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It seems like somewhere around the time your toddler turns 18 months, they start imitating you and their loved ones.  They’ll watch you more closely and mimic your actions.  They’ll ask to eat what you eat. They’ll try to repeat behaviors or mannerisms. While it certainly is endearing, it’s also a good age to demonstrate positive food associations.  Why is that we sometimes need to hide when we eat potato chips? (No judgement!) Partly because we want peace and partly because we don’t want them to eat chips!  During these early years, one of the best ways to spend time together is by exploring in the kitchen.  Sure, they may not be able to assist in knife skills just yet but they’re brains are on fire trying to absorb and observe everything around them from touch, taste and sight.

We’re pretty sure you’re child isn’t going to wake up and ask for a carrot and hummus to start the day but here are some simple tips to help you foster a positive approach to healthy eating:

Did you know only about 4/10 children help decide what to eat for dinner? It’s all about quality time in the kitchen together**.  Encourage your child to explore your kitchen, pantry, refrigerator and even show them pictures of recipes so that they could make a visual association.  Sure, your 18 month old may not be able to understand much but your 3 or 4 year old may.  Get them a chef’s hat and apron and allow them to help you! It may get messy and it doesn’t have to be every day but once a week could be an excellent starting point for family time in the kitchen.  You could even theme each week based on the groceries you are purchasing so that you’re able to utilize what’s in stock.  These experiences will form positive food associations and ingrain memories into your little ones’ minds.  It’s a win-win all around.

 24%  of children are likely to eat healthy foods if their family eats at least three meals together each week**.  By eating dinner together, our kids watch us eat what they are hopefully eating and they observe our reactions.  Over time this will help them form positive experiences.  It’s easier said than done since many of us are multi-tasking while our kids eat but it’s important to try. Whether its breakfast. lunch or dinner –weekdays or weekends — focus on a time where you could also sit back and enjoy the meal with your kids.  Encourage a conversation about what’s on the plate, how it’s healthy and good for our bodies, and plan future educational opportunities such as a visit to the local farmer’s market, apple or pumpkin picking when in season, or just popping into a simple grocery store.

 Vegetables are served at only 23% of dinners**. In efforts to save time, keep family favorite frozen vegetables handy and find as little as 20 minutes to meal prep for the week.  For example, you could keep a container of omelet veggies and throw them into eggs for breakfast or thaw and steam/saute broccoli as a side.  It doesn’t have to be restaurant quality — just simple and easy will hit the spot.  Remember, limiting seasonings, marinades and condiments will decrease the added salt and sugar that your family consumes.  However, don’t be afraid to make it taste good by adding a little butter, a little homemade Greek yogurt dip or cheese sauce and various dried herb seasonings.

 Introduce vegetables, grains and protein in a variety of ways.  Our children are human — just like us.  Some of us don’t like sliced tomato on our sandwiches but we love tomato soup.  To this day, I don’t like mushrooms on my pizza or pretty much in plain sight! Just because your child doesn’t accept a vegetable in the format offered it doesn’t mean they’ll reject the vegetable completely.  Sure this involves some creativity but it’s worth trying.  You want them to enjoy eating wholesome, healthy food but it’s not one way or the highway! Offer them oats in a muffin, explore almond flour or almond meal for baked goods, use quinoa for a homemade fried rice or stir-fry, try breaded chicken cutlets instead of grilled chicken.

 Avoid negotiations or rewards.  Eating is not about bribes or rewards.  We want what we consume to become a mindful matter.  Your child may just scarf down food so that he or she gets the extra 30 minutes of play time before bed.  Instead, accept they may not want to try what’s in front of them today and offer it again another day.  It’s important to be persistent without being pushy because the same goes for us, right? We all have our days where we’re just not into it, and our appetites go through highs and lows.  Just be cognizant and keep trying!

What experiences have you had? We’d love to hear what’s worked and what you have had trouble with introducing!  Share your tricks and tips with the #GrowUpYummy community because we’re all in it together. 

**Stats provided by Parents Magazine, March 2017. 

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