Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Feeding Picky Eaters

Kids are notorious for being picky eaters.  Not all kids are, of course.  But frequently young palates tend to be a little less adventurous than adults.

Then there are seasons of  more...shall we say, selective eating?  For example, a child who has always been an enthusiastic eater may one day decide that he only wants to eat noodles.  Or bread.  But eventually (hopefully!) the phase passes, and he will again start branching out.

I have first-hand experience with picky eaters.  It's no fun for any parent to deal with, and I am no exception.  I do, however, sympathize with the choosier members in my family: you see, I too was a picky eater as a child.  This trait stayed with me into my teenage years, and even into my early twenties.  It's really only been the past ten years or so that I loosened up a bit, and in the past five years I've begun to eat things I never would've dreamed of in my more "selective" days.

So while I do sigh when one of my children turns up his nose at a new dish (without even giving it a chance
), I get it.  I understand, and I try to present new foods to them in a way that encourages my kids to experiment, but without inviting a major fight.

Dish Up the Fun
One thing I've noticed recently is that the name I give to a new food can make a big difference. My husband's alma mater is Kansas State University.  K-State's school color is royal purple, and our family wears a lot of this particular hue.  When I discovered purple cauliflower at the farmers' market, we served it as "K-State Cauliflower," much to the kids' delight.  Alternately, I love this child-friendly idea of creating Hummus Flowers.  And once, after I'd made bread,  it stuck in the pan and I was faced with a result which resembled a crumpled heap more than an actual loaf.  In an act of desperation I placed a hunk of bread on each child's plate, slathered it with almond butter and jam, and dubbed them "Open-Faced Volcano Sandwiches."  I was astounded to find that they were an instant hit!

Be creative, tailor it to your family's interests, and don't take your food too seriously.  There's so much potential for fun here.

Offer Choices
I have never been willing to do "the short-order cook thing," but I have come to believe that offering choices at mealtime can be key.  Do you have children who aren't fans of vegetables?  Offer several different varieties.  Frequently our dinner table will have sugar snap peas or carrot sticks and dip as well as another vegetable, usually a cooked one.  Even if a child doesn't care for either option, he will probably feel a little more cheerful about having a choice.

Another simple option is a bowl of apple slices or another fruit your family enjoys.  Mealtimes are apt to be happier if there's at least one item on the table which your child truly likes.

Hold Dessert Hostage
The long-time rule in our home is "feel free to enjoy dessert after you finish your dinner."  We serve each child a reasonably-sized serving of the main dish, offer a choice of vegetables if possible, and often offer a optional fruit or grain-based side dish.  Each person is free to eat or not eat as they see fit, but even if they don't want the main dish or vegetable, we still serve them a "no thank you helping."   If they choose not to eat, they may have dessert another day.  Sometimes this serves to motivate, sometimes not.  But either way: if you won't eat your dinner, you needn't concern yourself dessert.

We also use this technique when it comes to subsequent servings of other dishes.  For example, the child may have another serving of apples if he takes a few bites of his peas.

Keep Trying
You've probably heard that it can take a child many different exposures to a food before he or she finally accepts it.  It can be very frustrating to try, and try, and try only to have your offerings rejected  again and again.  Nonetheless,  I recommend that you keep making attempts. At my house we try to be cool and casual about it: Your dad and I enjoy eating this, and if you'd like to try it, that's great!  But if you'd rather not, that's okay.  When I was your age, there were a lot of things I didn't like to eat.  But now I enjoy things I didn't used to.  Maybe someday you'll change your mind too.  

Just the other night I served my family roasted asparagus at dinnertime.   My 4-year-old, long known as a boy who avoids vegetables at all costs, reluctantly decided to try a bite.  (I suspect that he was lured by the idea of ice cream I'd made that afternoon.)  But he did try it, and I was astonished to hear these words come out of his mouth: "The tip is good.  I like this part.  But only the tip..."  I suggested that if he liked the tip, he might like other parts too: my words fell on deaf ears.  He'd decided the tip was alright.  And that evening, he wasn't willing to stretch any more, not an inch more.

And that's okay, too.  As a friend of mine used to say, "different people like different things."  Even as a more open-minded adult, there are still foods which I cannot stomach.  But I keep trying new things, and I'm often delighted with the results of my experimentation.

Hopefully, as we parents enjoy trying new things, our children will notice this. As they (slowly) branch out from regular peanut butter & jelly, into the world of, say, pesto grilled cheese, they just may discover that there's a whole new world of foods at their fingertips.

Once they've learned that lesson, the possibilities are endless.


Thanks to Kristin at Bits and Pieces From My Life, Allyson at A Heart For Home and Christy at A Living Homeschool for inviting me to Guest Post this month.  It was fun, and I am honored!


Jill Foley said...

These are all great suggestions. My girls aren't necessarily picky, but they do like different things so I've tweaked how we do meals so they each get sufficient nutrition and energy. We have "mama's cafe" in the morning - complete with menus. I do end up being a short order cook, but since there are only 2 of them I am happy to oblige. And it makes school go better if they have had a good breakfast!

Another thing I've done recently is to get them involved in making dinner. They are much more likely to eat something they were in charge of making!

travelingthenarrowroad said...

great post! =) I've had some pickiness over the years with all my children, but my sweet aspie boy tops them all. The one bite rule is a stretch for this child, but oh how we try. *wink*

I Am Not Superwoman said...

Roasted Asparagus! Yum. At least he tried it. These are great tips Mindy. Tyler is starting to become my picky eater go figure; the older one. Hayden and Kaylyn typically will eat whatever I put in front of them these days. Hopefully it continues.

Tim, Allyson, and kids said...

Thanks so much for joining in as a TIPster guest poster. I love all of your ideas. We also emphasize the fact that just because they don't like something now that doesn't mean they won't like it when they are older. In fact our three year old always says, "Maybe I'll like tomatoes when I'm four."

Kristin said...

I have never been picky, but my husband was a picky child so he really understands what's it is like and helps me understand. The other night at dinner, I served broccoli. Owen and my husband don't like broccoli, but my husband took some anyway to show Owen that you can try things you don't like. He said, "Owen, if you finish yours first, I'll take another serving...and if I finish first, you'll take another serving." Owen ate that broccoli as quickly as I've ever seen him eat a vegetable. My husband lost that bet!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mindy, greatt ways to encourage new tastes :) I like the terrm "sellective" ccoming from my experience as a speech therapist, we work with truly, diagnosed PICKKY eaters. Our definition of a picky eater is a child who accepts 10 fooods/beverages or less (often less)! Many children I work with will only take their calories through liquids, some limit the foods they accept to only a certain color(yelllow/orange french fries, mac&cheese,cheetos-nothing else!) Now THAT is picky! :)
Also, we remind parents that a child must experience a taste 80 -100 seperate times before they truly can decide if it's aa food they like/don't like! Iisn't tthat interesting?!
Your ideas and ways to encourage new tastes are great, and your kids are on the right path to becoming well balanced eaters :)
p.s sorry about all the double/tripple letters, my phone has beeen doing that lately :/