Everyone eats differently. I know I couldn’t possibly represent everyone’s diet JUST because they homeschool. Most homeschoolers’ goals are to equip our children’s brains to enable them to learn and build those neural networks. How to do that?
French Kids Eat Everything, the memoir by Karen Le Billon, was an inspiration in my early parenting. The following interview is a quick summary of how she understands the relationship between kids and their food.
Her book taught me that most French one year olds have tried more vegetables than a full grown American adult. If that be the case, how does the place you were born and raised influence what you eat? Clearly there’s a connection.
Perhaps we are able to influence our children’s preferences and consumption more than we believe.
Insist they eat their greens. I’m one of those moms. I know my children would survive with prepared chicken fingers and French fries. Or Lipton noodles and cream or microwaved melted cheese on bread for their high school years like I did. But research shows that the benefits of eating broadly increases concentration and other benefits. (Check out the research studies below the article).
Smoothies. I have an empty smoothie glass beside me as I write. Vitamin B complex supplements certainly add zip to my morning wake, but there’s nothing like a glass of fruit and veggies. Add a banana or avocado, or if you have to, protein powder, to thicken the smoothie. (I think in natural substances, so I tend not to prefer protein powder. That’s laughable, because I definitely don’t think in natural substances when I regularly consume potato chips). Any mixture of fruits and greens will work.
An apple a day. For one snack a day, get that apple and a handful of nuts for the kids. Teach them that this fruit is easy, quick and satisfies their tummy. Add a handful of nuts, and it satisfies their tummy longer (train their tongues to be satisfied with natural food too).
Buy them store bought snacks. You know, the stuff most kids get as regular school lunches: granola bars, fruit leather, juice boxes, fruit gummies, apple sauces, fruit cocktail, or protein bars. Homeschooled kids sometimes miss out on that stuff. These sometimes snacks are often loaded with sugar and stuff they don’t need, but sometimes snacks don’t need to be never snacks.
Cuppa tea. Afternoon tea with poetry or read alouds. Homeschooled kids surely learn to drink tea earlier than their schooled counterparts (except for maybe in the UK). We typically drink herbal, even growing and drying teas from our tea garden, or learning to drink the natural substances around your yard. I harvested rosehips yesterday.
Food rewards. I took this hint from Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; a Guide for Kids and Teens by Barbara Oakley. A reward after 20-25 minutes of focussed math time (which is where I include the store bought snacks above), and also ten minutes to run around with the dog outside, trampoline or an on-line chess lesson are great rewards too.
Include candy. I include candy on Fun Friday with our weekly jeopardy game (their reward instead of thousands of dollars). Really, this is disguised testing. I want to know what they’re absorbing, and sometimes I want to reinforce facts. Like Canadian history: In the Fraser Valley, in 1858, this occurred: “What is the Gold Rush!” Like English grammar: Name 6 prepositions: “What are on, about, under, over, in, out.” Like Cardiovascular science: Name the three components of blood: “What are erythrocytes, platelets and leukocytes.”
Garden. Even a little bit. It’s easy to find a small spot in your yard or patio for bean tripods. And you can get a lot of beans from one tripod. Do you have space for a fruit tree? Raspberry bushes or a strawberry patch? Doesn’t matter what kind of food you grow, this is a science experiment, botany study and nutritious food consumption, the holy trinity of homeschooling.
Chicken keeping. I studied chicken keeping for years. So much easier to take care of them than I imagined. Again, holy trinity of homeschooling: experiment, study and food consumption. Our six month old chickens are presently giving us four eggs a day. Yay.
My good friend and registered dietician, Marianna Dobrovolny, shared this advice on teaching kids healthy eating:
The division of responsibility is that parents are responsible for what is served and when kids are to eat. Children are responsible for how much, and if, they eat the food you serve.
Offer healthy foods. Your kids like what they like. They don’t have your knowledge and experience to know what they should be eating.
Make only one meal. Include one thing they like for sure ie: bread with the meal.
Schedule snack times. Don’t offer handouts between meals. Keep snacks healthy, like real foods, fruit, nuts, whole grain crackers, or bread, yoghurt, and milk. Not packaged snack foods which tend to be high in salt and cause their tastes to want more salt. Your food will not taste good to them.
Offer only water to drink between meals. Avoid sweet drinks that can dull the appetite.
Don’t expect kids to eat what you will not eat. Be a trooper and try new foods.
Avoid pressuring and avoid rewards for eating or trying new foods. Have main meals together and talk about things.
Avoid distractions such as tv and cell phones (that means parents too). Be the example you want to see.
Promote a relaxing environment at mealtimes.
Keep offering disliked foods. Don’t give up. It takes several tries for kids at times to try or like new foods.
Let kids help with meal prep, shopping, and gardening.
Teach kids to cook. Even small kids can wash and spin lettuce.
If you’re in Canada, you can dial 8-1-1 to talk to a Registered Dietician. For free! Who knew? (If only I could call them to try and convince my child to eat his fish.)