I hear it all the time, whether it’s at birthday parties, restaurants, or just hanging out with friends: “But, mommy! I don’t like that!” Dealing with picky eaters is an uphill battle, but encouraging their pickiness is not a good idea. I undertand…you simply want your child to eat. However, as a junior high teacher, I took my students on MANY field trips, and I ALWAYS had to deal with students who would only eat one or two foods. And their parents always supported them. “My son only eats pizza and french fries,” or “My daughter will only eat chicken sandwiches.” Parents, trust me. You don’t want to be fighting this battle until the day your children move out. Here are a few tips on ushering your child out of his/her picky phase.
1. Try to offer your child a wide variety of vegetables as soon as your child is old enough to eat solid foods. Most baby food purees are fruits and vegetables anyway, so simply offering them the solid versions of those foods regularly can offer a simple, smooth transition.
2. Don’t complain about the way food tastes in front of your children. As adults, we all have our own bit of pickiness too. For me, it’s peas…gross! I have learned the hard way that if I complain about food in front of my children, they will quickly mimic my behavior.
3. Make meal-time fuss-free. Put a few options on the plate for your child. I always try to incorporate a healthful protein (grilled fish or roasted chicken, usually), a carb that they love (roasted red potatoes, brown rice and peas, sweet potatoes, or fruit), and a few veggie options (my kids’ favorites are steamed broccoli, roasted carrots, salad, and squash). Offer them a colorful plate of food, and, whenever possible, have your children eat the same food that you are eating. While you eat, comment on how yummy your food tastes. Instead of nagging your child to “eat your vegetables!”, just praise them when they do. If some of the food goes uneaten, just put it in a container to save for tomorrow’s dinner.
4. Minimize the junk. It has always bothered me that fried chicken nuggets, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and candy are the foods that most people consider to be normal staples to a child’s diet. If this is what we regularly offer our children, why would they eat fruits and vegetables? I know that it is tempting to “follow the path of least resistance”, but it’s important to remember that a child’s lifelong eating habits tend to be established in the home.
5. Try to not mask the flavor of the vegetable with other foods or flavorings. Broccoli smothered in melted processed cheese and sweet potato casserole don’t really count as healthful foods, and they don’t really encourage healthy eating either. The goal is to try to get your eater to enjoy the natural flavors of foods, and that just won’t work by covering them up!
Another important thing to remember is that you cannot force your child to love any certain kind of food. If you know for a fact that your child cannot stand the sight, smell, or texture of zucchini, just take a break from it for a while. Maybe in six months you can try it again. My oldest son hated avocados for a while. He would actually vomit at the sight of them. So, we left it alone. One day, while I was offering avocado slices to my youngest child, Matthew asked if he could have some. I nonchalantly gave some to him without acting like it was a big deal, and he gobbled it right up.
So, do you have a picky eater? What tips can you offer parents who are struggling to get their children to eat?
*One last note: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (LPB) has an episode on trying new foods, and the song “You Gotta Try New Foods ‘Cause They Might Taste Good,” has helped my children so many times!