No More Picky Eaters! Developing your Kids’ Palate

I wrote a post awhile back about how to get your kids to eat more vegetables. You can consider this an expansion of that idea. This week, we made oatmeal, and through the process I realized, in more detail, how I am helping my kids eat a wide variety of foods. I thought I should share this new clarity, in hopes that it will help you! (Even if you don’t have kids, you can use this guide to expand your own palate!)

First you have to understand the reasoning behind the way I cook. These ideas help me meal plan each week.
My Goals:
1. I want to expose my kids to different cultures through food. Every culture uses different flavor profiles, different spice and ingredient combinations, which yield a unique result. Exposing them to different ways of preparing an ingredient can help them realize they do, in fact, like that vegetable/grain/protein. The more ways I prepare something, the more likely we are to find a way they enjoy it.
2. I want them to have an extensive palate encompassing a variety of spices, vegetables, fruits, proteins, grains. I want to introduce them to new ingredients – even when (and sometimes because) I have never tried said ingredient before.
3. I want to discover my kids’ preferences. I want to find a way of preparing healthy ingredients which they enjoy. B&C love raw tomatoes. A doesn’t, but when they’re cooked with other veggies, or in a sauce, she does.
4. I don’t want to force them to eat healthy foods but rather, hear them ask for it.
5. I want to remove the fear of trying new things. I prefer they appreciate new dishes, and be willing to try things even if they don’t like them. (Our taste buds do change, and at some point in their life, they might change their mind!)

How do I achieve those goals? Here’s the clarification.
My methodology
:
1. Use descriptive cooking terms with your kids. Discuss texture, heat, spice. Words I regularly use with my kids: acidic, aromatic, bitter, sour, sweet, salty, bland, bold, burnt, buttery, cheesy, candied, stale, strong, chewy, crunchy, creamed, crispy, watery, moist, thin, thick, chunky, soft, dry, fruity, sweet, gooey, heavy, healthy, herbal, hot, cold, spicy, tart, juicy, mild, mushy, peppery, refreshing, sharp, slimy, smooth, soggy, thick, tangy – as well as whatever method of cooking I use (bake, broil, saute, steam, etc.). When you sit down to eat, discuss your food so that they understand the meaning of these words and can use them accurately on their own.
2. Introduce them to new foods. Set a goal on how often – once a week, or once a month, for example – and plan to use that item in different ways (remember this?). Educate yourself before you buy: Search for recipes, google cooking methods, ask someone you know if they’ve used it and how. Get inspiration from magazines, blogs, cooking shows, and restaurants. Let go of any preconceived notions about limitations to kids’ diets, or about kids being picky eaters. Just because they’re kids doesn’t mean they can’t eat basically the same thing that you eat. The only adjustments you should be concerned with are portion sizes, bite sizes, and sometimes the level of heat/spice in the dish.
3. Make them try at least one bite. Everyone can be afraid of new things. Help eliminate that fear by requiring one bite before they are allowed to reject it – and then let them. Offer to pick out what they don’t like, offer more of a different item, or be sure they understand that if they don’t eat what you make, you’re not making anything else.
4. Ask them if they like it. To avoid a dismissive ‘yes’ or ‘no’, phrase it this way: “What do you think?” Here’s the most important part: The goal is not to force them to blindly eat whatever you put on their plate “because you said so.” Or even, “because it’s good for you.” This should not be a power struggle! (I don’t feel like anyone ever wins in a power struggle anyway, right?) Remember we want to learn their preferences. Ask them what they do or do not like about it. Encourage them to use the descriptive words. ***Not only does this expand their culinary vocabulary, and make them feel heard, it allows you to adjust your preparation of the dish next time, to suit their taste.***
5. Give them some space. I don’t ask how they like it after one bite. I give them a chance to eat some of it first, usually after I can tell they like it. If you’re too overeager in asking this question, they’re going to feel pressured. Give them time to try it and decide what they do and do not like. I also don’t give them a laundry list of what’s in it before they even take a bite. I wait for them to initiate the conversation.
5. I’m saying it again: Encourage them to discuss and describe their food. Start the discussion yourself:
“MMM I love how sweet carrots are!”
“I like how the tart apples balance the spicy crust on the pork.”
“I love how buttery and melt-in-your-mouth salmon is.”
“I like crunchy, salty pecans.”
6. Answer their questions. When they ask what’s in their meal, don’t avoid the question or lie to them! Tell them what it is. Almost every night, my kids will choose something from their meal and ask “What’s this?” Sometimes it’s before they take a bite: “What’s this green stuff Mommy?” Sometimes it’s after they’ve taken a few: “Is there spinach in this?” (Most of the time when they ask a question like that, the next comment is “Mm! I love spinach!”) Don’t be wary of honesty, which leads me to the last point…
7. Remember: you shape their first impressions (and can reshape previous bad ones)If you are nervous and afraid they won’t eat their broccoli, they probably won’t. Keep calm and feed on. (I had to.) The moment I stopped being so worried, uptight, and forcefully claiming “You have to eat your veggies”, it became much easier. It was suddenly a non-issue. They have no idea what food is good and what is bad or ‘yucky’. YOU teach that to them. If you just naturally eat your veggies at every meal, so will they. Here’s where you claim your control – not during a power struggle at the dinner table, forcing them to eat something – but by smart meal planning, prep, knowing your kids’ preferences, starting small, and gradually expanding your repertoire. Don’t make it such a big deal; don’t stress. You are their prime meal preparer; you control what’s normal for them to eat. They only know what you teach them.

