Are you struggling with a picky eater?
In my practice I see many parents worry about food and whether or not their children are getting enough nutrients into their systems. They nag, threaten, bribe, and sometimes fight over meals. This type of tension is not conducive to getting kids to eat well.
So, what’s going on? Why do kids not want to eat?
First, understand that kids have an abundance of taste buds which makes them more sensitive to different tastes and textures. (We begin to lose our taste-buds at the age of 21.) Second, kids’ tastes in food are developing. Your child may not like asparagus right now, but may later. Third, kids don’t have the patience to sit down to eat a whole meal for more than a few minutes.
So, rather than encouraging negative emotional associations with food, here are some suggestions from a few of my favorite experts: Dr. William Sears, author of The Successful Child, Dr. Cathryn Tobin, author of The Parent’s Problem Solver, and Dr. Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline A-Z .
12 Nutrition Tips for Picky Eaters
1. Watch out for foods that pollute the body such as those high in refined sugars, sodium, and hydrogenated fat. Keep these out of your child’s diet as much as possible.
2. Good nutrition can biochemically program the body to crave only nutritious food. And, of course, the same can be said for the polluting foods where kids will crave junk food if they eat a lot of junk food.
3. Young kids do well with grazing or lots of mini-meals throughout the day. They eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Offer a selection of nutritious whole foods for them to choose from.
4. Try to stock your shelves with foods that are rich in nutrients rather than offering them food full of empty calories. Avocados, broccoli, cheese, slices of hard boiled eggs, chunks of fish, pasta, organic peanut butter, blueberries, strawberries, papaya, sweet potato, pieces of cooked chicken, whole grain breads and crackers, plain yogurt, celery or other veggies sticks, and fruit slices are high in minerals and vitamins.
5. Avoid getting your kids to eat healthy food by bribing with junk food. This puts an emotional value on ‘treats’ which teaches kids to feed their emotions.
6. Avoid eating in front of the TV. This should be a non-negotiable rule for everyone in the family. Mindless eating disconnects us from the food on our plate and may cause overeating and poor digestion.
7. Do not invite power struggles by making your child eat everything on their plate. Offer up reasonable food selections and let the child choose what to eat.
8. Don’t give your child undue attention for not eating. Respect their choices.
9. Avoid making special meals for each child. It’s disrespectful to you and allows the child to manipulate and control.
10. Take your kids shopping with you and play games that teach your child how to make healthy choices.
For example, the ‘Color Game’ sends your child down the produce aisle with the following instructions: Pick two yellows, two reds, and two greens. Be sure to let them know that the darker the color, the greater the nutrients.
Or, ‘Pick 5’ is a game that can be played on any aisle and helps your child to learn which foods help them to grow. Ask your child to pick five foods that will help them to grow. Teach them to read labels and look for words like ‘whole’ as in whole grain.
11. Consider making nutrient dense food by using some of the new cookbooks for parents that hide vegetables in recipes. Adding foods such as zucchini and carrots in pasta sauce, avocado in chocolate pudding, pumpkin, apple and banana in muffins and cakes, makes these food much more substantial and healthy. Do not be sneaky about it, though. If the child asks, it is important to be honest about how you are preparing the food. This creates a bond of trust.
12. Encourage family fitness. Children can learn that a healthy body is not limited to healthy foods alone. Children who exercise are more fit and will live healthier and longer lives.
Getting kids to eat well also requires that parents take a look at what they’re doing to encourage healthy choices. Do your eating habits set a good example for your children? If not, then making small changes to your diet is the first place to start.
Also, it’s likely not realistic to totally eliminate junk food. Let’s face it, the stuff tastes good. Don’t go crazy if your kids ask for it, but consider limiting it to special occasions such as the Super Bowl, birthday parties, and so on and be sure the product is non-GMO and free of Scary Seven ingredients. The key here is to move toward healthier choices and to avoid making a big issue about food.
[Editor’s Note: If you want to learn more about how to choose healthy foods for you and your family, click here to sign up for a Naturally Savvy Get Healthy Challenge.]