By Theresa Albert www.myfriendinfood.com
Creating an adventuresome eater is not all that different from creating kids who are curious learners, readers, skiers, skaters…parents need to point out the right direction and then wait to see where each child’s aptitude lay. It’s never too early to start but it can be too early to push!
To forge the way, you want to allow children up to age 2 or so to be tactile eaters. Enforcing a fork while a child is still at the squish and see can be counterproductive. Of course we want them to learn table manners (and stop making such a darned mess!) as soon as possible but to disallow the exploration of texture, smell and physics is limiting. Offer lots of choice so a child of this age can figure out that soup can be spooned or slurped but fingers are useless tools in this circumstance. It is the teeny, tiny failures that teach us.
By age three or four, kids can be expected to not only contribute to the process but learn how to share and serve. Delivering fully plated meals to each person at the table is convenient for mom but robs the child of some power of exploration. Better to set everything on the table on platters and allow the toddler to decide for his or herself how much of which dishes are appropriate. Allowing the child to serve the parents offers an extra layer of opportunity. They will revel in the turning of the tables, so to speak. Implementing this every night may not be possible but establishing one night of the week or a Sunday brunch kind of meal gives the child something to look forward to.
By age 4 or 5 you really want to make the most of the free labour within arm’s reach! It may appear to slow you down in the short run but having a comfortable kitchen kids will pay off sooner than you might think! Not only will they explore the tastes and textures of whatever you are making, but you are also ensuring that more nutrients are consumed without a fuss. Find a plastic lettuce knife at the grocery store and set them up with their very own stool and cutting board. This knife will not only cut lettuce, but avocado, eggs, cheese, bread-why, that’s a whole sandwich right there!
The key to all of these techniques is inclusion rather than engaging in a power struggle. The end result is a 6 or 10 year old who can make a snack like this healthy chocolate spread for themselves, which turns into a babysitter who gets hired to help out neighborhood kids to repeat the cycle. Creating a curiosity and providing an environment for it to flourish is a key parenting skill and when that is applied to food, it is a life skill beyond compare.
About the Author:
Theresa Albert is a nutritionist and food communications consultant. Her Food Network show,Just One Bite! aired for 5 years on both Food Network and BBC Kids. She is currently a trusted on-camera correspondent for CTV Newschannel as well as CBC and regular health expert on the daily lifestyle show, Steven and Chris which airs internationally.
Named one of Canada’s Top 25 Tweeters by Today’s Parent Magazine and one of Savvymom.ca’s 35 Favorite Bloggers, she is called for comment from every major magazine, newspaper and television outlet in Canada. She has a weekly column in the Metro Newspaper and regularly writes features for Today’s Parent, Canadian Family Magazine and blogs at Huffington Post.