I truly believe that whether or not a child eats well is dependent on that child. A parent can do everything in his/her power to get a child to eat, and eat healthy, but if she's going to be picky, she's going to be picky. That being said, we have been very blessed with an adventurous eater who truly enjoys food of all kinds. It is very rare to come across a food that Stephanie won't eat. She eats whatever we do, she tries everything we put on her plate, and she always asks for more food. Since many parents I know are dealing with children who aren't such wonderful eaters, I thought i'd share some of the things we do that I think help her eat so well.
-She eats at the table. We've always used a Fisher Price Space Saver High Chair since we live in a small apartment. When Stephanie was 14 months old, she started always eating off of a bowl or plate, so we ditched the tray and pulled her right up the table. She feels like she's a fully participating member of our family meals this way.
-We eat all of our meals together. One of us sits with her at breakfast and eats, I sit with her at lunch, and we all have family dinner together. This way she sees the things we're eating, and it's also a fun social experience for her. We spend time talking about the food, identifying objects and letters on her place-mat, and chatting with one another.
-We eat certain meals in pieces. For example, I know that she loves rice, and will gobble that up and ask for more without even looking at the other things on her plate. So, when rice is included in our meal, I leave it on the stove, and bring it out after she's eaten some of her protein and vegetable. I do this any time there is one part of the meal that I know she prefers to any other.
-I always offer her bites of things I know she isn't thrilled with. Last night we had stuffing, which she's never liked. I put one piece on her plate and encouraged her to eat it. She did, and then told me "no like it." So that was the end of it. I didn't pressure her or force her to eat more, but I gave her the opportunity to try it. I think this works for us because she knows that if she really doesn't like something, she won't be forced to eat more.
-She is allowed to eat independently, no matter how much of a mess she makes. This is a hard one for me, because I hate messes. But, I discovered this was the best way to get her to eat a complete meal. If she thinks i'm going to try and feed her, she'll resist. About six months ago I couldn't get her to eat yogurt. I was spooning it out for her and handing her the spoon and she just wouldn't do it. So I finally set it down in front of her, and wouldn't you know...she fed herself the whole thing. So I always give her a fork and spoon and let her eat it however she wants. Once in a while i'll help her scoop things up and feed them to her, but for the most part she is a completely independent eater. If she winds up eating with her hands, fine. But the fork and spoon are always there and i'll give her a reminder here and there to use the utensils, but don't force it.
-I let her have dessert. Not every night, but many nights she gets treats after dinner is done. We've always done this, and it has never interfered with her eating. It also isn't contingent on whether or not she's cleaned her plate. (I've read that forcing kids to finish their meal so that they can have dessert can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.) I am a big believer in not withholding junk from children. If something is "taboo" then the desire for it will increase, therefore encouraging kids to sneak snacks and treats when they're older, or gorging themselves on them when they are given the chance to eat them. She gets one small treat several times a week, and balances it by eating healthy the rest of the time.
Here are some of our go-to healthy foods: grape tomatoes, blueberries, bananas, green peas, sweet peas, string cheese, broccoli, deli ham & turkey, craisins & raisins, clementines, applesauce, strawberries, blackberries, kids greek yogurt, and baby food pouches. (This is another little trick...she adores eating pureed fruit & veggie pouches, which is a great way to add an extra dose of healthy food to her day.)
I'm so grateful that we havn't had to deal with any eating issues with our little one, and i'm keeping my fingers crossed that her baby brother will be just as good of an eater! Although he's already picky about his formula, so i'm not holding out too much hope...