I’m giving you permission to allow yourself a transition period. Don’t try to switch everything overnight. Start by changing or introducing one thing and work your way from there. I used to be that mom that fed my daughter mac and cheese, chicken, hot dogs, PBJs, pancakes, and pizza. That was basically all she would eat, because I THOUGHT that’s all she would like. It took time to change our eating habits, but it was worth it – and the transition happened before I knew it.
All it takes is a little mental tweak, a little planning, and some extra effort. Try it, and watch your kids surprise you! 🙂

Read the story of how making Irish Oatmeal sparked this post.

Related Article: The Dessert Deal
 I just came across this on Facebook and LOVE it. I’m sure we’ve all used the ‘Dessert Deal’ one time or another.

Our youngest opening wide for another bite of dinner to 'earn' her cookie

Our youngest opening wide for another bite of dinner to ‘earn’ her cookie

But lately I’ve been wondering: what am I teaching my kids? Finish your food, and your reward is to eat more (sugary) food. 
No wonder we have a childhood obesity problem. I have started to offer healthier things for dessert (but that’s for another post) 😉

Advertisements

5 Tips to Offset the Price of Buying Organic & Natural

1. Know your budget. I almost forgot to include this; but being aware of and sticking to a predetermined budget is the first step to maximizing your savings. Having even an approximate amount in mind will keep you from overspending unnecessarily.

2. Plan your meals based on sales. Most grocery stores put out a weekly ad – even the more popular produce stores, like Whole Foods or Mariano’s – and if you don’t get it in the mail, you can view it easily online. I usually base dinners around a protein, and buy the family size packs so I can either separate into 2 meals or make a Second Meal from the leftovers. The protein (fish, poultry, pork, beef, etc.) will usually be most expensive, so consider this first before looking at other specials. Then check out the produce sales. We shop at Meijer, and their store brand organic often goes on sale. This is how I decide what to buy that week. Same goes for their Meijer Naturals grocery products. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, check out the Clean 15 & Dirty Dozen lists. If you’re only buying a few items organic, you might want to choose items on the Dirty Dozen list to reduce the chance of pesticides.
*Note: If you’re just starting out, it might take awhile to understand what a good sale price is. Don’t stress. Just do the best you can for now, and eventually it’ll be second nature to know when an item is overpriced, when it’s an average buy, and when it’s at a DEEP discount price.

3. Make a list and stick to it. Write down everything you plan to buy based on the ad. Double check your meal plan for the week, cross check your pantry, and add any missing ingredients to your list if necessary. If you’re on a really tight budget, estimate the cost of each item and get an approximate total, adjusting your list if necessary.
Then, when you get to the store, STICK TO YOUR LIST. I know the lure of the produce section… you suddenly get the urge to try a blood orange for the first time… or to buy an exotic root vegetable you’ve never used before. THIS. IS. BAD. Not only will it put you over your carefully constructed budget, but if you don’t have a recipe or specific use in mind for that item, chances are you will end up tossing it anyway, or wasting another item you bought. Reducing your waste (Read: the stuff you throw away because it’s gone bad) is a huge way to save money. If you were really deliberate about your list, you should have just enough produce to make it through each meal of each day for the week. Resist the urge to impulse buy; if you see something new you want to try, make a note of it, search recipes when you get home, and put it on the list for next week.

4. Check for coupons before you go. Part of the reason I love Meijer is because of their mPerks. Not only are there coupons for name brand products, but also for their store brand – which as I said, has great organic and natural products. So when I find a coupon that matches with a weekly sale, it’s a home run! or a 3 pointer! or a touchdown! (insert your favorite sport term here.) So check your favorite grocery store’s website for store coupons on generic items, including produce. Some stores have rewards programs; others have digital coupons you can load to a loyalty card. A little research goes a long way.
And if you are buying a specific brand name, check your local newspaper inserts. In our area, the best website for this is www.coupontom.com. It references an extensive catalog of all the current paper and printable coupons. When you search an item (by brand name or item name) it will pull up any coupons available and where to find them.

5. Enroll in rewards programs. As I said earlier, research if your favorite store(s) has a rewards program. A lot of stores have a point system connected to a loyalty card – and the points can then be converted to savings later. Some stores have a quantity requirement program (Buy 10, get the 11th free). Other stores give stickers based on your total spent within a qualifying time period, which can be returned at the end for products. Meijer has a great one they’ve recently instituted – you choose one reward in each of three categories. (For example, Spend $60 in produce, Get $5 off.) This is cumulative for the entire month. Once you reach the goal amount, you can ‘clip’ your reward to your mPerks account, and it is applied toward your total basket on your next trip. You can work towards 3 different rewards at a time, and if you finish a goal before the end of the month, you can choose another one. Again, check your favorite store’s website, or ask an associate next time you’re in store.

