|Happily devouring Seasnax Toasty Onion seaweed.|
People will often tell me that I'm lucky to have kids who "eat everything." I usually just smile and nod. I feel like I'm actually fooling them. My kids weren't born eating everything. They were trained to eat everything. And even then, they technically don't eat everything and love ice cream and cookies, like every kid. It continues to be a work in process.
Well over a year ago, I read Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. It is the story of an American mother raising her young children in Paris. She talks about the differences in parenting between the French and her American friends and family. She talked quite a bit about the differences in the way that American and French children eat as well.
French kids weren't born with refined palates, happily willing to eat braised leeks, legumes and any other vegetable put in front of them. Apparently the French believe that children (or anyone for that matter) might need to try a food up to 14 times before they will like it. Since reading that, it has always been in the back of my mind. The French also talk about a child's first encounter with a particular food as being the start of a lifelong relationship. Each experience is part of their culinary education.
Even the pickiest of eaters can be transformed, but I understand that it isn't easy. Here are a few tips, from my experience as a mom and as a nutritionist, to help transform a picky eater:
- Make one meal only. I know that this can be really hard if your child only eats bread, cheese and apples right now, so it might need to be a gradual transition. Always have at least one thing per meal that you know your child will eat.
- Don't give in. Toddlers won't starve themselves. If your child looks at his plate and refuses to eat a single bite, don't give in and make them something else. This is REALLY hard. I've done it before. He might be starving by lunchtime, but he will learn eventually that he can't control mealtime anymore.
- Don't make a big deal about it. When one of my girls refuses to eat, I simply say, OK, and I take the plate away. It is very rare that they don't choose to take the plate back and eat. Don't stress out about your child not eating. Keep meal time happy and enjoyable.
- Just one bite. It really did take me about 14 tries to get my girls to eat spinach. I tried making it in different ways. My rule is always, take one bite. Initially, that didn't always happen, but soon enough they started trying it. I've been really consistent with this rule and now, no matter what, they will try everything on their plate.
|She finished her entire plate of|
- Eat together. Try to eat one meal per day with your children. Kids are more inclined to eat and try new things if they see their parents doing it. Our girls love when the four of us can sit down for a meal together.
- Limit snacking. My kids eat breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner. In the rare instance that they eat a morning snack, their lunch suffers. With that being said, I don't allow them to go for more than 3-3.5 hours without eating, so if breakfast was eaten early, a snack will likely be given. From a nutrition perspective, snacking is a dangerous habit to get into.
- Don't deprive them. I always asked my clients to follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time make healthy choices. 20% of the time, eat what you'd like. While my kids eat very healthy, they still get to go for ice cream on a hot day or or eat dessert when we're out. My Mom never had junk in the house when we were growing up, but when we went out or went on vacation, we could eat what we wanted. This is the approach I've chosen for the girls.
Catering to picky eaters can be stressful and time-consuming, especially for busy parents on the go. Transforming a picky eater isn't an easy task and might end up taking more time in the short-term. It takes great patience and understanding as well. Do it gradually and talk to your child throughout. Stick with it. It can be done!