Balanced Family Academy’s (BFA) Preschool and PreK monthly-themed curriculum is highlighting healthy bodies and minds in June with a unit titled “My Body.” As parents, guardians and/or teachers of young children, their health is obviously a top priority for us. At BFA, we aim to create healthy habits while they are young in hopes they continue them long into their adult lives. One important way we can maintain our good health?? - by eating nutritionally well-balanced meals! There has been extensive research conducted on the number and type of nutrients that should be included on a child’s dinner plate, as well as the total number of food group servings a child should consume each day.
I can imagine several parents are reading this and thinking to themselves “well-balanced meals are great, but my child refuses to eat anything other than chicken nuggets.” Have no fear, you are not alone in that boat! It is not uncommon for a preschool aged child to go through a phase of picky eating. Children will often lean towards the foods they enjoy the most (as we all do) and with their young, unwavering, persistent attitudes it is easy to give in to their requests to insure they are eating something for dinner. Since picky eaters are a common occurrence, there are many tips and trucks available that may help! The very first step is to identify whether or not you actually have a picky eater or not! There are several behaviors that can indicate when a child has become or is becoming, picky. One, the most obvious, is when a child simply refuses food. This could be because of a certain color or texture of food, or that the child only wants to eat one specific food item. Two, a child may waste time at the kitchen table and choose other activities over eating. Lastly, a child could be completely unwilling to try new foods. Most often, these behaviors will disappear over time! If you are struggling with coping with a picky eater, here are some tips and tricks that could benefit you and your family!
Allow the child to have the freedom to choose! What?! You mean let me picky eater choose whatever they want?…Not exactly. This doesn’t mean give into their pickiness when they demanded french fries versus green beans. Instead, let them be your special helper when it comes to picking produce at the grocery. When a child is given the freedom to choose and believes that they had a say in what shows up on the table, they are more willing to eat! You can still set limits for a child by allowing them to choose only between two healthy options. If they are given the choice between green beans and broccoli, the child still has power in the decision, but either way, they are ending up with a healthy option on their plate.
Enjoy meals together! Spending time with family is sometimes the best solution for any problem you may be having. I once happened upon a video of two professionals speaking about children’s eating habits and one thing they said really resonated with me. These two professionals pointed out that as adults, eating food is very much a social matter. Adults get together often in the presence of food. We get together to catch up with old friends, plan an event, celebrate special occasions, and just to enjoy a meal in the company of other adults. In the evening at home when your to-do list is a mile long, it can be easy to put food in front of the kids and continue with the chores. Since adults find eating more enjoyable in the company of friends and family, trying sitting down together for dinner, or even simply have a conversation when the children are eating!
Offer the same foods for the entire family! This tip sort of piggy-backs on the two previous. If you are able to serve the same foods for everyone in the family (although hard when your children are very young) it can greatly benefit dinner time! One, it is less time-consuming for you and as parents that is ALWAYS a plus! Two, it removes the idea that the child can eat whatever they want from the pantry instead of eating the healthy option on your plate. Three, children definitely learn from what is modeled for them. If they see adults they know and look up to enjoying healthy food, it is more of an incentive to try to enjoy it themselves!
Make the kitchen fun! Children learn so much by having fun! By bringing children into the cooking process, it turns the kitchen into a place for making memories and experiencing new things instead of just a place where you have to eat dinner. You can give children specific jobs, no matter their age, such as mixing ingredients, handing items to you, placing things in the trash, making sandwiches, measuring ingredients, etc.! While you are allowing the children to have fun in the kitchen, make sure you are having conversations about the food and why it is important for them to consume!
Making sure children are consuming all the right nutrients their bodies need to develop in a healthy and strong way can be a stressful job! There are so many resources available for parents and families that can be helpful in becoming more informed about healthy eating. ChooseMyPlate.gov is a resource commonly used at BFA by teachers to learn more about what the children in their classroom need to be healthy and strong. On this website you can find tool kits for teachers and parents, recipes specific to the state you live in, seasonal/local produce ideas, as well as the updated dietary guidelines for the current year. My Plate can help you personalize a meal plan that will meet your food group needs as well as an action plan that will get you moving! This resource begins by asking simple questions including age, gender, height/weight and average daily activity level. This program takes all your answers into consideration and recommends a set number of calories to consume each day, which is then broken down further into different food groups and how much of each food group should make up your total calories!
Now that warmer weather is here, we can get outside and have more conversations about all the fruits and vegetables growing in the sunshine! Our team at Whisk Prep Kitchen recommends the following produce for the month of June and Springtime: yellow squash, berries, watermelon, tomatoes, green beans, and bell peppers!