I remember the day...it was seared in my memory; the smell, the taste, the texture and a strange feeling that things were not what they seemed. It wasn't fair...I was so young when I had my first experience with...THE CAROB BROWNIE!
Well, maybe it looked like a brownie, came out of a brownie pan and maybe had the slightest scent of a brownie, but this was NOT, and I repeat for emphasis "NOT" a brownie like I had been led to believe. This experience very nearly put me off carob for a long time to come and threatened to put a hefty dent in my outlook on health food.
To be clear and upfront, I am not a fan of "masking" food. Rather, I'm a fan of making food taste good and then being completely honest about what it is. But I will not lie and suggest to you that this has been easy. Nor will I conceal the fact that there have been, on several occasions, full fledged knock down, drag-out, "you're gonna eat this if you have to sit here all night" fights. Sprinkle in various other "Jerry Springer Show" worthy moments with my children and you get the picture.
We all have our days and let's be honest, parenting in general is one of the biggest fights of our lives, and the dinner table is often where the fight begins. Every family has their own unique battles. The key is to stay positive and be creative. Make time and space in your life for cooking and eating and most of all, be encouraged, the fight is worth it! Our family has been doing the "health food thing" for over twelve years now and with all of it's ups and downs, I've watched two very picky eaters slowly change into two amazing food connoisseur's. (Of course if you asked them today what their favorite food is, they'll still say MAC-N- CHEESE, but oh well, you do what you can!) With that in mind, here are a few things to help you on your way!
Don't forget, you're the parent!
If they want to eat and not starve to death, then they'll eat what you give them. Seriously though, be kind but firm and stick with it. Studies suggest that our taste buds adjust to repeatedly introduced foods. If the only new food your kid experiences comes from the school lunch room or the newest addition to the McDonald's menu, then don't be surprised when that's all they have a taste for. This will take your time, energy and a strong resolve, however...
I don't believe that the rise of obesity in America is due to fast food and school lunches, but to parents who are too tired and too busy to fight for healthy food habits in the home.
So if at first you don't succeed try, try again... and by all means, practice what you preach. After all,
YOU ARE THE PARENT!
Have a united front with your spouse
This may be the hardest rule to accomplish, but I believe that being on the same page with your spouse is imperative. You're not going to have much success long term, if one parent is off eating whatever they want while the other is trying to hold down the "health food fort". This will probably mean that some compromises may need to be worked out ahead of time before setting the food rules in the house. And understand that as your ideas on health food change (and they always do)...re-negotiate. Again, and again, and again. Do it as often as you need to and always back each other up!
Don't "Mask" it! Flaunt it!
As I said earlier, I am not a fan of masking food. If we start with hiding what's in our food, then we will never get our kids to start thinking of those foods in a positive way. It may be difficult at first, but if you make it taste good and present it well, most of the time they'll eat it (and if they don't, remember...YOU'RE THE PARENT). Brown rice waffles have been a staple in our house since my boys were toddlers. The batter most often contains a whole grated zucchini and some cinnamon. Guess what we call them? Zucchini waffles! To this day my boys love zucchini. And not just in waffles, but sliced, diced, and grilled.
Make food fun!
It may seem daunting if you think you have to make something special out of EVERY meal. You don't. But, when introducing a new food, do whatever you can to create a positive environment. One time, we decided to let our boys watch King Kong. But instead of it being just another movie night, we made it "jungle theme" night! And with it, we introduced "jungle food"(use your imagination). Moments like these encourage children to look at food in different ways and it helps them LEARN how to be open to new things. For the younger kids, it helps to make fun things out of their food, like funny faced pizzas (we made dinosaurs) or try making them a parfait and putting it in an ice cream glass with a cherry on top. Don't underestimate the power of presentation and environment!
Power to the children!
If you haven't noticed, kids LOVE power and mine always love it when I give them a little with our meal planning. A great way to do this is by investing in healthy cook books with great photography. Let your kids flip through the books and tag recipes they would like to try or maybe even cook with you. How about letting them search through your favorite food blog and pick from there? E-cook books are a great resource as well and they are easily accessible. I have a great one by "The Mommypotamus" with beautiful photos and awesome recipes that my kids love. (Be looking for my review on this e-book very soon..)
Most of all keep your "table" joyful and the rest will work itself out!