Feeding the Picky Eater
After having two children who would pretty much eat whatever I set before them, I was handed a challenge, my third child was as picky an eater as they come. He wouldn’t try much of anything. He would have been happy eating plain pasta and a cup of milk at each meal. However, I was determined not to accept his limited palate so I set out to broaden it, all be it, one day at a time.
Broadening the palate of a picky eater is a slow process, beginning with incremental goals and a long term vision. My vision for all of my children was that they enjoy a wide variety of healthy food as a part of experiencing life to its fullest. To fulfill this vision I calmly set out each day using a multi-layered approach to make food both a pleasurable as well as, healthy experience. Here are some things that worked for me:
Rid your house of unhealthy options!
Junk food warps our taste buds and distracts us from enjoying the flavors of healthy food, in particular fruits and vegetables. You are not doing your child any favors by giving them only food items that taste good to you. Preference for food is learned and our taste buds are varied and adaptable.
Regularly include vegetables from the start
After the baby food stage has passed, parents should continue to serve vegetables as the normal fare. Try and find at least a few vegetables that are your child's favorites to use as snacks, like baby carrots, sliced cucumbers or celery sticks.
At the dinner meal try to include a salad AND a cooked vegetable, this gives your child more chances to develop a taste for veggies. Pasta by itself does not constitute a well-rounded meal although I know of one dad that tried to convince me otherwise.
Some negotiation might be necessary to encourage a child to try a new vegetable or a familiar one found sitting on the plate. If the child states that they don’t like the vegetable, the parent can offer that the child simply take ‘one bite.’ This is a compromise but should be stated in a matter of fact way using a calm tone of voice. The child may need to develop a taste for the vegetable and after a few tries might realize that they do in fact “like” the formerly offensive item.
Try serving a salad as a first course, or raw vegetable sticks to take advantage of the time when the child is at their hungriest, as this might push them towards trying a new vegetable that they might otherwise avoid.
No special meals for individuals
Offering individual meals is a slippery slope. Some parents have been known to make individual meals not only for their children, but for their spouse as well. One person likes pasta with no sauce, one likes sauce, the other doesn’t like pasta. When all is said and done leaving the 'chef' washed out before even beginning their own meal. Individual meals are not a long term solution.
Imagine you are feeding a larger family (maybe you are)
Larger families have fewer issues with food aversion because catering to certain children is unrealistic. It might not be so difficult to make a special meal for one or two children but if you were serving a family of 5 or more it would just make sense to expect everyone to eat what was set before them or at least not to complain or make an issue out of it. Catering to each child’s likes and dislikes creates an expectation for the child that the world will cater to them as well. Begin your meals with the calm expectation that your child will eat what is being served rather than giving into what the child thinks is best.
Put peer pressure to work for you
Sometimes a child will be motivated to try a new food when surrounded by other children who already enjoy that food. This could be at a birthday party, a play date or in a family setting. Taking advantage of these social opportunities can work to motivate a picky eater to try something new.
Don’t make a big deal out of food
Make it matter of fact, and don’t lock horns, at least not for long. You wouldn’t discuss whether or not a child should brush their teeth or take a bath, these are a given. The idea that we would continue to “negotiate” about eating a healthful diet is problematic.
You can also make food a celebration, using this as a way of introducing a new vegetable or other food. Kids get so excited at the thought of a holiday or party. With all of this enthusiasm around an event, children are more likely to try something new. This doesn’t have to simply be about vegetables but rather about widening the palate and of course every celebration can include a veggie platter with a dip.
An avocado dip to try
Make a dip – kids love dips!
Dips make food fun! The action of dipping is very enticing to children and offers a fun way to introduce new vegetables to children. My kids love hummus dip but other options include sour cream, salsa or cream cheese.
Variety IS the spice of life!
While it might take more work on the part of the parent to encourage the child to eat their vegetables and develop a broader palate, in the end this work will pay off. Not only will the child be open to trying new foods in the home but they will also be able to experience the varied culinary delights that the world has to offer.
Plant a Garden!
When spring rolls around, make a project of planting a simple vegetable garden, it could even just be in a small pot. When the child takes part in the sowing and tending to a garden they not only learn a great lesson, but will likely be enthusiastic about eating the vegetable as well.
Plant a garden with kids!
I can proudly say that my picky eater will eat just about anything now. He truly enjoys a variety of food and fits right in with my other children at any meal. At times he still hesitates to try something new but with my calm encouragement he will try a food that is outside of his comfort zone.
Broadening a child’s exposure to a variety of foods works to build a lifetime love of not only healthy foods, but broadens the child's horizons for the varied wonders that life has to offer them as they grow.
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© 2013 Tracy Lynn Conway
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