Table Matters:

Advice for parents of picky eaters

When my daughter was old enough to recognize ice cream and popsicle boxes in the freezer, I pulled a switch on her. I saved empty frozen vegetable wrappers to use to hide the treats, so I could then dole them out myself. Yes, I’m ashamed to say that my daughter wasn’t always crazy about veggies.

I don’t use the word ‘ashamed’ lightly. Guilt and shame are familiar emotions to most parents who are doing their best to feed their children, who are often picky eaters, a healthy diet.

“Children aren’t going to like everything, and won’t eat everything they are offered,” explained René Norman, RD/LD of Nutrition Consultants of Tulsa. “But as long as they get their nutritional needs, even over the course of several meals, a parent can feel less guilty. Even, for instance, if the child only eats meat once a week.”

Taste Buds and Super-Tasters

Norman said that when babies are born they have taste buds in their cheeks. That makes them react to flavors differently from adults. Also, some kids are super-tasters, so they may have strong reactions to foods such as meat. Since children may not eat for more reasons than taste, Norman recommends books by Ellyn Satter.

“She uses a loving, but disciplined, way [to encourage healthy eating habits],” Norman said. “Children decide what they will eat and how much is enough. Parent shouldn’t make them eat everything on their plates, as that can lead to overeating later.”

Remain Calm, and Try Again

When children don’t eat, family dynamics should be considered. The dinner table must not be a battlefield. Parents should remain calm and non-confrontational. Frustration can be a problem, but Norman said parents have to learn to turn the control over to the child. She said to offer different foods. Ask the child to try the new things, but do so in a positive way instead of pressuring the child.

If he takes a bite then immediately spits it out, praise him for his effort instead of getting upset. Tell him, “That was so brave to try the new taste.”

It can take 10 to 15 tries before a person’s taste buds will actually be able to handle a new taste, said Norman. Try again tomorrow or the next day. Also, think about different ways to introduce the food. For example, my daughter always hated any kind of baby food with green peas, but she ate frozen peas like candy.

Take Time Into Account

Another thing to consider is time. The brain needs about 20 minutes to realize and signal a full stomach. When families sit down and inhale food in five or 10 minutes, instead of chewing slowly and thoroughly, everyone tends to eat more.

If little ones finish a regular sized meal, then still cry hunger, Norman said to reassure them that they can have more, but ask them to wait about 10 minutes before coming back. Then don’t be surprised if you don’t see them return for more.

The dueling cookbooks by Missy Chase Levine (The Sneaky Chef) and Jessica Seinfeld (Deceptively Delicious) that provide recipes where pureed vegetables can be hidden in favorite meals have gotten a lot of press lately.

It may be worth a try, but not every parent has the time to puree and freeze when little darlings aren’t looking. In a perfect world, our kids would love every new food introduced, but we can get most of the way there if we don’t give up as soon as the squash gets spit into our eyes for the third time.

While veggie wrappers used to be my camouflage for ice cream bars, I’m happy to say my family has learned to enjoy many vegetables. While I can’t make them eat Brussels sprouts, most everything else at least gets a small taste.

Categories: Infant/Pre-School, Little Ones