By investing a little time and research, buying healthier, natural, and organic food can be realistic for even the smallest budgets!

Weekly Meal Planning – On a Budget!

So. This week my grocery budget is a little less than 1/2 of what it is normally… Ever been in a similar situation? For whatever reason, you’re a little tight that week? What’s a momma to do?! At this stage in our life, we do ONE TRIP PER WEEK. Here’s how to maximize your budget and your OHI.

Step (1): Take stock of your OHI. What do you have that you can make meals of already? This particular week I have plenty of lunch meat, some frozen ground beef, enough quick meals for my 3 working night dinners, some fresh produce, and a few other things that I was already planning on using in dinners.

Step (2): What ESSENTIALS do you need to replace? Mentally go through all the categories: paper products, cleaning products, laundry supplies, baby supplies, then all the grocery items (Dairy, frozen, produce, dry goods, you know the drill). This list should be limited to only what you know you cannot get through the week without. Things you will MOST CERTAINLY run out of if you don’t purchase it in the next day or two. For me this week, the only things I knew I’d need for SURE were eggs, milk, butter, frozen veggies, jelly, bread, bananas, and tomatoes. *Remember to consider every meal and snack time too.

Step (3a): Go through your local grocery ad. What’s on sale? This week what stood out to me was Meijer Steamable frozen veggies, country pork ribs, Peter Pan PB (my fave!), Meijer Naturals Chicken Stock, Sargento Cheese, Spaghetti O’s, Creamette Pasta, my favorite yogurt Fage, and On the Vine Tomatoes.
(3b): Check for coupons for your essentials and the sale items. We shop at Meijer because right now, in our area, they offer the best coupon “double dip” opportunities (a double dip is where you might get something on sale with a coupon, or be able to use multiple coupons on one item, or use coupons in a quantity or sum qualifying sale [i.e. ‘buy 6, save $5’]). I search two different places for coupons: Coupon Tom and mPerks. Coupon Tom is a cross-referencing site where you can type in the product and it will pull up corresponding coupons for that item. This uses Jill Cataldo’s coupon organization method. (You can visit her free blog here for the best deals at grocery stores in the Chicago Suburbs and to learn more about smart couponing.) To check mPerks, you sign in using your phone number (Don’t worry – no spam texts or calls!) on the website and at the register using your PIN. Signing up allows you to choose from hundreds of coupons for their store brand products as well as name brand items. They have great coupons on here and lots of opportunities to save. (Last month I saved about $200 – average $50 a week – by combining sales and multiple coupons.) Bonus, they have lots of produce coupons – hooray!!
I found coupons for these items: butter, Sargento shredded cheese, Spaghetti O’s, bread, organic Portobello mushroom caps.

Step (4): First total. Using prices from the ad and your best estimate from your smart shopping in the past, add up to get the total of all your items on your list. If you’re not sure, always round up. Then make a meal plan for every day that week (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks) and make sure you don’t have any gaps. (If you do, can you fill them with something you already have? Or do you have to add to your list?)

Step (5): Adjust. Are you above your budget? Below? Can you add some more healthy items? Do you need to adjust quantities of something? Is there something you can do without? At this point I went through the ad again to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. ***TIP: Any time a manufacturer puts out a new product, they almost ALWAYS put out corresponding coupons to get you to try it.*** I ALMOST looked past the Marie Callendar’s Easy Sides. ALMOST. But – They were 4 for $5 (not fantastic by any means). But if you bought 4, you got $1 off instantly = 4 for $4. I checked Coupon Tom. Yes! There was a $.75 off 1 coupon. Score. I get 2 papers, so I can use two of those coupons. But wait, mPerks also has a coupon: $1/3. So if I buy 4, it’s actually cheaper to use the $1/3 plus one $.75/1 coupon. ARE YOU WITH  ME?!? Instead of paying $5 for 4, I’ll be paying $2.25. Yes, for that price, I will try this new product. Even on a tight budget week.
And then – Wait – WAIT. Mahi Mahi was featured at $6.99/lb. Hmmm…. I really didn’t need the yogurt as I still had a few left. I really don’t need the pasta either. Spaghetti O’s?? I really only put them on my list for nostalgia’s sake anyway. I nixed a few items to free up the $7 for some Mahi Mahi – which for some reason sparked another idea… mango salsa… I googled ‘Mahi Mahi mango salsa‘ and pulled up a recipe. Well, I may not have all the items on that list, or the budget to buy them, but I CAN make some substitutions and buy a few of the cheaper things – especially since I know I can get multiple uses out of something like a lime or a red onion.

Step (6): Double -Check and prepare. Make sure you have everything you need and you’re a couple bucks under budget to account for miscalculation and tax. Usually when I’m estimating I only count my PRE-coupon total (unless its a big baby sale and I’ll be saving $10 or something). Make sure all your coupons are loaded to your mPerks, or shopping card, or printed, and that all the paper coupons are cut and ready with your list.

Now, you thrifty little shopper you, go out and conquer that grocery store!!!

Here’s an example of a working meal plan for the week. Excuse my scribbles 🙂
image