Try This! 7 Effective Strategies for Feeding Picky Eaters

It can be nerve-wracking when your child won’t eat healthy food. So what do you do about it?

Maybe your child was choosy from the beginning, or maybe around the age of three, started rebelling against foods that he or she used to eat by the truckload. What gives? Why does nature set it up this way, that kids actually avoid the basics they need the most to grow big and strong?

Well it turns out, there are a few reasons. Taste buds are what you might call malleable; they are designed to adapt to local fauna, and to protect us from potential hazards. So for example, the wide variety of plants out there poses many possible threats, so kids are naturally wary of veggies1.

Conversely, kids are drawn to white foods like yogurt, bread, and other bland, sugary foods because they are closely associated with breast milk. Makes sense, right?

So how do you get them to eat the things they need the most? Here are a few tricks to try:

  1. Hide the good stuff. If you have to, cook down veggies and make them into pureed soups. Dice harder veggies up finely so that size and texture are not big obstacles. There are many crafty ways to tuck garlic, leafy greens, and potatoes into their diet by blending them.
  1. Cut back on sugar. Evolutionarily speaking, sugar is the high watermark in terms of energy, so our bodies gravitate toward those flavors. Sugar is everywhere and it sort of trumps other flavors if kids have a choice. Juice is the hidden culprit, so minimize their intake and offer them water regularly.
  1. Diversify the range of flavors you expose your child to and make sure you describe it for them: Is this tangy? Is this salty? Give them a flavor vocabulary. Herb gardens are great for this with things like mint, basil, cilantro, and parsley. Try the same experiment with smells just to get the olfactory stimulated.
  1. Don’t give up. This is the biggest mistake that parents make across the board: they pigeonhole their child’s preferences. Pediatricians have said that children who get offered the same food 20 times will often say yes on the 21st. Keep trying and enjoying those foods in front of them. Taste buds develop; that’s what we mean when we say “acquired taste.”
  1. Involve them in the prep. Kids these days don’t know where their food comes from! If you have a little garden, make it a consistent activity to plant a few things. When you take your child shopping, let them choose some ingredients. At home, provide them with ways to help prepare food. Kids who participate in cooking are more likely to eat the product.
  1. Snacking the right way. It’s ok to let your kid graze; that’s a great solution if they have trouble with whole meals. Some things to try: avocado, sweet peas, cherry tomatoes, sweet pepper, and carrots. Many kids will eat hummus or cashew dip, and pesto is a great way to fill them up with dark green veggies.
  1. Don’t bribe. It’s easy to get frustrated and go to great lengths to get your kids to eat, but resist. Some websites have elaborate ways to make food into kid-friendly animals, but who has the time for that everyday? Don’t offer special treatment like spoon feeding, bribing with desert, or making sculptures out of their meals. You are setting them up for a nightmare when they head off to preschool.

Remember that most children will not starve themselves, and if we keep it low-key and experiment, they will come around. That same kid will be a ferocious eater in a few years. Model good food hygiene and they will pick it up too. As your children grow, you will see that their taste in food grows with them, as long as you are giving them healthy choices and the right type of encouragement.

 

References:

  1. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-are-you-picky-eater-blame-genes-brains-and-breast-milk-180953456/?no-ist

 

 

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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