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5 Ways to Change Your Child’s Palate Toward Real Food

on August 9 | in Real Food | by | with 16 Comments

[info_box]Today’s guest post come from the fabulous Katja Swift, who is filling in for me this week while I work on a super secret project. You may recognize her name as the genius behind the almond pancakes, but don’t think of her as the pancake lady because she is oh so much more! Katja is a clinical herbalist currently serving as the director of the Commonwealth School of Herbal Medicine. She has guest lectured at Dartmouth Medical School and the University of Vermont Medical School, but what REALLY impresses me about her is her work to pass anti-GMO legislation and her brilliant plan to save the whales.![/info_box]

What Is The #1 Most Important Key To Health?

Genetics? No, food! That’s my own professional opinion, of course! I have had clients walk in with cervical cancer, with auto-immune disease, with all manner of illness, and in some cases the *only* thing we changed was diet! Although many doctors and certainly mainstream culture will tell you that food doesn’t really have an impact on illness – recently I even saw an article in a popular health magazine, written by an MD, claiming that sugar has no effect on children! – in my experience, it is the single biggest factor in a client’s recovery.

But why wait till we’re adults? We can teach children about good food choices – and believe it or not, they will listen! Begin now to teach your children to avoid sugar and to abhor processed foods. How? Knowledge! Knowledge is power, even when you’re five.

This is not my leg!

In my family, we tend towards varicose veins. But varicosities are not necessary just because my mother has them! I’m only 37, but my legs are veiny enough that even my daughter, when she was five, could see that it wasn’t healthy. (I have since had a lot of luck in resolving my varicosities – you can read about it here).

Since varicose veins go along with “thick blood” – which is nothing more than saying a person eats too many sweets and carbohydrates – they become a very visible lesson for my daughter. I can explain to her directly that her food choices will impact whether or not her legs look like mine. Hereditary illnesses don’t *have* to be hereditary – so explain to your children that they can avoid the illnesses specific to your family by choosing to skip the corn dogs.

What are good food choices? Well, to put it very simply, good quality meat, vegetables, and fruit. Make sure to get good fats – olives, avocados, high quality animal fats, and coconut are some good choices. Avoid processed, packaged food, sugar, anything made with flour, and “fake” fats such as corn oil or soybean oil. (What do I mean by “fake”? Well, if I give you an ear of corn, you can’t give me corn oil – they need solvents and factories to get that oil out. But if I give you an olive, no problem. Stick to fats that don’t require technology.)

So now you have the Why and the What – here’s the How:

To nurture your child’s inner foodie, start at the beginning: head to your local grocery store or farmer’s market – together. Make thoughtful food choices together. Talk about what would be healthy. Plan a meal. Even if your family has previously been a take-out family, you can still do this!

Start on a day without other commitments: a Saturday or a Sunday may work best. Buy foods together, and agree ahead of time that you won’t buy anything in a package. You can find a recipe before you go or just be inspired while you shop – whatever you’re more comfortable with. Make sure to get plenty of vegetables, some good quality meat, and fruit for desert. It’s ok if this shopping trip takes a long time: the journey is the destination!

Once you get home, cook your food together! It doesn’t have to come out perfectly – it’s a good thing for children to see adults make mistakes and learn from them. If it doesn’t come out well, make some notes about what you would do differently next time. Make sure to spend plenty of time talking about your commitment to eating healthy, whole foods – even if this is a new commitment for you! Not only will your children benefit from watching you grow and change, but they’ll help keep you honest too.

But what if your child is a picky eater? Well, to great extent, allowing your child to help pick out the foods will help. After that, here are some more suggestions:

  • Play flavor games – Teach your kids that flavors are not “good” or “bad” (or “yucky”!) – give them other words such as “strong” or “pungent” or “intense”. Pick one night a week for the whole family to experience a new flavor – just as an appetizer before the meal. Maybe you’ll try fresh sage leaves, or a bit of horseradish, or an exotic fruit. Make sure to include a full range of flavors in your flavor exploration, so that your children don’t always expect flavors that don’t appeal to them. Share your experiences together as a family – what did everyone think of the flavor? Where do you feel it on your tongue? Does it taste like anything familiar? There are lots of things you can say without saying “I like/hate this”.
  • Don’t provide alternatives – Instead of making a separate “kid friendly” meal, let your child eat what you are eating (although if it is quite spicy-hot, you might want to give them a milder version before you add all the spices). Make sure to plan some elements of the meal that will also appeal directly to them, so that everyone at the table has something to enjoy.
  • Plan meals together – Perhaps each member of the family chooses a dish for the meal. Take turns for who will chose the entree and who will choose sides. Sure, you’ll end up with some very eclectic dinners, but you’ll be giving everyone at the table a chance to share something that they like. If your children are older, they can even be responsible for preparing their dish!
  • Run out of foods you want to avoid – Your children have certainly already had the experience of “oops – we ran out of X”. And they also have certainly seen you forget something that should have been on the grocery list. Use that to your advantage now! It’s ok if they’re disappointed, and you can even apologize – while you’re offering them a healthier option! After a while, they’ll either figure it out, or they’ll forget. Either way, it will give you a breather in the moment when they’re asking for their Crunchy Cocoa Corns.
  • Get Creative! – Is your son a fan of dinosaurs? Then serve brontosaurous burgers for dinner! Save bones from chicken legs, and the next night, mold ground beef around them to that their “hamburgers” have a bone sticking out! Let them smear it all over with ketchup. In fact, if you have the time, go ahead a make a caveman costume he can wear to dinner. Is your daughter into princesses? Give her a fancy plate with the foods you want her to eat arranged in a fancy way, and let her wear a fancy dress and tiara to the table. Let her drink from a fancy teacup or a wine glass. Or tell them they have to eat the meal, but they have the choice: eat with fingers, or toes? (They’ll only choose toes once – it’s really too much trouble!)

