Confession time: Up until the age of two, I solely subsisted on hot dogs. Seriously. I wouldn’t really eat anything else and since I have a stubborn Irish streak in me, my parents’ exhausted hands were tied. Now that I’m older and wiser—with a much more adventurous palette—I can see that my parents gave in to me because I was always on the petite side and they were terrified that I was going to fall off the growth scale. And the thing is, my food story is common. There are so many picky eaters out there and their stressed out parents simply don’t know what to do. Well, now that I have learned to love foods such as escargot, sauerkraut, and couscous—and am bringing up kids who like these foods, too—I’m happy to share with you my tips for raising itty bitty foodies.
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First off, a disclaimer. I am not a dietician or chef. I’m just a mom who wants her kids to be more adventurous eaters. Yes, I use Pinterest boards like this to give me some cooking inspiration, but let’s get real. The easier dinner prep—and clean up– is, the happier I am. Because I am a working mom and I am TIRED.
Ok, so what has worked for my family?
FAMILY MEAL PREP
Sometimes I totally fail at this, but my goal for every Sunday morning while enjoying a GIANT vat of coffee is to talk with my boys about what meals we should have for the week. I write it out on a piece of paper divided into three columns for breakfast/lunch/dinner and seven rows for each day of the week. Our main focus for meal prep is dinners since sometimes my boys eat lunch at school and my husband, who is in charge of breakfast, isn’t particularly good at sticking to the breakfast meal prep plan (Hi, honey! Love you!).
Giving my boys a voice in what we eat together definitely gets them more interested in eating, and it also helps to engage them when we go to the grocery store to stock up for the week. For example, my oldest LOVES couscous, so he likes to check out all of the different flavors of couscous on the grocery shelf and makes the final decision on what version to eat that week. My youngest is a cheese fiend, so we let him take the lead in the cheese section when shopping. Yes, he typically picks up the cheese that has the Avengers advertisement on it, but you know what? It gets him excited about eating and I put unique fruits and veggies on our family cheese platter so he is more apt to try new things and grow as an itty bitty foodie.
We have a small kitchen and it can get pretty chaotic when we are all trying to cook together. But, I must admit that it is the absolute BEST way to get my kids excited about eating and trying new foods. Whether we are making a sweet or savory dish, they are excited to help with chopping, stirring, and taste testing while we cook.
Need some help getting your kids to help with cooking? Then check out all of the unique cooking kits that are out on the market. We really enjoy the deluxe cooking kit from a local Chicago kids’ cooking school, the Kids’ Table. There were so many great kitchen tools perfectly made for tiny hands so that they could prepare all the ingredients right alongside me. Another option is KidStir if you are looking to have more of a themed cooking experience. For example, we were able to review their “Sunny Salads” box and try it out as a family. Although the kitchen tools provided weren’t of the highest quality, we enjoyed the educational aspect of the box. For example, the recipe pages not only provided step by step instructions but also listed nutritional information for main ingredients, such as lettuce and beans, and cooking tips such as how to properly cook an egg.
Lastly, if you want to learn new recipes as a family, there are tons of different cooking classes to try. Our last trip to Chicago Botanic Garden was absolutely delicious because we got to make homemade tortillas and salsa with produce that was grown at the gardens over the summer. You can check out other local cooking classes here.
CONNECTING BOOKS AND FOOD
As a former Reading Specialist, I am constantly connecting aspects of our lives to literature. And I must tell you that one of the best ways to connect to books is through food! There are so many gorgeous pictures books and powerful children’s stories that are focused on food and its meaningful role in our lives. Does your child have a favorite book? If so, try to connect to it in a culinary way.
Need some inspiration? Here are some of our favorite delicious ways to enjoy a good story:
“Green Eggs and Ham”—Ham and Spinach egg cups
“Strega Nona”—Pasta and different types of sauce (pesto, marinara, meat, etc.)
“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”—Different types of meatballs (turkey, lamb, beef, etc.)
“A Bad Case of Stripes”—Bean recipes (soup, dips, salads, etc.)
In our house, Friday night is pizza night. So that means we either make our own pizza (psst…Trader Joe’s has the BEST homemade dough) or order from a local pizza joint. But to keep things hoppin, we like to try out pizza from different restaurants and order different styles so that we can critique and crown one pizza pie supreme.
Other fun theme nights? Breakfast for dinner. Indoor picnic with blankets on the ground and s’mores in the oven. Serve only orange/green/red foods. The options are endless and oh so fun.
Now, this is where Pinterest and Instagram come in. I have found that if you go the extra mile to make a meal look fun and whimsical, your child will definitely give it a try. So whether than means you serve a reindeer themed protein packed waffle as seen here or some of the other healthy options served up by one of my favorite Chicago bloggers, Fork and Beans. But again, don’t beat yourself up if your creation isn’t Pinterest perfect. Because honestly, it took me about seventeen shots in order to nail this photo. Just sayin’.
Another creative way to serve a meal and get kids excited about eating new things is by stepping up your utensil and plate game. Yes, that’s right, there are TONS of cute little gadgets for pint sized foodies. Head over to Baby Cubby to see some of my favorites, including this divided silicone Batman dish and adorable flower play mat. Did I mention that both stick to the table so your itty bitty foodie can’t launch it all over the kitchen or restaurant? GAME CHANGER.
Lastly, if food allergies are leading you to recipes that your family doesn’t love, head over to A Dash of Megnut and give her recipes a try. She creates so many gluten free, vegan, and other allergy friendly recipes that there is something delicious for everyone. Promise!
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