So the question most often asked of me as a mom and as a child care provider (even pre-vegan) is "how do you get your kids to eat so well?"
I've said before that I'm blessed that my own kids are truly adventurous eaters. They will try anything without hesitation. The first time I had sashimi in front of Eli, he just reached over and took a piece. (He's lucky I didn't smack his little fingers!) He loved it and has been caught a number of times with his hand in the sushi jar. (No, I don't really have a jar of raw fish. It's just a figure of speech.) I remember a time at a church supper when Eli had a plateful of Brussels sprouts and lima beans. People were shocked, but he ate it all. If I serve spinach, my little princess eats it without a second thought. I'm thankful for that. My child care kids aren't usually that easy from the beginning, but it really doesn't take long before they jump on board the healthy choice train. Woot-Woot!
All people have foods they just don't care to eat. I respect that. But that is different than picky eating, and it is very different from someone who just hasn't had the chance to like good food. Experts agree that a child/person needs to eat a food 7-10 days in a row to get used to it's taste and texture. So if you are introducing a new food to your child and he/she gags at it, just try again tomorrow (and the next day and the next day...) and you will see a difference. Children have extremely sensitive taste buds dating back to early-human times. Those little caveman kids did not know what was safe to eat, so their taste buds would sense something bitter or bad and they would spit it out rather than get sick from a potentially harmful plant or berry. It's natural for your kids to react to new foods negatively the first time they try it. Just keep trying.
Perfect example: an adorable little guy in my child care tried to convince his mom that I fed him "trees" during his first week at my house. It was broccoli. He hated it and tried to argue about it. But I just kept putting it on his plate every day for a week or two. And now he asks for it. And, best of all, he helps me cook it! He also makes a mean lemon-butter green bean dish. It makes him proud to cook it, serve it to his friends and sit and eat it together.
Also, feed your kids GOOD FOOD. If all you feed them is chicken nuggets and mac 'n' cheese, then that's all they'll want to eat. (Here's a test--take them to a buffet and let them choose foods. What colors are on that plate? If it's all yellow-ish brown, then you may want to start introducing some better foods.)
My day care kids love grilled cheese sandwiches. I make them with thinly sliced pears and gouda cheese on wheat berry bread. They love pizza. I make individual 'za on whole-wheat pitas and top it with zucchini, eggplant, fresh tomatoes and olives. Then sprinkle on some fresh basil and just a touch of a good cheese and they eat it up. My own kids loved grilled veggies with goat cheese sauce. I know it costs more than the brick of cheese in a box, but it's important to me that my kids learn to eat like adults. A college kid that lives on Kraft blue box and Dominoes will gain unhealthy weight that will take years to work off (trust me, I know--and I know you know, too). Teach them now to make healthy choices and to eat sophisticated foods. What's the best way to teach them? Show them! Sit as a family and eat healthy meals together.
When someone asks me "what's you secret?" I tell them it's never a secret. I never feed my kids a food without them knowing exactly what they are eating and why. I don't hide veggies in other foods, and I don't disguise veggies to fool the kids into eating them. When we have a snack or meal, we talk about the food before we eat. As we are preparing it (we is the important word there), the kids and I discuss what the food is and why it is a good choice. We talk about balancing our food choices. We talk about whole-grains and vegetables and proteins. But we talk about it before we get to the table. They know what they're getting, so no surprises or yucky faces or arguments at dinner time.
With my family, we talk about vegan and vegetarian options. We talk about the positive aspect of our choices, and don't focus on what we aren't eating. This is not a diet where we deny ourselves meat and dairy. This is a way of life that helps us to grow up healthy and strong and fit so that we can have all the fun we love to have. Eating a plant-based variety of foods is a positive experience for your family. Let them choose what they want to try, work together to cook/prepare the food and make it happy time spent with loved ones.
ONLY NON-FOOD DISCUSSIONS AT THE TABLE
Then we sit down as a family and eat. But we don't discuss food. We talk about our days, about our plans, about our lessons for the day. I don't argue about food. I feed kids appropriate serving sizes of healthy choices for morning snack and lunch. If they are hungry, they will eat. If they are not hungry, they won't eat. If they don't like the choice served, then they wait until the next scheduled time to eat the next healthy options I offer. If they have eaten well-balanced foods for most of the day, then I will give a special sweet treat for afternoon snack. But I never announce that ahead of time. I always have healthy options to offer if children haven't had what they need for the day. Balance is the key here.
HUNGRY KIDS WILL EAT
Kids who sit in front of the television or lay on the couch playing DS all day won't be hungry. Their body and mind have not been stimulated enough to work up an appetite. Get outside, get moving, do new and exciting things to stimulate your kids both physically and mentally. Dance, jump, sing, pound, spin, crawl, hop, swing, slide, run, swim.....PLAY! And I'm not just talking to the kids here. If you sit at a desk and stare at your computer all morning, why do you need an 800 calorie burger for lunch?!?
BE THE GOOD INFLUENCE
Do you really need a mom lecture on this one?!? Eat right. Be active. Be balanced. Behave. (Well, mostly, at least around your kids.) You are the single most important influence in your child's life. Be a good one.