The first solid food we ever fed Willow was an avocado. I mashed a nice ripe and soft, really a beautiful avocado. We opened our new baby bowls and spoons. We put her in the high chair for the first time. iPhone was ready to record every moment. I was really hyping this up to be a momentous memory in our lives. Because food, it’s what makes us who we are in many ways. What we put into our bodies shapes us both mentally and physically. I was d$%& motivated to get this parenting move right from the start. So, why not start with an amazing superfood like avocado? Little did I know that it really would be a momentous memory in our lives, because the moment we put a little smidgen of avocado in her mouth Willow barfed EVERYWHERE.
One might assume, “Oh, it was her first time. Lots of babies puke the first time they eat solid food”. But no, Willow would not touch avocados. For many months actually (oh, I tried and I tried and I tri—ed). Really, the only thing I could get her to swallow was some homemade, unsweetened applesauce. Things got off to a rough start and I was really starting to feel defeated. I was beginning to think that it was impossible to teach a child healthy eating habits.
So, you may have noticed, from a handful of previous blog posts, that I enjoy the art of eating and cooking good food. But my care for food goes further than just that. I’m extremely interested in where my food comes from, how it is grown and how animals are treated. I care about putting whole foods that you’d find at a farmer’s market into my body. So when it comes to feeding my daughter, these things become twice as important as they were before I had to only think about feeding myself. Teaching Willow how to eat well from a young age is an incredible gift that may lead her to living a long and healthy life. I want to give her that gift.
Flash forward to the present. Willow is 2+ years old now and last night for dinner we ate a tomato and ricotta pasta, a large kale salad with a lemon, tahini dressing and goat cheese, and soft boiled eggs. She is not a picky eater. She loves a variety of bold flavors and textures. But she was on her way to being one.
I’m going to come right out and say that I do not believe that kids are just inherently picky or not picky eaters. Sure, a genetic disposition towards certain foods is a possibility. But I think we train children how to eat. I mean, think about all the crazy things kids in non americanized cultures eat. Like crazy spicy, hot food. And weird animal parts. And seaweed. Children don’t come out of the womb only wanting buttered noodles and goldfish. We teach them that.
**(Ok, an disclaimer is needed. Please, just hear me out. This is not meant to shame anyone. This right here is not parent bashing. I want to provide empowerment for parents who desire to teach their children to be adventurous eaters. For people who find this very thing to be a high priority in their parenting method. If you feed your children buttered noodles, I don’t care. This is not to convince you that you should not do that. This post is to help parents who don’t want to just feed their children buttered noodles. People who are pulling their hair out of their head because their children won’t eat vegetables. If that’s not your thing, then there’s no reason to read on.)
So, I’ve taken a little time to think about what it is we do that encourages adventurous eating habits in Willow. I am not an expert. I don’t have a degree in anything related to this. But I’ve worked with children for a while, and these things seems to make a difference. So, I made a little list. Right now, I just want to list them. Keep following along, and I will break down these elements into more detail (my oh my, is this turning into a 10-step, self help book? Gods I hope not (did you pick up on that GoT pun -eh?)). Ahem.
1. Never Give Up: Willow has never liked carrots. I still give them to her regularly.
2. Be an Adventurous Eater: if you are not an adventurous eater, don’t expect your children to be as well.
3. Feed your children the same things you eat and eat them together.
4. Ban Snack Foods: don’t ban snacks, but get rid of all the processed food that is commonly thought of as food for children. That even goes for cereal.
5. Eat Whole Foods: I’m thinking bananas, broccoli, eggs, nuts, etc. Eat food that is not or has been minimally processed (i.e. plain greek yogurt).
6. No Sugar: We don’t let Willow eat sweets or things containing sugar. Every once in a while we will let her have a special treat, but that is usually naturally sweetened with dates, maple syrup or honey (and that goes for us adults too). But she would much rather just have an orange.
7. Listen to Your Child Listen to Their Body: If they are full, don’t make them eat more. If they’re still hungry, let them have more. Children learn what their body needs by listening to hunger signs.
8. Breastfeed: if a mother is able to breastfeed, you will teach your child about the different flavors of food through breastmilk (which changes in flavor based on what you eat). Breastmilk is awesome!
9. Cook with Your Kids: I let Willow stand next to me while I prep dinner. I show her the different foods I’m preparing and let her taste them. I even let her hold the end of the knife while I chop.
First of all, I may have intentionally only list 9 things so that this would not be a “10 step” list. But, it’s still kind of a boring, not very creative list. I wish I was cooler than that. Second of all, if your household does not eat in the ways mentioned above, then this can seem exhaustive, overwhelming even. Don’t worry. I’m going to break this down one step at a time, hopefully making this something more easy to take a bite into (that was a pun).
I care about this stuff you guys. And I just want to share what I’ve learned. I hope some of it can be of some help to those wanting to study up on the topic before jumping into the world of parenthood or for those parents who just want a change. I hope this doesn’t come off as too hippie-ish or inaccessable. I promise this stuff is really simple. But I don’t promise I won’t be a total nerd about it all. I’ll try not to have too much fun.
Until next time.