When my kids were little, we did all sorts of sensory bins. We had one with a Halloween theme and another with a rainbow theme. I had read before that family style meals can encourage more adventurous eating from children. You put out pots of food right on the table. Everyone is allowed to pick what they want, while the food sits in front of you, tantalizing you, and you watch others eating. This did help us at specific times with our kids. But keeping up with this, doing it 5-6 times per day, as was typical advice, proved to be totally overwhelming for me. I kept it up until I had my third child. I remember making scrambled eggs in the morning, wearing a baby, to serve food to my children, which would likely be thrown away, and then I’d have to do all the dishes. I gave up, ok?
But I did not forgot the power of family style meals. When my children fell into a rut with their diet, where we needed them to try some new foods for their health, I had this idea of doing family meals again. Maybe I could offer a “feast” for them and do it routinely, with different themes, like the sensory bins.
I did this the other day and it was a huge success. First, I had the idea to print a list of all healthy things I can and am willing to make for them to check off what they like (with some blank spaces). I set this our at the table, too. My kids got the biggest kick out of ticking off what they liked. After, we hung it up. It is their communication to me about what they like. If I don’t know what to make, I can consult the checklist. They got the biggest kick, when done, of comparing their lists, seeing what the other liked that they did not.
I wanted them to eat more fiber. The first healthy feast’s theme was fiber. I put out things related to what I already know they like. My son drinks apple juice, so I put out apples. He likes peanuts, so I put out almonds. They like corn and salsa, so I put out corn salsa. I put out whole wheat bread to show they already eat high fiber foods. And if I could do it over again, I would make sure to put out one thing they were highly familiar with. I ended up getting out “actual” salsa, which my kids really like, and is made indeed of tomatoes, vegetables, etc.
As they tried each food, I read about them. I used the book as pictured, The 101 Healthiest Foods for Kids by Sally Kuzemchak. I like this book because it features each food on a 2-page visually pleasing spread. My kids have a similar book called The Visual Guide to the Elements that does the same thing with each element on the periodic table that they really like. So as they read each food, I read about it from the book as if I was the host on Price is Right describing how amazing each individual food was. Apples have fiber and help with gut health. Almonds are a SUPER nut. Corn is the real deal when it comes to fiber. (We DON’T have to be afraid of food or the dreaded CARRRRRRBBBBS anymore!) My daughter, already a pretty strong eater, took note of all these nutrition facts. As my son heard about how great almonds are, he told himself, “I HAVE to try almonds. They are healthy for you!”
When it was over, I found out that my daughter indeed will eat quite a few apple slices, and my son asked for almonds with breakfast every morning. Later that night we had a family “brain storming session.” This was for again the issue related to improving our diets. In our “brainstorming sessions,” we first generate a list of creative ideas to try out as solutions to a problem. Then we tick off which solutions each likes best. Then we come up with a formal plan with technical details. In this, we found out that my son wanted yet more almonds. My daughter wanted “JUICY” fruit. They wanted some other things, as well. I wrote this all done in our “Plan” and hung it on the wall. Now I happily offer them yet more healthy options at breakfast and have an idea for what they like and want for dinner.
My son was crazy excited for bread. My daughter for fruit. So, for the next one, I’m thinking some banana bread and yet more “JUICY” fruit. It’s just like the sensory bins. You can do however many you like, with any theme, whenever you like.
Amber is most known for her age-related child development research. Send your friends to www.theobservantmom.com.