Monday, June 8, 2009

Overcoming a Picky Eater

Kids don't tend to be naturally good eaters. Most moms I know suffer severe frustration over trying to get their children to eat well. I've definitely been there!!! When Carter started eating table foods, he'd eat just about anything I put in front of him - I thought I'd skipped the curse of the picky eater. Nope. Shortly after his first birthday, Carter decided he wasn't going to eat anything other than chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, mac-n-cheese, and ... cheese. Okay, he'd eat fruit too. But still, a kid cannot survive on cheese alone! For too long, I fed into this (ha ha ha) and made a separate meal for him.

One day, I decided I'd had enough! I was tired of all the fighting and stress over getting him to try new foods, or at least ingest a veggie once in a while! Plus, I figured all this stress over foods could not possibly be good for encouraging a healthy relationship with food. So (inspired by my friend Alice Anne whose daughter eats EVERYTHING), I decided to stop stressing . And to stop catering to his picky tastes. I started by offering him what I prepared for Ace and I for dinner. I made sure that every meal had some element that he would eat, so he wouldn't starve (but I usually offered this part last). If he didn't eat - fine. We didn't argue about it, just matter-of-factly ended the meal. I knew he wouldn't starve himself (and he was BIG, so he had some reserves to go on), and sure enough, after a few meals of this, he started tasting what I offered him!

I've read that it can take tasting a food up to 14 times for a child to decide they can stomach it. So, I just kept offering. Now, I respect that everyone has different tastes, so I don't expect him to like everything. I really don't like fish - no matter how many times I've tried. Kids are no different! Carter to this day refuses to eat ground meat, tomatoes (or any derivative thereof), carrots or potatoes (other than french fries). That's fine by me because he eats many other varied and healthy choices!

So, a few tips I've learned along the way:

* Sometimes its the texture kids don't like - try changing the consistency of the food.
* Some kids don't like their foods mixed - get a lunch tray looking dish that has separate areas for different foods.
* A drop or two of food coloring can make any food look more fun and appetizing.
* Slowly introduce a new food. For example, for spinach, start by mixing some spinach into corn muffins first, then add it to a pasta sauce, then serve it mixed with butter or some parmesean cheese, THEN serve it straight up.
* A rose is still a rose by any name, but calling a food something fun, kids may be more apt to taste it (i.e. super-man muffins, muscle milk, grow tall sticks [celery]). Plus, I've known many kids who will eat any meat if you call it "chicken." A little deception won't hurt ;)
* Always have one food in the meal that they will eat.
* Try a "one-taste" rule - they just have to taste it once, and if they still don't like it, no sweat!
* Praise them for trying new foods but don't make a big deal or get mad if they simply refuse or don't like it.
* Involve your older children in picking out the foods at the grocery and preparing. Carter is my little sous chef! If he takes ownership of the meal, he's sure to try it!

That said, some kids are more than just picky eaters. Some have developed food aversions that need actual intervention and therapy. If your child's pickiness seems excessive or persistent, talk to your Pediatrician about getting them a consult at a feeding clinic.

Also, I've found these tactics equally applicable to husbands as children :)

If you have any other ideas or tips - share!!!

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