Is your kid a picky eater? Try a cooking class!

Do you know what one of the first books I received as a child was? A cookbook. My grandmothers loved to cook. My fondest memories of my childhood were of both my grandmothers in the kitchen cooking. Two of my most cherished childhood books that I’ve kept all these years for my own children are those cookbooks and now I’m constantly updating a cookbook of my own of all the family recipes I want my kids to have handy that have been so important for our family.

My mother cooked a great deal and we had what I’d call family meals more times than not. My family is likely a lot like yours – we’re on the go a great deal. But, over the past few years, as my girls have become older and well past their toddler, picky eater phases, we’ve worked hard to change that. I love to cook and do believe in the value of the family meal. Even if the meals are simple, there is a lot to be said for everyone sitting around the table together and having the kids help in the kitchen.

What happens in your family? Are your kids stuck in the picky eater phase or becoming more flexible with time? Are you always on the go or finding time to sit around the table together?

You are not alone if you find you are always on the go with kids who don’t seem to adventurous with food. One of the biggest complaints I hear from parents is “I just can’t get them to eat anything new” – and these are kids in middle school and high school! I have a few theories on why this may be:

1. We live in a hurried society where many families don’t have the time to provide more than simple meals that often repeat. Many families opt for prepared or semi-prepared foods or even fast foods because they are always jetting off from activity to activity. They have a very grab and go mentality for meals so kids are not too often exposed to variety.

2. Kids have very simple tastes when young and it can be all to easy to fall into a pattern of least resistance and continue to offer the same meals for fear of conflict or our kids going on a food strike! Children’s menus often go up to age 12 and always have the same few foods: hot dogs, hamburgers or cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, pasta, PB&J, pizza, chicken nuggets…you get the idea!

3. Parents perceive kids to be more picky then they are so don’t offer foods kids may very well like. Children are often more willing to try foods then parents realize but it has to be on the child’s terms. Food struggles never create the desired results.

4. If a child rejects a food at one age, many parents will cross it off the list and not try again when the child is a bit older. Like our tastes in food, children’s tastes do evolve over time.

5. Most families hardly ever sit at the dinner table any more so children don’t have role models to see what a real meal is like and learn to model their eating habits after their siblings, relatives and parents. This is how we all learned to eat – we ate the family meal. But, the family meal has to be a meal a child will eat. If you cook a fancy stew or a leg of lamb, don’t expect a willing participant from your 4 year old!

The good news is that over time most kids do become more flexible. Peer pressure and maturity do eventually prevail and even the most picky of eaters start to expand their palates into new directions. I’m always amazed what foods my kids come home eating after they’ve both been off with friends for an extended period of time!

The best way to get children to overcome picky eating and to learn to be healthy eaters, though, is to get the family back into the kitchen.This has worked well for me and I notice the more I get my girls involved in any part of the meal preparation process, the more inclined they are to try something new.

Food and cooking experts like Rachel Ray agree. Ray discussed this recently on Well in the NYT. The entire interview is worth reading but this quote jumped out:

“There are all sorts of ways to build healthy relationships with your children and food. You have to become more kid-like yourself. Think about what excites the child. It’s your challenge and your job to make food cool, fun and an adventure for them.”

That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? Our kids have to do their job in trying new foods and having variety but we have to do our job in making food fun in a way they can relate to. Hurried pace of society aside, it may very well be we are thinking too “grown up” for our kids palates’ to relate to.

Rachel suggests cooking classes for kids and I think this is a fantastic idea! Kids love to be empowered to create and be independent. And, they love to understand the world around them. What better way to involve them in their own health then to teach them about the food they are putting into their bodies and enlist their help with the family meals.Plus, someday they will be on their own and have to cook for themselves. There’s no time like the present to teach them that very, very important life skill.

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