I’ve gotten a few questions now about how we approach food with the kids (you guys seem to be especially interested since I mentioned that they eat curry — so funny), so I thought I would write a post about my overall philosophy on food and how we are implementing those values with the kids. I am not an expert by any means, and this is just what works for our family.
When I was pregnant with Prim, one of the many topics KC and I discussed related to parenting was about food. I grew up in a big Italian family where everyone cooked and pickiness was not tolerated. I want our children to be good and adventurous eaters, so my goal from day one was to do everything in my power to expose them to a variety of foods and flavors to help foster an openness to different kinds of tastes, textures and cuisines.
I started both Prim and Lark on solids at 6 months. To date, neither has ever had any pre-made baby food (no jars or pouches or anything). This is certainly not necessary, but I didn’t think it was a big deal to make their food and I wanted to know exactly what was going in their bodies, so I opted to make their meals myself right from the start. Early on, I would often spend part of a Sunday making 3-4 purees or soft finger foods and freezing them in small portions to be defrosted throughout the week. Both Lark and Prim started with pureed food, but I introduced finger foods very early on (within the first month of starting solids) as well so that they could practice their dexterity. As soon as I could move the kids off purees (meaning that they could feed themselves relatively well on their own and could eat what KC and I were having for dinner), I did. I haven’t read Baby Led Weaning, but understand the basic principles, so I follow a sort of modified version of that.
- More often than not, the kids eat what we eat for dinner and there are no alternatives. They often have more options than we do (KC and I will have just curry and rice for dinner while the kids will have curry with rice, fruit, and half of a homemade muffin or something). I am not a short-order cook and I certainly do not want to make two or more dinners every night, so there is no “mac and cheese” for the kid who doesn’t want to eat what I’ve cooked.
- I make sure to serve at least one thing that I know the kids like if I am introducing a new dish. (i.e.: fruit, plain yogurt, etc.)
- I do not dumb-down food for the kids, but will make spicy food a little milder for them. The curry and chili I make are SPICY, so I will add plain Greek yogurt, rice, avocado, etc. until I feel that the spice is at an ok level for them. I do not make the food non-spicy, just less spicy.
When Prim was really little, I made this soup, intending for it to serve as dinner for all three of us at the time. When it was done cooking, I realized that the brand-new cayenne pepper I had purchased was really spicy. I had this idea that kids hate spicy food and so considered feeding Prim something else, but I had just spent all this time making the soup for dinner and didn’t really have a good alternative for her. I opted to cut the soup with some Greek yogurt and goat cheese, but realized that even after adding those it still had a good kick. I decided to feed it to her, assuming that she would hate it, and lo and behold — she LOVED it. She could not get enough of the soup. I was totally floored, but realized that it actually made a lot of sense. Spicy food is delicious (in my opinion), but I think many parents don’t introduce spicy foods to their kids simply because they assume that kids don’t like or can’t handle spice. In other countries this is totally not the case (India, for example), and children in those countries grow up tolerating heat and loving spicy foods. Since then, both my kids have been exposed to spicy foods and tolerate it quite well for their respective ages. As I mentioned yesterday, if Prim asks to try something spicy, we tell her it’s spicy but still allow her to try it if she wants to.
- They don’t have to finish anything, but they do need to try everything.
I should also note that one of the kids “not liking” something does not mean that I will never serve it again. I assume that if they don’t like something at this age it’s most likely because they are either unfamiliar with it or just having a picky day. I believe that you have to try something many times to form a solid opinion about it, so I will just continue to introduce the food next time I feel like cooking whatever it is. I also believe in introducing foods in different ways (for example, broccoli: it’s good roasted with garlic, steamed with lemon, and even mashed with potato).
- I will usually serve their dinner in courses, beginning with the vegetable, then main dish, followed by fruit/other side (applesauce, yogurt), then dessert if we’re having it (which we usually don’t).
- We don’t tolerate negative words about the food like, “Ew, gross, disgusting” etc. Right now if Prim doesn’t want to eat something, we either ignore it, or if we have to address it, say, “You’ll like this when you’re older.”
- We don’t pester the kids about eating or their food. We serve them the food, sit down to eat as a family, and let them eat. We try not to intervene at all while they are eating so they can try things in their own time.
Have you ever noticed how much people like to bug kids while they eat? “Eat more! Take a bite! Try it! Isn’t it good?” It makes me a little crazy.
- Dessert is not a nightly thing and it is not contingent upon whether you finished your plate at dinner.
Dessert is a rarity around here, to be honest, and if we do have something special after dinner, it’s usually a homemade sugar-free muffin. My kids are little, so I really try to limit their intake of added sugar. Often if we have real treats, it will be when we’re traveling or on a random trip to the ice cream shop on the weekend.
- The kids eat on a schedule. Breakfast at 8am, Lunch at 11am, snack after naptime, Dinner at 5:30pm.
Having a schedule helps eliminate the all-day snackfest that tends to ruin mealtimes. Having consistency with the schedule also helps the kids understand that we will eat at specific times, making their day more predictable overall. That said, we obviously leave room for deviation sometimes on the weekends and when we travel.
Following the above does not mean that my kids are perfect eaters by any means. Prim is in the process of asserting her independence with us, which extends to meal times as well. This approach is helpful in that it doesn’t assume that picky phases won’t occur, but provides an approach that can remain consistent throughout those phases. If you’re looking for a good kid-food book, I read and really liked French Kids Eat Everything.