Saturday, November 3, 2012

Taste a Bite Without a Fight

Photo source: Shutterstock
Here's another blog inspired by a facebook question:

Megan Brower Lynberg My 2.5 year old son is super picky and I swear he looks at certain foods and decides not to eat them. I know most parents have the try it rule, or just one bite, but we can't even get him to do that most times. Any suggestions on how to implement that? Or should we just let it go and know that for the most part he gets a balanced diet and hopefully he'll branch out as he gets older?

Picky eating is synonymous with most toddlers and school aged kids. I smile inwardly when parents boast that their one year old will eat anything, unlike "other kids" who are picky, as if the other parents did something wrong.

It is between 15 months and 3 years that kids who used to eat anything go through phases of pickiness. I say phases, because sometimes it is a favorite food one week, only to be "yuck" the next week.  I knew this when my kids were young, so I took pictures of my toddlers devouring things like broccoli, so I could show them later that they did, in fact, love it.  (It didn't help.)

Overall the two biggest food groups kids dislike, vegetables and meats, are two of the most nutritious, so parents fret about how to get the nutrition in.  My general advice: parents decide what foods are offered, kids decide how much they eat.

My kids learned "Taste a bite without a fight" at daycare. Why silly rhymes work, I don't know, but sometimes they do.  I usually advise to enforce a bite after 3 years.  Before this age, they might just be too young to fight the battle yet. They simply don't know how to follow rules until about 3. I have heard of parents turning on the tv so the child mindlessly eats what the parent puts in his mouth. Don't do that! It sets up so many bad eating habits!!!

Until the taste a bite rule can be enforced (and even after that) I like to use hidden foods as nutrients. We are having pumpkin french toast this morning-- pumpkin puree added to the eggs/milk. This is not much vegetable, but more than they would get from a bowl of cereal or standard french toast. If this is done with many meals, it all adds up. Find foods your child likes, then "tweak" to fit in needed nutrients.
Vegetables and fruits can easily be pureed and put into sauces, casseroles, smoothies, and ground meats (meatballs, burgers, meatloaf).  Put a can of beets into the blender with your spaghetti sauce for a funky colored sauce. If your kids don't like sauce on noodles, try making pizza with a zucchini/carrot/beet jazzed up sauce. Some people just finely shred or chop. I find that puree works better because they don't see it and pick it out! There are many recipes for this online and in cookbooks for parents.  Check out my Pinterest Meal Ideas page for starters. (Not all ideas are healthy on this page... some are things I just want to try!)
Putting a cheese sauce over vegetables or offering a dunking sauce (yogurt, catsup, ranch dressing) makes it more acceptable to many kids. 
Add fruits and vegetables to breads or noodles. Most kids love the bread group. Banana bread, pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, spinach noodles, and more are all ways to add a little fruit or vegetable into something they will eat. Yes, they will get more sugar this way, but ...
Try a soup or stew. This is a great time of year to throw things in the crock pot in the morning and come home to the smell of dinner already ready!  
If it's meat he doesn't like (most don't at this age) use other forms of protein and iron (eggs, nuts, legumes, etc). Dairy helps with the protein, but has no iron, so don't only use cheese - a common food they love! You can also try meat hidden in casseroles or in fun forms, but remember there are entire countries of people who don't eat meat. Just make sure your kids are getting the nutrition they need.
Play with the food: make the food fun to eat by arranging into shapes. Use a cookie cutter for fun shapes. Arrange food into a face on the plate. There are many ideas of this online! 
Let kids help prepare the meals in an age/ability safe way, starting with washing vegetables, or arranging them on a plate. Start a garden next season so kids can see the food grow! 
A tip from my mother-in-law: kids will eat anything on a stick or fun appetizer sized! Make roll ups with a tortilla, cream cheese, lunch meats, spinach, or whatever sandwich fillings you use and cut into circles. Put a toothpick in small pieces of fruit or jazzed up meatballs (or load up fruit or vegetables on a skewer for a fun kabob).  

Read books that involve foods. I have put some ideas on my Pinterest Books page. Two of my favorites: "I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato" by Lauren Child and "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr Seuss. Use the books to stimulate ideas-- like making green eggs!

Above all, try to keep meal time pleasant. It should be a time the family gathers to talk, laugh, and enjoy one another. If the focus is a fight about eating, it is not serving one of the big benefits of eating together.  Work the nutrition in, but keep the meal itself fun!

Post suggestions of what has worked for your family. I always love to hear new tricks!  And if your child is really restricted in foods, talk with your doctor.  Sometimes it's more than just picky!