Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dealing With Picky Eaters

Getting your child to eat anything healthy is one of the biggest challenges we parents have to face, but I have some useful tips as a parent and as a former picky eater.

1.  Let your kids help you cook.  I find that my children are more likely to try what they helped make because they take pride in their work.

2.  Remember that children's taste buds are more sensitive.  I still recall how horrible tomatoes tasted to me as a child, but they became more tolerable with the right dressing in a salad.

3.  Don't give up.  Just because your child rejected broccoli the first three times doesn't mean they will always reject it.  I saw a show about picky eaters years ago and it said that if you put a new food on their plate 20 times on average, they will try it eventually.

4.  Don't try the method of making them sit at the table until they eat their vegetables.  My parents tried this with me and I just sat there with tears streaming down my face.  Making eating a battle makes it miserable for everyone at the table.

5.  Don't cater to your picky eater by cooking more than one meal.  With my oldest son, if he is that repulsed by dinner, I tell him he can make something else, but he will have to do the dishes since he's creating more work for me.

6.  Have the kids help you make a menu.  Tell them that you have to have something from each of the food groups, so they need to choose a vegetable.

7.  Read about healthy foods together and the ways they benefit our bodies.

8.  Offer incentives for trying new foods.  Dessert might be one idea, but you might also try offering to play their favorite game with them.  I try not to use food as a reward because I fear my kids will develop a habit of rewarding themselves with food, leading to obesity.

9.  Experiment with alternate ways to cook foods they don't like.  As a child, I gagged on cooked carrots, but I liked them raw.  Or you might find that they won't eat canned beans, but will eat them fresh.

10.  If they want seconds of the foods they do like during a meal, tell them you would be happy to give them a second helping if they would just eat three more bites of whatever it is they don't like.

I have read about ways to sneak healthy foods into things your children like, but I personally don't agree with that approach.  I want my children to know that I purposefully feed them certain foods for their well being and I share with them how I have grown to like vegetables and other foods when they are prepared well.  I never knew I liked asparagus until I politely tried it again at my brother's house.  He had sauteed it in olive oil with garlic, adding a dash of lemon, salt, and a little freshly grated parmesan cheese.  I was thrilled to be able to say that I now loved asparagus.  I ventured into my cookbooks, opting to try some recipes even though they had some ingredients I didn't love.  Again, I was surprised to find I loved fresh grean beans sauteed in olive oil and garlic and served with pasta in a creamy pesto sauce.

I have never made it a source of contention in my house and I have been so happy to hear my oldest son requesting tomatoes and onions on his hamburgers, so I think he is slowly outgrowing his picky ways.  My 8-year-old adores salad because I make a homemade garlic vinaigrette that he finds so tasty.  I never thought I would hear the phrase, "Can I have salad instead of dessert?"  I just about died when he said it.

Our 7-year-old is our remaining picky eater, but he doesn't limit it to vegetables.  If he had his way, we would eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese every night, but that's not going to happen.  I have faith that he will outgrow it too.  He surprises me in other ways, thanking me for making chicken and broccoli casserole.

Our 2-year-old will eat almost anything we put in front of her and quite enthusiastically, but I'm not getting my hopes up because our two oldest were the same way and their tastes changed for a few years.  Don't be surprised or discouraged if this happens to you.  It will get better, but it will take some time and patience.

How do you deal with your picky eater?


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