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Shaping lifelong eating habits

The single most common food mistake I see parents make is not exposing kids, preschoolers especially, to a wide range of foods and flavors. Too often I see parents giving their kids the same old “kiddie food” repetoire without ever even offering something different, say, from the adult’s plate.

Last summer I was appalled during a family reunion when my three sisters in-law and I would gather to feed the eight children under 5 years old. My children feasted on leftover turkey enchiladas, sweet and sour meatballs, and broccoli slaw, while the others were only offered food such as sliced deli meats, bread, American cheese slices, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, and baby carrots. Most times the other children were not even invited to try the adult food; maybe they would have liked it? We’ll never know.

We do know, however, that it may take 11 or more exposures to a new flavor before it becomes familiar and acceptable. This is why it is so crucial to keep new foods in the rotation. Just because my 5-year old turned his nose up at my mild green chile posole when I originally made it 5 months ago, doesn’t mean that he won’t eat 2 bowls full when I pull it out of the freezer and serve it again.

In our house the rule is that you must eat 3 bites (and swallow them!) of each category on your plate. At that point, if you still don’t like anything that is served, I will prepare an alternative meal. I do realize that not everyone likes everything, and even kids are allowed to have likes and dislikes when it comes to food, but they have to at least try it. Taking at least one bite enters the flavor memory and makes it more likely to be acceptable the next time.

It’s so important to eat a wide range of foods and not get stuck eating the same things over and over. Each whole food offers different nutritional values, and only by getting a variety can we be sure we are providing our bodies with the elements needed for robust health.

Check out Feeding the Kids — a great guide for shaping lifelong healthy eating habits.

Posted in: Kids

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