Sitting down for a meal together as a family is important. However, too often the dinners unfortunately turn into a battle of wills - these situations usually occur when the parents try to make their children to eat more diverse foods. We put together five tips to help motivating children in preschool age or children who have just started school to eat versatile foods - with peaceful measures.
1. Be the enthusiastic example
When you eat vegetables with enjoyment, the children will follow your lead. If you crunch carrots night after night, you will soon be peeling carrots for the children as well. Small children naturally want to eat whatever their mom or dad is eating.
Encourage and support the children. When the whole family eats the same foods, the children will feel social pressure to do what the others are doing. Give the children time and trust that the method will eventually work. Avoid confrontation. One good old tip is still valid: no dessert if the child didn’t finish the main course.
2. Explain the benefits of a versatile diet
The reasons for eating vegetables, berries and fruits should be explained to the children, with taking their age into account. It is good to concretize the importance of a versatile diet. The smaller the child, the more they need demonstration. You can for example draw the vitamin C as a brave knight who fights enemies such as the flu and other diseases in the body. When you persuade the child to join the the vitamin C knight’s troops in the fairytale, the child is more ready to join the troops in the dinner table as well.
3. Color contest: who in the family eats the most colors
You can also arrange a playful color contest within the family. The one who eats the most colors wins. The prize can for example be a piece of chocolate. The colors should be collected from vegetables and berries - not from artificially colored sweets.
For tracking the results of the color contest, you can make a table together. You can place dots of different colors to the table to track the progress of each family member. If the child is learning to write, they can write which colors each family member ate during a joint meal.
4. Candy pass - the candy that the children are allowed to eat during one day of the week need to be earned by eating five or ten different vegetables during the week
Many families have the tradition of allowing children to eat candy on one day of the week. However, you don’t need to give the candy to children automatically but instead agree that the candies need to be earned. Earning can mean eating ten different vegetables during the week, for example.
You can keep a list with the pictures of the eaten vegetables on the refrigerator door so that everyone can easily track their progress. A certain number of marks need to be collected for this candy pass in order to get to eat candy. The marks can also be earned by learning to eat the foods which in the children’s opinion don’t have the most pleasant taste.
5. Involve the child in cooking
It is good to involve the child in cooking. The children are less suspicious towards foods that they have prepared themselves compared to foods which someone else has prepared. Cooking together brings the child and the parent or the caretaker closer. For example, the child gets familiar with lettuce already when tearing it, which gives them more courage to try it at dinner as well. It is good if especially the smaller children have the chance to familiarize themselves with different kinds of foods; to feel, smell, smash or do whatever they want with them.
The old saying that you shouldn’t play with food is not always valid. You can obey it in the dinner table, but cooking can be made into a fun and playful activity.