Feeding our kids seems to be such a controversial topic lately. Diet fads and lifestyle choices seem to creep up even in our kids' cuisine. Parents get offended,if you share experience or give them advice. Moms are ashamed of what they pack in their kids' lunch boxes and mumble excuses , or  leave their kids' food education to someone else completely. But it doesn't have to be hard, and it doesn't have to turn you, and your kids, into kitchen enemies.
 My boy, who is now six years old, was a picky eater, and a slow eater, and refusing to eat at all. I've been through it all - cooking separate meals for him, and separating food, so it doesn't touch, begging and threatening. Nothing seemed to be working. But now, I look back, and I find that the little things we did , which didn't seem to be connected with dinner time, had greater impact. 
 I want to share my top 5 ways we turned our 6 year old into a "foodie", but before I do this I want to make something clear. Kids are different. They learn in different ways and they follow in different ways. Family dynamics are different and food culture and choices vary.

Here is what MY 6 year old thought ME:


Most of the time it's as simple as that. Kids go through phases and will focus on one food at a time or will, all of a sudden, hate something that was a favorite for months. This is all normal. Some kids do have food texture issues or allergies, but this goes beyond the everyday refusal of foods. Most of the time,growing toddlers and pre-schoolers, are trying to assert their independence and to show us that they can make their own choices. Keep offering healthy choices at home and be a little more relaxed outside the house. Do not get tricked into becoming a short-order cook. Even in his picky eating stage, Max could only choose from the food I had already prepared. For example, if I made a salad and stir fry for dinner, I would simply chop the same veggies for him (raw) and give him a few pieces of meat or plain rice. He wasn't big on sauces and spices and that was ok. And remember, not all of us like all foods ,even as adults. We have our favotites and our no-no list. It is the same for our kids. Offer, but do not force them to eat what you think is delicious.


 Max loves helping me in the kitchen and checking off the shopping list when we are in the store. Bring your kids with you and shop the outside parameter of the store. Show them the different fruits and veggies and let them pick something for dinner. Sometimes they will go by shape,color and size when choosing, and that is part of the fun. This is how we fell in love with romanesco, purple cabbage, fingerling potatoes, and heirloom tomatoes ( so many colors,so much fun). Always tell your children what they are eating. Hiding veggies is something I don't do. This creates the mindset that veggies are not delicious and have to be masked by other flavors.
A lot of moms tell me that they don't have the time to let their kids cook with them when they have just minutes to throw something together after work. I know it's hard. I also juggle a full time job with being a mom and a wife. But I always make time to have fun in the kitchen. Food culture is created at home. Comfort food is created at home. I still remember ,when I was little , back in Bulgaria,  we used to have scheduled  power blackouts and my dad will cut up a huge plate of apples, and tell us stories of his childhood in the candlelight, while we munched on the delicious fruit. So, apples are a comfort food. So is watermelon with feta ,and peppers, roasted on the fire. It's all about the memories you create in your kids. The comfort is in the nostalgia. So,even if you cook one meal with them a week - making pancakes on the weekend,  stirring muffins for a bake sale at school, sprinkling salt over the salad, peeling carrots for the soup - it will be the best teaching experience you can give your children.


This seems to be common sense to me. You can't have pizza and chocolate cake for dinner and expect your kids to love grass fed beef and quinoa salad. We don't separate food in our house,or designate it to adults and kids. Max tries everything we buy and then he has the choice to eat it or not. As I said before, don't expect your kids to like everything you like. Teach your kids about food,what goes into it and how you can make it healthier at home. You can make  pretty much everything you can buy in a jar. Dressings, hummus and various sauces are the things I make at home. I don't appreciate the added ingredients in most of those store bought products, so I prefer to spend my time and not my money on them. Children are much more fascinated by food and ingredients than we think. What is a chore to us ,to them is like a whole new world of discovery.


 Even though good food should be a reward on its own,kids can often see meal time as a chore,something that takes them away from the fun they were having a minute ago. This is still a struggle for us sometimes. "Just five more minutes" can turn into half an hour and the whole evening routine you've been working on so hard is gone out the window. We decided to establish the rule that eating only happens at the dining table. No couch snacking, no mommy running after a toddler with a spoon, no snacking anytime of day or night. We have established a meal schedule, which does not consist of times, but routines. We try to always have dinner together, it is our family time. Breakfast and lunch are more flexible, since one of us , the adults, is at work during the week.
          After we established a healthy eating routine and got Max more involved in the preparation of food it was time to figure out how to reward good behavior. Kids thrive on motivation. Little things can be a big motivation for a six year old, just don't make promises you can't keep. Max gets to choose his rewards for making good food and behavior choices. He often chooses activities like technology time, or board games, verses eating treats and unhealthy foods. But there are times that he sees a kid at school eating something we don't normally buy, and requests it as his treat. If it is an item that contains a lot of artificial colors and sweeteners, we discuss it before we buy and try to find a healthier version if we can. Our neighborhood store carries a brand called "Yummy Earth Organics" and they have a variety of items like lollipops,  gummy bears, and jelly beans, made with organic ingredients. It is not healthy foods but a great substitute for a treat. 


 This is the one thing that ties it all together. Talk to your children about food. Teach them to respect food and see it not only as calories and sustenance , but to cherish and appreciate it. Food is community. Food is culture. Food is health. Food is medicine. Food heals the body and the soul. It connects us to other living beings, It connects us to the planet and can take us places we can never go. Food is peace. Food is kindness. Food is fun. It is so basic and yet so much of what we are revolves around food. We are what we eat in a more literal way that we ever imagined.

Bon Appetite!