Why I Let Them Play With Their Food

Kids Eat Right Month: Ailish & Julia chopping up cucumbers for a refreshing cucumber-watermelon salad

SouthPasadenan.com | Ailish and Julia chopping up cucumbers for a refreshing cucumber-watermelon salad

It’s Kids Eat Right month and as a registered dietitian and mommy of grade-schoolers, I’m delighted to share my tips for raising healthy eaters.

I can’t believe how much my girls have grown. From helpless, little babies, they’ve become creative, inquisitive and somewhat responsible young girls. They even know how to properly cut with a sharp knife. I taught them knife safety skills early on. I say somewhat because at 9 years they still need quite a bit of my motherly guidance. The fact that they are cleaning up after themselves and do age-appropriate chores is such a relief and joy. (Don’t get me wrong, they sometimes are “too busy” to clean when I ask, but for the most part, I’d say I’m in a pretty good place as a parent). And I’m not ashamed say, “I let them play with their food.”

When I say “play with food,” I mean precisely that – mashing, mixing, smushing, slicing, dicing, combining (some of the same things they do with play-dough or “Slime”). This is what kids do naturally in play; and utilizing this form of play in the kitchen has many benefits, including building a basis for healthy eating. Additionally it can build their math & reading skills, understanding of chemistry and even geography (helping prepare a variety cuisines from around the world). To learn more about the many skills your kids can build, visit kidscookingactivities.com

So without further ado, here are my top three tips for raising healthy eaters:

  1. Let them Play with their Food!

This is my #1 rule. Why? Because it gets them in the kitchen and it keeps them interested. If it’s a project they are participating in, they definitely want to enjoy the result. That includes tasting the finished dish we’ve prepared.

I may start with a veggie that they like or even something unfamiliar and I let them discover what’s interesting about it. They get to handle it, smell, chop or dice, and taste when appropriate. If it’s a mango, they can simply taste right after I’ve peeled, but for something like eggplant, I’d of course wait until it’s been cooked and cool enough.

Playing with foods isn’t limited to fruits and veggies. My girls help me prepare a variety of foods, from (low sugar) cookies and (high protein) brownies to guacamole which they’ve figured out on their own (lots of smashing, some lemon and a bit of salt to taste). And they’ve even come up with combos on their own. I let them enjoy treats in the house so long as we make them. (And of course, every now and then when daddy brings home a special treat from a local re-known bakery).

My girls’ latest obsession has been homemade popsicles. They been experimenting with new, fun combos based on juices and whatever we have on hand; including light canned peaches, frozen Wild blueberries, strawberries and raspberries Last week they made a “Chocolate Milk Popsicle” with unsweetened cocoa, soymilk and honey blended in the Vitamix).

They build their own parfaits, mix up their own breakfast cereal combinations and often ask me to let them help me prepare some dishes.

  1. Enjoy Good Food, They Will Too (eventually)

In other words, lead by example. I rarely asked my kids to take at least 3 bites of salad (nor do I bribe them with dessert). But they see me daily enjoying my veggies (often a mixed greens salad, but I do enjoy a variety of veggies, leafy greens or not). They always have the opportunity to pick from my plate (so they can taste) and there’s always plenty of what I’m eating available. If they don’t eat it (or leave some leftover), it becomes my lunch the next day.

Let them Eat Cake (say what?!)

Now stay with me. This isn’t completely off base. Restricting foods can actually lead to a poor relationship with food; and can backfire! This is a true story:

When we were in Junior High, my sister used to babysit a grade-schooler at our home after school. Her mom was a strict vegetarian and very obsessed with eating healthy. She’d never let her daughter even taste a cookie, enjoy a bite of cake or anything high in sugar. So what happened? This young girl raided our cabinets for DingDongs, Stella Dora cookies and everything she could find to satisfy her desire for sweets. Poor girl was so restricted, the denial made her want sweets all the more!

So don’t restrict, but don’t let their sweet tooths get out of control either. (You remember what happened in Willy Wonka!) Setting aside a once a week treat is a good rule of thumb. And honoring sweets on occasion won’t set them back so long as they maintain consistent healthy eating habits.

Funny thing is that my girls are NOT what I’d consider “sweet tooths”.  Once a week I take them for an ice cream treat at our favorite Ice cream shop Van Leeuwen’s on the way home from school. They will NOT even sample ice cream until they were completely finished with their homework. And sometimes they simply want me to some to take home and store in our freezer. Don’t get me wrong, they enjoy ice-cream and cake when they’re in the mood for it (say at a birthday party), but simply walking by a sweets shop, doesn’t tempt them in the least.

So that’s what I do. What are your strategies? Do your kids “play with their food”?

Leave comments below!  🙂


This article first appeared on NutriSavvy’sBlog and was adapted for this audience.

The materials and contents contained within this website are provided for general information purposes only. They are not intended to offer personal medical advice, diagnose health problems or serve as a sole source of treatment. Please consult your health care provider for any advice on medications. Although I am often compensated to review products and/or services, the opinions are solely my own. I aim to provide an objective approach. And will offer the benefits as well as it’s challenges (what’s missing, what can make it better) if I feel a product or service is lacking in any way. Nutritional science is ever-evolving and thus my professional opinions are subject to change. Thus I may return to prior articles for updates and it is my intention to keep you informed as I do so.

 

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Lauren O'Connor

Lauren O’Connor, MS, RDN, RYT is a Los Angeles based registered dietitian, yoga teacher and founder of Nutri Savvy Health. She authors her own blog, is a health writer, menu developer and nutritional consultant with articles and recipes in numerous publications including Food & Nutrition magazine, Shape, Redbook, Livestrong, AZCentral and DietsinReview.

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