Last Saturday, I had the privilege of teaching a group of little kids and their parents how to make healthy snacks from scratch. One of the questions I was asked during that class is if I had any tips for dealing with picky eaters. Luckily, this is a topic I often address when speaking to mom groups so I had plenty to offer. As I watched heads start to spin, one mom raised her hand and asked if I had this information on my website. Sheepishly, I answered no, but promised to add it ASAP.
So, for the parents I met last Saturday, and to all of the rest of you that often ask questions about this topic, here are my top tips for dealing with picky eaters. Enjoy!
(ps– This photo is of Annie at 2 1/2 years old, about the time she started making faces about her food. She’s now 5 1/2, about to start kindergarten, and loves eating veggies straight from the garden. Keep on persevering!)
Understanding and tips for dealing with picky eaters…
Look at portions and time of day: Many of the families I’ve worked with tell me that they have the hardest time getting their kid to eat at dinner. For toddlers and preschoolers, a serving size of fruits and veggies is one tablespoon per year of age. If your two year old has a 1/2 cup of strawberries in her breakfast smoothie, she’s had enough fruit for the whole day! Also, look at portion control when it comes to the main dish. If you serve your six year old a 6-ounce hamburger (the size of most pre-portioned patties), don’t be surprised if he isn’t interested in his carrot sticks.
Educate your kids and make it fun: Kids love to learn! Instead of saying, “Eat your carrots, they’re good for you.” Try saying, “Hey sweetie, didn’t we have fun playing in the backyard last night after the sun went down? Did you know the nutrient that gives carrots their bright orange color helps you see where you are going in the dark?” or “I love that you are eating your apple! Did you know that eating apples will help you from catching a cold?” Additionally, explain why your family is trying to avoid certain ingredients. No one likes feeling like a slug or angry. Even my three year old know why we chose to avoid artificial colors.
Put your kids “in control”: Kids love to feel in control of any and all situations. Try something like, “I noticed that you didn’t enjoy your steamed broccoli last week. I was thinking that we should try something else. Would you prefer raw broccoli with dip or sauteed green beans tonight?” Your kiddos are much more likely to eat the veggie they got to “pick” for dinner!
Think of the day as a whole, not just isolated meals or snacks: Say your child only wants cereal for breakfast. Don’t fight it. Just make sure that the next snack offers produce, protein and a healthy fat. (Apple slices with peanut butter dip is a favorite in our house.) As long as your kiddo gets a variety of whole grains, protein, fat, and produce over the course of the day, don’t sweat the individual or meal.
No “if, then”: Way too often, we threaten our kids with “no dessert” if they don’t eat their dinner. Basically, you are telling your child (who is probably not very hungry in the first place if they are not interested in eating), that they have to eat food to get more food. This upsets the body’s natural balance of hunger regulators, leptin and gherelin. When they are hungry, they will come.
Find healthful alternatives to your kids favorite “junk foods”: When prepared from scratch using pure ingredients, “kid food” and “health food” can be one and the same. We make homemade chicken tenders and nuggets from whole grain breadcrumbs and local pastured chickens, homemade mac and cheese made with raw cheese and real cream, serve 100% beef grassfed hotdogs alongside fruit and veggie sticks for a quick lunch, and prepare tacos made with homemade taco seasoning often.
Repeat, repeat, repeat: Kids are no different than we are. If your child is older and you are just beginning to introduce new fruits, vegetables, or ethnic cuisine, they may be resistant, at first. Studies have repeatedly shown that it can take up to 15 exposures to a new food before a child will fully embrace what is being offered. In our home, we have a one-bite rule. As long as you try one bite of everything on your plate, and give an opinion why you are choosing not to eat it, good enough.
Final thoughts…just because you care about what goes into your kiddos mouth, YOU are an AWESOME MOMMIES!!! When doing nutrition counseling, I like to compare the way we feed our families to our relationship with our Savior. The day you accept Christ into your life, you don’t suddenly have all the answers. The day you decide that you want to start feeding your family a more balanced, healing diet, you don’t suddenly have all the answers. All we can do is keep seeking the truth, make changes as we become more educated, and trust that God will protect our bodies, our health, and our children.
If you are in the greater Kansas City area and would like me to come speak to your mom’s group, business, corporation, or other organization, please contact email@example.com.