step Stool to get them in the action. Pull baby up in her highchair as you prep so she can observe. Give these little ones utensils and bowls to play with while you prep and cook. Let older toddlers and kids help by oiling and seasoning cut veggies and placing them on the baking tray. Let them stir together the sauces you’ve made with your freshly grown or store bought herbs. Have them smell the fresh ingredients as you add them in. Offer them a taste and ask what it needs. More salt? Garlic? One of our favorite simple “go-tos”is spaghetti sauce using fresh basil from our garden plus store bought ingredients. Easy and delicious!
Dinner Is Served!  Once finished, let them help with plating. Tell them how excited you are to try the dinner they made! Remember, even though they have helped, they might be reluctant to try new foods. Start them with small servings, working up as they progress. If they don’t buy in and try it, don’t get discouraged. Continue to include them in meal prep as much as possible.
 
Make Snack Time Fun Also! Snack time really can be the best time to get your child to warm up to new foods because you can make it playful! When cutting fruits and veggies such as apples, melons, and cucumbers, try using  fun shaped mini cookie cutters.
 
Kids tend to love dips. Try hummus with your veggies. My kids love hummus now because we planted pretzel stick “trees”in the “mud.”We also love to mash avocado with a little salt and garlic powder for a simple guacamole. With fruits you can offer a yogurt dip. I actually mix half plain yogurt and half vanilla to reduce sugar content. 
 
Remember, warming up to new foods takes time. Think about the first time you tried a new exotic dish. It can take several presentations before someone will try a new food. Keep trying and have fun!
 

For more information and ideas, follow a couple of my favorite feeding experts, Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP and Nimali Fernando MD, MPH.


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