I think teaching our kids healthy habits and relationships with food is important and starts when they are very young. I get asked frequently how I get my kids to eat (both healthy and in general because sometimes dinnertime is a struggle, amIright?). I don't feel like I've completely cracked the code and the kids are always throwing me more taste bud curve balls but there a few things that have really worked for us as a family.
1. What you see is what you get. There are no options for meal time (dinner time specifically). This is what mama cooked so this is what we all get to eat tonight.
2. Phrasing. Our last pediatrician was fabulous and taught me how to phrase "trying" food as "practicing." Also, use "not used to it" instead of "don't like it." So, for example, you might say, "I know you aren't used to salad, but I want you to practice eating it a little bit."
3. Make it fun. Dinner time is not a punishment. Even if I know my kids aren't very hungry, they need to sit with us and talk. Being that they're only 3 and 5...this means a lot of jokes and being silly. No timeouts or spankings for not eating - dinner and food is not punishment. No need to give your kids a complex about food.
4. Portions. My mom taught me this one. If you give your kids only a little at a time (2 bites of chicken as opposed to 8), they won't look at the mound of food you just served and feel like they've already failed (which means they probably won't even try).
5. Make it familiar. Make sure there is at least one thing on the plate that is familiar and one thing that they like (our pediatrician taught me this one too). For me I always add fruit that they like. Bread used to be the answer for this until Maci recently informed me she doesn't like bread. (!?!?!) We're thinking of getting a DNA test. ;)
6. They don't have to love it. Do you like every type of vegetable, fruit, meat, or dish you've ever eaten? Probably not so don't expect them to love everything. Let them have an opinion about food but teach them to communicate it to you politely. And remind them to "practice" so one day they might like it. If it's something I know my kids don't love, they've "practiced" enough, then I let them know they don't have to finish it. Teaching your kids a clean plate is being "done" isn't good for portion control later on in life anyway.
7. Let them help. Obviously I do a lot of crock pot/meal planning so I don't always have a ton of cooking to do. I do let the kids help me chop vegetables for salads or fruit, butter bread, or pour milk. They also love to season things. When they get to help they see the work that goes into cooking and are pretty proud of what they created - which means they'll eat it.
These pictures are from the other day. The kids helped me chop the veggies for roasting, measure and dump the quinoa, and season the chicken.
This is what we had for dinner (on their plates everything was separated out though). They love quinoa, butternut squash, and chicken - the asparagus isn't their favorite and that's ok, they practiced.
Here's a picture of a typical dinner for us (salmon, rice, broccoli and strawberries). Isaiah ate everything. Maci practiced two bites of rice and asked for some ceasar salad I made for Darren and I. They don't love everything all the time but I find when I consistently use the tips listed above, more often than not dinner is easy.