Raising a Kale-Loving Child

On the days when my toddler and I are out and about during lunch time, I usually have our lunch packed with us since I like to eat healthily.  Our “going out” lunch is usually comprised of a large kale-based salad, baked sweet potato, raw hummus and garlic to dip our kale stalks into (the thick center portion of the kale that I remove from the salad leaves) and some sort of fruit.  When people see us eating we usually get a lot of comments.  One of the most common things I hear is “Is your child eating kale?  I could never get my kid to eat kale” as my toddler munches happily on a raw bit of the cruciferous superfood.  Now since I’m just a mother of one and she’s only a toddler (so she hasn’t reached the food rebellion phase), I reached out to my friend Leigh a super-mom of 6-children ranging in age from 20-years-old to 18-months-old.  All of Leigh’s kids are great eaters (and great kids) and she also makes a pretty amazing vegan chocolate mousse.  So here are 4-tips for raising a “kale-loving child” (with valuable input from Leigh)  I hope you find the information useful!  Namaste.

1) Set a good example: if you want your child to eat kale and other healthy foods, then you need to eat those foods as well.  Children are literally born to mimic their parents, and they will be naturally curious about whatever you are eating (especially if you are enjoying it.)  Before my daughter could even eat solids she was shoving her hands into my daily kale-based salads, and as soon as she had teeth she was happily grinding away on them too.  Also, if you are pregnant be sure to eat healthy.  There are LOTS of reasons to do so, but for the purpose of this article I am suggesting it because taste buds are developed in utero.  My daughter eats EXACTLY how I ate when I was pregnant.

2) DO NOT make “separate food” for your child: My child eats almost anything, however, if I happen to make one of the few things she’s not super crazy about, I make it clear that “this is what’s for dinner and if she’s hungry she should eat it.”  I never make her  food that is separate from what my husband and I are eating.  My friend Leigh has a slightly different approach to this.  Leigh makes meals with lots of different options (she does have 8-people to provide for after all versus my 3.) Then if all food is rejected (as sometimes happens), she will allow them to eat “something fresh”.  Those are her exact words and what that means is something raw….an apple, some carrots, celery, orange, fruit, green smoothie, etc that they have to make.  She has found that by providing lots of options it ensures that the children find SOMETHING healthy to eat, and encourages them to experiment and develop their own taste buds.  Both of us agree that if at that point nothing is eaten, then likely they aren’t really hungry and we don’t force them to eat or make something “yummy” that we know they will eat.

3) Grow your own fruits and vegetables: Kids want to put everything that is outside in their mouths anyway, just imagine how their faces will LIGHT UP when you say “go ahead, put that in your mouth.”  This is how my daughter first started eating kale: picking it from our garden.  Most salad items: kale, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs are easy to grow without very much space.  You can even grow them in containers (pots.)  I’ve never met a child who isn’t a born gardener.  Also, there have been studies that show that children who garden eat more veggies. 

4) Get them cooking with you: This tip is from Leigh and I imagine will become even more useful as my child gets older.  She encourages them to find recipes for the family to make, or even for them to make on their own (for the older children.)  She’s found this process to be very successful in getting her kids to eat healthy food since people are naturally more interested in eating something if they’ve been involved in making it.

I’ll be writing more posts about healthy eating for you and your children, so I won’t expand here, but do know that I allow my child the occasional “treat” such as mac and cheese and lollipops (but they have to have no artificial ingredients!)  However, there are lots of super healthy foods that kids love to gobble up like dates and goji berries, so give your child lots of choices and see what they like that also happens to be healthy for them!  Good luck and happy eating!