making connections through food

Five fun strategies to get the kids cooking and eating

I’ve found, through trial and error, as my kids have grown that getting them to eat good food doesn’t involve a nightly battle at the dinner table.

If your little munchkin is reluctant to eat anything green, or anything red, or anything that has to be chewed you might want to try some (or all) of these fun strategies.

The key to it all is to GET THEM INVOLVED. No matter what age and how busy life can get, these are simple, time friendly and low cost activities that make your kids more aware of what they eat and how it gets on to their plate.

1.Take a regular trip to your local Farmer’s Market

Farmer’s Markets are akin to a fairground for little people, outdoors, on the grass, ability to roam around in the fresh air, get something to nibble or drink and not a flouro tube light in sight, everything that a trip to the supermarket isn’t. The produce beautifully displayed and in most instances you are buying from the person who picked the food out of the ground that morning.

My kids (9 and 6) very happily choose and pay for their own fruit, vegetables, cheese, milk and bread while chatting to the stallholders about what they are thinking about making when they get home. It gives them a thrill, we work mostly in cash which teaches them about money and they understand that the food is made or grown by the person selling it to them.

Then at the end of it all they grab a smoothy from the stall making them to order and a beautiful muffin or cupcake as a treat!

. Grow your own

Most kids love getting their hands dirty! So, no matter how big or small your outdoor space, or even with no outdoor space just a sunny windowsill, you can still grow some edible delights.

If you have space for a vegetable garden I love the prefab raised vegetable beds you can get these days from hardware and garden stores. They require little assembly and you can fill them with bagged compost and soil, which means less mess if your yard is only accessible via the house.

No space for a garden bed, then just grab some pots (you can even buy terracotta ones and have the kids paint them in their own designs). Pots are great for herbs, mint, parsley and oregano love pots. Also pot friendly are lettuces of many varieties, tomatoes, spinach, capsicums and chilis (there are lots more, ask at your local garden centre for what is pot friendly). The kids love seeing their food grow, watering, tending them and best of all picking them ready for their plate!

3.Making it fun

Yes, dinner time, not necessarily every parents favourite time of the day. But here is a lifesaving tip, KIDS LOVE FINGER FOOD AND PLATTERS.

Whatever you are planning on serving up for dinner, make it a communal affair, take a look at any European or Asian family dinner table, no plated meat and three veg there. There are heaving bowls of all sorts of things in the middle of the table and everyone helps themselves, a little of this, and little of that.

Not advocating making a banquet menu each evening for dinner, but instead of plating everyone’s meal, let them grab things themselves. Give them ownership of their plate and set the example by choosing a little of everything yourself.

Make kebabs with veges and meat for kids who don’t like to eat veges and meat…marinade in something yummy like garlic and  oregano and give them a souvlaki wrap to make a homemade souvlaki, with shredded lettuce, tomato, yogurt. San Choi Bau is another fantastic vege filled, kid friendly meal.

You’ll be surprised at how much they’ll eat if it’s fun! Oh and sometimes mix it up by giving them chopsticks to eat with instead of a knife and fork, they’ll love it.

4.Be prepared

We all have those nights where time to prepare dinner has snuck up on us. Then we’re likely to grab something unknown from the freezer (I call mine the black hole) or resort to takeaway. With a little bit of pre planning you can avoid this, and I don’t mean writing a huge shopping list and a menu plan for every night of the week (my family doesn’t work that way). I ask my kids during breakfast what they might like to have for dinner, some days it’s chicken schnitzel, some days it’s fish, some days it pizza.

Fantastic, so I nick out during the day to get what is needed for dinner (I work from home so that’s not such a problem for me). I know that the kids aren’t going to say “urgh not that for dinner mum” and then fight every step of the way, because they came up with the idea.

So, if you know that your kids love pizza, schnitzel etc…make sure you have those staples in the fridge/freezer/pantry. For schnitzel night we need bread crumbs, flour, egg and chicken fillets – all pantry or freezer staples, no need to shop daily for those, and what’s best you can get the kids to help you crumb them before eating (messy but oh so fun). Pizza night we need tinned tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, ham, pizza bases (of course if you want gourmet pizzas you might need a little more planning ahead) – again pantry or freezer (yes, all of things can be prepared and put in the freezer – we’ve found that souvlaki flat breads double amazingly as quick pizza bases too, so double use).

5.Have a family cooking night

If your kids have prepared and cooked something themselves they’re less likely to argue with you when it comes to eating it.

Depending on the age of your children, you can get them to do it with little adult assistance, or you can do all of the adult only stuff and get them to help with the easier things.

Pizza night as an example, no matter what age your children (assuming they can sit in a high chair and eat solid foods) are a family affair, babies/toddlers can munch on sliced mushrooms and ham as they are being chopped. Older children can actually do the chopping (my two were happily chopping mushrooms with a regular dinner knife from the age of about 18 mths). If your children are above 5 really there isn’t much you as a parent have to do on pizza night other than help with the ingredients and supervise!

Families I know with senior primary and secondary aged children have the kids prepare a whole meal for the family, of their own choosing, which I just think is AWESOME. It’s an opportunity for the children to give something back to the people they love, to show that they care.

Food should be about love, preparing and eating a meal together is the ultimate family activity, in many cases, in this country, we’ve lost the tradition that meal time is a time for families to come together. Life is busy yes, but just taking one day out of a busy life to prepare a family meal is so important to your children and their ability to see that food is not just about filling your tummy.