Families and Food

What does the phrase “families and food” bring to mind? Nourishment? Celebrations? Meal times? Cooking together? Power struggles?

For some parents, feeding a baby or small child is one of the most surprisingly rewarding early parenting experiences. It satisfies our instinct to ensure our babies’ growth and survival. But families and food aren’t always a fun mix. Whether your child is a picky eater or has a taste for culinary adventure, here are some tips on turning mealtimes into an asset building experience.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Mealtimes are prime times to build assets. Don’t make a habit of eating in front of TV—meals are great conversation times. Slow down over a meal to ask fun and thoughtful questions and take turns answering them. “What’s the silliest thing you have ever done?” Meals are not good times for talking about rules, problems, or disappointments.
    • Check out www.kidsfood.com for recipes and ideas.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • When your child is old enough, introduce them to all of the kinds of food you eat. Even if they reject new flavors at first, try a few more times. It takes kids awhile to adjust. Starting this habit of introducing new foods now will increase the number of shared preferences you all have in the future.
    • If special foods are part of your family’s celebrations, focus mainly on “growing food” (i.e., food that helps them grow) with a little bit of “treat food” so that kids learn to identify good feelings with food that’s nutritious and healthy for them.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • As much as possible, get input for meal suggestions from your kids. Don’t encourage the habit of everyone eating their own food at their own time.
    • Get your kids cooking in the kitchen with you. Let them take responsibility for certain tasks so that cooking and food preparation become activities they look forward to doing with you.
    • Check out foonetwork.com’s Cooking for Kids for seasonal and everyday tips and suggestions.
    • Make a point of talking about food groups and good nutrition so kids learn good food habits.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Many young people start to consciously modify their eating habits because they want to look a certain way, live by a particular set of values, or just assert their independence. If you are concerned about your child’s getting adequate nutrition in a vegetarian diet, or if you suspect anorexia, bulimia, or another eating disorder, talk with your child’s doctor or a licensed nutritionist. Don’t be afraid to seek multiple opinions because even professionals who deal with dietary issues may vary in their views on what’s nutritionally healthy and safe.
    • Make meal times special at times by adding candles or a centerpiece, setting the table nicely, playing music, and having good conversation. Families sometimes do this less often as children get older, even though it’s a wonderful way to regularly reconnect and stay grounded as a family.
    • Let your teens cook. It’s a life-long skill they will thank you for!
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Take your teens on an “international tour,” combining mealtime cultural appreciation with tasting new flavors. Visit a variety of ethnic restaurants or use the Internet or library to find recipes from around the world.
    • As much as possible, honor mealtimes as “connecting times.” Don’t watch TV or stand over the sink as you eat!
  • Many teens eat out in restaurants with their friends, or try new foods at friends’ homes. Ask them about their preferences, discoveries, and things they’ve tried that you might like to try, too. Turn their growing independence into an opportunity to learn from them.

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