Editor’s Note: The Register published an article in November about the addition of the Toyota “bornlearning Academy” at Berea Community School. The school received a $11,500 grant to fund the academy, which includes monthly workshops for parents and children 0 to 5. The workshops teach parents and caregivers how to turn everyday activities into learning activities. A Register reporter with a 2-year-old signed up for the Academy. This is the third in a series about what was learned at the workshops.
I know I’m not the first mom to say this, and I definitely won’t be the last, but my son is a picky eater.
March’s bornlearning workshop focused on ways to engage your child in eating nutritious foods and caring for their physical well-being.
Although a recent well-child checkup revealed that my 2-year-old fell into optimal percentiles on height and weight, it is a constant challenge to get him to eat the right things – or anything for that matter.
I say to Ryker, “Son, you’re crying because I’m making you sit down in front of a plate of food while others in the world are crying because they want food.”
I might get a blank stare, or a giggle, because he doesn’t understand the implications of my little anecdote. However, I still can’t help feeling a pang of guilt because my son lives in a household where eating is optional, and not the key to survival.
My mom always made the same argument as to why I should eat my dinner, but she was from the Philippines and was actually surrounded by poverty and hunger.
Regardless of the world’s hunger problem, as a parent I have to find a way to get my kid to eat. Not just chicken nuggets and French fries, but nutritious foods.
The best way to teach children the proper foods to eat is to set the example, said Barb Mills, the bornlearning Academy workshop facilitator.
She said it also was important to involve children in food decisions instead of saying, “You’re going to eat this because I said so.”
For children Ryker’s age, quick preparation of food is important because toddlers are generally short on patience, she said. Some examples of quick snacks are peanut butter and jelly, scrambled eggs and cheese, vegetable sticks and dip (my kid is a double-dipper) or homemade popsicles made from fruit puree.
However, letting your child participate in cooking the food spikes their interest in eating it, Mills said.
So I decided to try it out. This might not be the most healthy thing in the world, but Ryker and I made mini-pizzas one night.
I got a can of large biscuits and let him mash the biscuit all he wanted until it was a flat circle. Next, I let him spread the pizza sauce over his flattened biscuit, but not before he spooned two big scoops of pizza sauce into his mouth. He got a kick out of sprinkling his own cheese and placing pepperoni on top. But before I could stop him, he scraped all the toppings off and ate them, getting pizza sauce-covered cheese all over himself.
I realized this is all part of the process and scolding him would be counterproductive.
Instead, I just replaced the toppings before popping the mini-pizzas into the oven.
When the pizza came out, I kept telling him, “Ryker, you made that. You cooked the pizza.” His eyes lit up when I told him this, and I think he understood. I didn’t have to ask him to eat the pizza because he had a hand in making it, and he seemed awful proud of himself.
During the workshop, we discussed other ways to make food fun. I always beat myself up over not being one of those creative moms who make smiley faces or cool shapes out of food, but I know I’ve got to step it up.
Mills said she remembers when, as a child, her mom would make pancakes in the shape of her initials. One of the other parents at the workshop remembered when his mom used to make peanut butter smiley faces on his sandwich.
One parent talked about cutting up small chunks of hotdogs, sticking pieces of raw spaghetti through them and boiling them together to make something that would look like a hotdog and spaghetti necklace.
“I don’t have any small children, but I have to try that,” joked Mills, who has two college-aged sons.
Another way to make food attractive is to talk about it. What color is it? How many are there? What does it feel like?
In the meantime, try pureeing carrots, spinach and other nutritious vegetables and hiding them in foods your kid will eat. For example, Ryker’s spaghetti sauce is always spiked with hidden vegetables that he doesn’t even know he’s eating.
Sometimes you have to improvise. My son thinks his daily vitamin is candy, so he never has a problem eating it.
We also talked about the importance of sleep and its role in promoting memory, learning and concentration. Toddlers should get a total of 12 to 14 hours of sleep; preschool-age kids should get 11 to 13; and elementary-aged kids (ages 5 to 12) should get 10 to 12 hours, Mills said.
During doctor visits, parents should ask as many questions as possible, she said.
When limiting TV and video game time, children must be given opportunities to exercise and be active for at least 60 minutes a day, said Mills, which is hard to do for kids these days.
“We only had two channels when I was a kid, and you had to get up to change that channel. Then, you had to go to the back porch to adjust the antenna – so we didn’t watch much TV,” she said.
The next bornlearning workshop is April 9 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Those who are interested in joining may contact Diane Smith at 986-1021. Dinner and childcare is provided.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.