Any of these ideas will absolutely be more work than what is required to serve chicken nuggets (even the organic kind). And on top of work, and the laundry, and soccer practice, and guitar lessons, it might feel like Just Too Much™. But it’s a short term investment for a very large long term payoff. Take a month, plan ahead just a bit, put off some projects, and remind yourself that you’re asking for some pretty big changes from your kids, it’s ok for you to give them a little something silly in return. And if that’s not feasible, then make changes one at a time! Or pick one night a week to be “Healthy Food Night”… Anything you can do to get the ball rolling will make a difference!

How do you encourage healthy eating in your home???

Photo Credits: Melinda Shelton

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16 Responses to 5 Ways to Change Your Child’s Palate Toward Real Food

  1. Alexis D says:

    If my daughter (almost 2 1/2 yrs old) sees me eating the food, she is more likely to try it herself. And if she doesnt like it then I dont make a big deal out of it and try it again on another day. I am glad that she is willing to try different foods though!

    • Heather says:

      Good point, Alexis! I’ve noticed that Katie has realized I will eat ANYTHING so she keenly watches what her daddy eats to determine what’s worthy of experimentation. So glad he’s expanding his palate, too!

  2. Heather says:

    Katja – I’ve just gotta say that I am now hoping one of my kids will develop a fascination with dinosaurs. Can’t wait to serve brontosaurus burgers while dressed up like the Flinstones. Woohoo!

    • ha! and don’t forget the little up-standing ponytail the little flintstone girl has (what was her name?)
      cause, that’s key!

      in our house we talk about “caveman” all the time – it’s shorthand for “all the things people ate before we started farming grains”. so now if we’re shopping, she’ll say “i’d really like this chocolate, but it’s not caveman, so i won’t ask for it”. hee!

  3. Megan says:

    Great post with great ideas. I have a little one who is actually quite interested in helping me make many things (lots of messes!) but isn’t always interested in the end product. She’s only 27 months though, so, in due time!

  4. Lauren says:

    I am only 23, but I this inspired me to be like this when I am a mom one day. I am so passionate about clean eating and leading a healthy lifestyle. Absolutely love this post!!!

    • Heather says:

      Yay, Lauren! Becoming mom is what inspires a lot of women to get healthy, but it’s *****sooooo***** much easier to do beforehand!!! Did your parents model healthy choices for you or did you make the transition when you got out on your own?

      • Lauren says:

        Yes, they are both extremely healthy and lead very active lifestyles! I used to joke that my mom was going to turn into a plant because of how clean she ate, but now I am so appreciative and thankful for her guidance. She and my dad have made me very passionate about it by example :)

  5. Kelly says:

    LOVE these ideas! I am definitely going to be using all of them – changing my own palate towards real food has been something of a bumpy road but I’m finally getting there. My daughter is young enough that I’m hoping hers will always be that way, but you never know what could happen… :)

  6. [...] yesterday’s post on cultivating your child’s inner foodie I forgot to mention one of the BEST ways to get them [...]

  7. Tiffany says:

    Thank you SO much for this post. I’m pregnant and one of the things that is SO important to me is to not have a child who turns up their nose at everything that is not over processed “chicken” nuggets or mac and “cheese” – I grew up in a family where we ate what was on our plate – and really, there is only one or two foods I can say I truly do not like.
    I am printing out this post and saving it so that in a couple years I can use it.
    Thank you again!

  8. [...] Swift tells us, via Mommypotamus, 5 ways to change your child’s palate toward real food. I am not sure I would go for the chicken-bone dinosaur leg idea, but this is a nice variation on [...]

  9. Amanda says:

    I saw that vein remedy as well…did it really work for you??

    I don’t want to waste the money if it won’t. I have had 4 sclerotherapy sessions and for some reason, nothing looks better. I’m only 25 and just desperate for a cure.

  10. [...] 5 Ways to Change Your Childs Palate Towards Real Food [...]

  11. Julianna says:

    Heather,
    I am absolutely in love with your page. I love everything you write about. Since found your page I have been trying to avoid grain and gluten for around 4 months now. I see a big improvement on my face, who knew avoiding them would make my face acne free.

    However, I have a big problem with my 4 year old. Since he was 18 months he kind of stopped eating most of the food. I have tried everything and I just don’t know what to do anymore? Any suggestions?

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