Pitfalls of the Picky Eater
There’s a popular parenting saying of “more is caught than taught.” Teaching and eating a well-balanced diet is no exception. Lisa Bartels, RD, LD, an Olathe Hy-Vee dietitian, says, “An important aspect of feeding a picky eater is to be a good role model. Ensure that you are eating your fruits and vegetables and drinking your milk so that your child sees good habits.”
I remember this shift when our firstborn moved on to table food, and I realized that we should probably eat as well as I fed her. If parent role modeling isn’t working, try having one of your child’s friends over who will model healthy eating for your child.
Bartels also says, “One of the best ways to encourage a child who is a picky eater is to bring the child to the grocery store with you. Have the child select a fruit or vegetable that he would like to try. When a child feels invested in the food choice, he or she is more likely to eat it.” There are also many local farmers markets that make for a fun family outing to introduce healthy foods to your child. Gardening is another way to have children become involved in their food choices.
Pei-chun Fang, Olathe mother of two, says, “We have a ‘two no thank you’ rule here. He also has to eat a few bites of food that I want him to eat before he can eat the food he likes.” Similar to Fang, when my children were babies, I always fed them their least favorite food first and kept their favorite foods out of view until they were done with their vegetables and meat. Then I would bring out the fruit and yogurt. For a long time, my son refused to eat meat of any kind but loved to eat anything I was prepping in the kitchen. I would often feed him his meat during this time because it was a treat in his eyes. This is also a good time to have youngsters try new foods.
“Smoothies! Spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, avocado can all easily be hidden with the right combo of fruit or peanut butter!” says Nicole Pontillo, Olathe mother of two. You can honestly put most anything in a fruit smoothie and have it come out a nutritional and tasty success. We add fresh spinach almost every time with our fruit and yogurt. Give kids a straw, and they are happy! Have them help prep and put the ingredients into the blender to get them more involved. Smoothies can also easily be made into frozen treats, and Katie Kulhman, Olathe mother of three, adds, “Naked juice put into Popsicle molds works every time here!”
Bartels encourages parents to look beyond old stand-bys. “Parents may not always think of having their children try hummus,” she says. “Giving the child a dip for raw veggies makes it more fun, and hummus is a source of healthy unsaturated fats, fiber and protein. Chia seeds are another healthy food parents may not think of. They can be eaten milled or whole and are easy to add to many foods! Chia seeds can be stirred into yogurt, added to sauces such as marinara, mixed with ground lean meat for meatballs…the list goes on! Chia seeds are a source of Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and protein.”
If there is a particular food that your child refuses to eat or even test, try preparing it in a new way or simply giving her a new utensil to eat with. Toothpick lunches are always fun! Or have him test out his skills with a “big kid” fork or spoon. The fine motor activity can be all the distraction needed to have him eat without realizing it.
“Giving the foods funny names, such as “bugs on a log” or “tie-dye apples,” may help children try new foods. Kids often like finger foods, too, so offer raw vegetables and fruits that are easy to handle,” suggests Bartels.
Sarah Lyons, Olathe mother of soon-to-be six, suggests, “Offer both a new or disliked food and a ‘safe food’ (something they like and will eat). Also, sneak veggies in their food, like lentils into ground beef or turkey and zucchini shredded into tacos or meatballs. Carrots can go in mac and cheese.”
If your kids like games, try using dice to roll for how many bites they need to take or how many treats, like marshmallows, they can have after eating a good dinner.
Finally, I have found that it’s best to set a time limit for snack time to end to ensure bellies are hungry and ready to eat what’s for dinner. Or you can make one of your child’s fruit or veggie servings be a snack before dinner—then you’re down one possible battle!
Stephanie Loux is the mother of two and writes in Olathe. She attempts to keep the balance between a healthy lifestyle and treats that make childhood memorable.