I was reading a post on eating from a toddler's perspective. It got me thinking. I have raised a good eater. My son is rather open to foods and will choose healthy over unhealthy more often than not. He still likes treats such as soda, chips and candy but he will choose to eat air-popped popcorn and fruit if I offer them. I can't say I have the perfect advice for raising healthy eaters since we still have our share of unhealthy habits but I do know I did somethings right.
Plate Rule: In our house the rule is you don't have to clear your plate but if you want seconds you have to eat everything on your plate. That includes later. You can't scrape your salad into the trash and then decide 30 minutes later you want more pasta. There have been nights when my son's plate has sat on the counter half eaten while he decides whether or not he's still hungry.
New Food Rule: You have to try one bite of a new food. If you don't like it then you don't have to eat it (but the plate rule is still in effect). My personal belief is that if it's healthy and I still don't like it then I eat it fast and I eat it first. If it's not healthy then I pass on it.
Those are the only two rules we have about eating but we have some guidelines about snacking. The biggest guideline is - if we shouldn't eat it then we shouldn't buy it. On occasion, I buy a junk food something - box of doughnuts or oreos, a bottle of soda. These never last long in our house and they are a rarity. That doesn't mean we don't have snacks. We keep popcorn in the house and my son is quite familiar with the air-popper so he can make his own snack. We set limits to how much nucoa he can use and he stays within those limits. He's free to experiment with seasonings and other ideas. (He's put barbeque sauce on his popcorn.) We keep instant coffee, tea and individual packets of crystal light available for drinking. I, personally, don't like the crystal light but my husband does and if it keeps him away from soda I'm all for it.
Another thing I did was taught my son to be self-reliant in the kitchen at a very early age. I worked the evening shift when my son was two and I hadn't met my wonderful husband yet. My son was an early riser. I was already exhausted and I couldn't keep getting up with him every morning. So I taught him how to make breakfast. We designated a drawer that was his. I filled it with breakfast bars and snacks. He knew that when he was hungry he could make his snack. It wasn't long after that that I had him making real food. By the time he was five he could make his own packaged mac and cheese. I know it's not the best food but it taught him valuable skills in the kitchen. Now at 15, he can cook just about anything. He's been creating his own recipes for the past 5 years and has even entered contests.
I keep him involved with the whole process. We talk about what we want to eat, how do we want to prepare it, what sort of vegetables should we have. I ask for his input when I go grocery shopping. When we have extra money, we talk about what would we like to try. With the bountiful baskets we get lots of interesting fruits and vegetables. He's very honest. He'll talk about what he didn't like whether it was texture or flavor. We talk about our food as we eat it especially if it's new.
I have made mistakes - I will be the first to admit that. My favorite mistake story happened when my son was about 4, I think. He was going through a phase where he just wouldn't eat his vegetables. I kept trying to think of creative ways but I didn't want to deceive him - he's a smart cookie and figured out I was slipping cauliflower into the mac and cheese. After that he was suspicious and I didn't want to make him hate vegetables. So I thought I'd get creative and make a Bob and Larry salad. For those who don't know Bob is a tomato and Larry is a cucumber on Veggie Tales. When I served it to him, all beaming because I was an awesome mom, he started crying - you killed Bob and Larry. It was an absolute failure and I had to give back my mom of the year award. He got over it but he still remembers it. I still can't get him to eat raw tomatoes but atleast now we can talk about why.