Monday, April 6, 2009

What about those picky eaters?

What's a parent to do about picky eaters? I run a little Nature program for preschoolers with their parent(s), and after the program, most of them stay and eat together.
I love these kiddos -- and it's interesting for me to observe how the moms deal with their children's feeding. The kids vary from being great eaters to picky little f*ers, and the moms vary from being super-health-conscious to rather laissez-faire.

I came across an interesting blog discussion recently on "Eating Well" about how to get "veggies down" picky toddlers and kids. Check out the moms discussing how they get their kids eating veggies, including quite a bit of trickery. One of the funnier ones was a mom who swears that if you tell kids a dish is special "only for mom & dad, you kids would not like it", then the kids will REALLY want to try it too, LOL. I also liked what a blogging mom named "Daytona" wrote about her family's experience: "Growing Greener Broods" -- It got me thinking about parents' role in their childrens' eating habits.

Here's some free and unsolicited advise.
My qualification are merely that I'm a mom of 3 children range from 11 to 22, so I've been there done that... Even though I don't have toddlers anymore, and we don't really have any major food "issues" these days, I realize that I still have a huge influence on the two children remaining at home. I hope Eldest will comment on this post!

#1. Don't make eating a battle.
This one sounds simple, but I see food battles between parents and kids all the time. Many kids go through picky stages (most notably during toddlerhood) -- and you and they will get thru -- but please don't set the stage for them to have food issues for life...

#2 Model good eating behavior.
You need to eat your veggies too! Don't snack on empty calories between meals, in the car, etc...

#3. Keep on offering new foods alongside the regulars. Look at the bigger picture -- don't make it about the green beans at tonight's dinner. It's not that important, and they may just be "off" their feed tonight (or this month, or this...?) Keep some perspective: it's o.k. if they don't eat the green beans-- keep calm, and serve another healthy dinner tomorrow.
Variety is a good motto-- just keep on offering lots of choices. Intersperse new foods with their old stand-byes, so you don't fall into a rut of "same old". Kids can only expand their horizons if you offer it to them -- don't give up on them.

However, don't give in with junk food -- you can offer other healthy choices, but not junk foods, esp. not SWEETS!

Most importantly: Remember NOT to make mealtimes into power struggles.
And kids can be Masters at power struggles : then they control you (hee hee!)
If you make a big deal about how they won't get any dessert if they don't eat their green beans, and then later, after a lot of fussing, you give in and let them eat dessert, then the kid has WON. Lesson learned is "they may threaten me with no dessert, but in the end, I do get what I want!"

If they're still really young (toddlers), and they're putting up a real fuss at the dinner table: "Food up, Kid down." In other words, the kid's meal is over (end of discussion)-- they'll get a chance to eat in another hour/couple of hours. No, they won't starve, I promise.

Remember, you (the parent) can only control what goes on the table, but not what goes in the mouth! So don't go there! Choose your battles carefully, and give ultimatum ONLY if you (backed up by your spouse) can be consistent. (HINT: Let natural consequences work, rather than artificial punishments -- going hungry until the next meal is a natural consequence, getting sent to bed early while the other kids get to go play outside is not.)

If they're older, stay positive. "Thanks for trying that new dish. Sorry you didn't like it -- what would you do to make this tastier? If you're still hungry, there are some carrots/ apples..."

It could be that the particular food dislike is one they'll never end up liking (just think, are there foods that you just can't stand? Sauerkraut? Haggis?) Your kid has a right NOT to like a food, and needs to learn to deal with this politely -- teach them to say "No thank you" instead of "Yuck", and if you're lucky, the # of items on the Disliked-foods list will shrink as they get older...


honeypiehorse said...

My kids get 5 m&ms for dessert if they eat all their cauliflower. So far that's the only strategy that's worked for my oldest. My youngest is easy and eats almost everything.

PattyP said...

My Eldest (11) is still one who wants total control over her meals. So when the rest of us are eating something I know she'll resist, we simply tell her -- in a non-threatening way -- to make her own dinner. She's pretty good about adding a fruit or veg that she likes. And everyone enjoys their meal...

That control over eating thing is a powerful force, to be sure.

Naturelady said...

HPS: Have you ever tried roasting cauliflower (w/ olive oil, plus maybe a few spices) -- it converted me to liking a vegetable that I previously only barely tolerated...
PP: It's great that she can make her own dinner, and it sounds like that works for your family -- it's good that you can avoid a power struggle!

Kitchen Sister said...

And so Eldest comments, the grown-up perspective of NatureLady's child:

One power struggle I would STRONGLY recommend avoiding is the rule to clean your plate. What an outdated rule. Whether your kid eats everything on his plate or the dish disposal gets it, kids in Darfur will still starve. If your kid gets into the habit of eating everything on the plate regardless of his/her hunger level, they'll end up like so much of us: eating everything in the humongous serving at a restaurant, not because you're that hungry, not because it'll magically transfer from your stomach to a starving person's instead of your thighs, but because it's a learned habit.

I don't know if it's worth making a power struggle over, but "Try one bite, just ONE bite, that's all I'm asking" does seem reasonable. Your kid doesn't get complete control, but they're not controlled, and they'll be exposed to a variety of food and the jury can come in when they move out.

Finally, invite your kids to cook with you! I botched so many batches of brownies and cookies baking as a kid, with no salt, the classic baking powder/soda switcheroo, and forgetting stuff in the oven, but I gobbled them up for the most part because I helped make them. That's right, me, capable me, look what I helped do!

Why is it that kids are so classically trained in the arts of cookie balling, brownie stirring, and cupcake icing (and licking all the bowls upon completion), but don't touch vegetables until they push them to the other side of the plate? Kids can skewer mushrooms on shish-kebabs, whisk marinades, decorate pizzas, layer platters, etc. I know it makes some mothers quiver at the thought, but your kid probably should learn knife and frying skills before the age of 18. Why not be the one to teach the skills?