One things most parents can relate to is the “picky eater” – you know, the kid who just doesn’t like what you offer them.
Well after a very informative parent meeting at my son’s preschool, I’ve come to look at the term “picky eater” a bit differently. And I’m doing away with it in my vocabulary! I’ve learned that what I consider a picky eater could match any number of adults I know. From my husbands distaste for tomatoes to my father’s distaste for anything nutritious (I kid… only a little).
My biggest take home of the night? Our children are not genetically geared to starve themselves. When they become hungry enough they will eat.
Here are a few other tidbits I took home and am happy to share:
Don’t Stereotype Your Kids
Don’t use the term picky eater. Your children will pick up on it and it can have a negative affect on them. Your child simply has likes and dislikes for certain foods. That doesn’t mean that their likes and dislikes won’t change. It simply means that sometimes they just don’t want to eat. And when they don’t want to eat, don’t make them!
Offer an out. Make sure your child knows that they’re allowed to say no to a certain food or even a whole meal. They will not starve! Simply know that when snack-time comes around later on we need to be diligent about offering healthy alternatives so they’re getting the nutrients they need elsewhere.
Also remember that the food they might not like now may have an alternative that gives the same nutrients our children need. For instance, if they don’t like cheese, offer milk for calcium. And if they don’t like squash, offer cantaloupe for Vitamin A!
And if your child is going to school, know that peer pressure might be playing a part in their sudden disinterest in certain foods you pack for them. But don’t let that deter you from providing a healthy lunch!
Create a Family Table
When you sit together for meals, make sure you serve the food family-style. Instead of loading up everyone’s plates (like I always do), place all of the components of the meal on the table.
Let your child serve themselves. And let them also choose the portion size. They’ll start to learn to take what they can eat and will learn to regulate how much their eating.
But don’t force them to eat everything on their plate. If they’ve taken too large of a portion, mention that they might want to take a smaller amount. They can always go back for seconds.
Add Variety To Your Meals
The best thing to do to your child is offer a variety of foods frequently. Have a pasta lover? Make it whole grain and add a veggie dipping sauce (I love hiding veggie purees in my marinara). If they say they don’t like it or don’t want to try it, keep making it. Eventually they’ll give in and take a nibble. But it may take up to 15 times before they’ll even try it.
Bottom line – don’t lose hope!
After coming home from the presentation we were ready for our after-dinner snack. So I prepared some grapes and air-popped popcorn to munch on. Well… to my surprise my 2 year old ate most of the grapes! She never eats grapes but decided this was they day she’d try them and now she loves them!
And lunches are even more fun. I’ve started to spice things up and play around with favorites to make them something new. The salad in the photo above is a watermelon, feta & basil salad instead of a greens salad. And my kids loved it!
Don’t Take Away Dessert
Another great thing that I took home is the importance of not withholding food if your child won’t eat. Don’t say “you can’t have dessert if you don’t eat your dinner” because that just gives them more fuel to not eat. Why not try offering dessert with dinner? You’ll find that the kids seem to regulate sweets just fine when there are no rules or strings attached.
And instead of a dessert-type item every night, create a time before bed for an after-dinner snack. Fresh fruit, yogurt, and cheese are great choices. 12 hours is a long time for little tummies to stay empty. Especially if dinner isn’t eaten.
But when you do decide on dessert, make sure it’s a treat. Or consider offering healthy alternatives. My pumpkin bars are a favorite dessert in our home. We also love adding zucchini in our brownies and carrots and applesauce in our cupcakes. Small changes and additional veggies in dessert can make it more appealing on a nutritional side.
Grow A Garden
Last but not least, consider growing a few things at home. Even if it’s herbs in the window. If they see how it’s made they’re more curious about how it tastes. They also feel a responsibility and connection to the food they grow. Want something simple and quick? Turnips take 2 weeks to grow!
By becoming more connected with the foods they eat, they start to have greater knowledge of what they’re consuming and that sometimes sparks interest not found elsewhere. I know when we first started our garden bed my son could not wait to eat what we grow. And now that his preschool has introduced him to even more food to grow he’s eager to plant his own vegetable bed next spring!
If you don’t have the room to plant a small garden consider looking for a community garden in your area. Or take your child to the local farmer’s market. They’ll get to see what vegetables and fruits really look like instead of what they see at the grocery store. And many of the farmers and growers take great joy in talking to the kids about how they grow their food.
So just remember the following:
- Your kids won’t starve themselves
- Offer a variety of foods and don’t stop offering something they say they don’t like
- Don’t take away dessert
- Get back to nature and grow some food of your own!