Got a Picky Eater? Try These Tips
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It’s 5:00 pm and I just spent the last hour making dinner for my family. I’m testing out a new recipe for an upcoming meal plan that I’ll be launching soon.
The food looks incredible and I can’t wait to start eating. I’m hungry. The house smells like a home cooked meal. My husband walks in the door and instantly tells me “Yum, it smells great! What’s for dinner?”
I feel like a proud wife/mom/cook/human and I’m excited to serve up the meal.
I dish up three plates for my little fam and we sit down to eat.
My husband takes a bite. He loooves it! I take a bite – I do too! Woohoo! so far it’s a success… then we look over at our 3 year old daughter. She picks up her fork and takes the most miniscule bite – is there even food on there? I’m not even sure.
Her face turns into a frown… “I don’t like it mommy.”
My shoulders drop and I take a big sigh of defeat. I can’t help but feel like a bit of a failure. It was a lot of work to make this meal! I really wish that everyone in the family would’ve liked it.
The truth is that this is pretty common. And a lot of moms feel this same way.
But at the end of the day, let’s face it most kids are picky eaters in some form or another. And if I make a meal that she’ll really love, chances are it’s not something my husband and I will like. And vice versa. So basically, you can’t please everyone all the time.
My daughter can definitely be a picky eater. She doesn’t like anything mixed together. Every type of food has to be separate from one another. And no mixing allowed. This means no stews, no dips, or sauces. And no salads. It could feel pretty complicated if I let it get to me.
BUT, there is a a lot she will eat. For example, she’ll eat vegetables like cucumber, carrots, pickles, celery and heaps of kale, as long as they’re all separate from one another.
Her tastes can sometimes rotate as well. For example, she used to love eating broccoli, but now not so much. And she used to dislike kale but will eat loads of it now.
The point I’m trying to get at is that things are always changing and evolving and I expect it to continue to be this way throughout her childhood.
But this doesn’t stop me from making food that my husband and I love to eat. And here’s why I believe this is really important and I recommend you do the same…
Our actions as parents speak far louder than our words. And everything that you eat, your child will notice and learn as the way they should also eat. It might not happen today, or this month, or even this year. But if they see that you enjoy eating a variety of whole foods, including beautiful salads, whole grains, roasted vegetables and more, they will slowly start to incorporate these into their diet as well. I really truly believe that as parents, we lead by example.
So instead of getting frustrated with our little picky eaters, I think that it’s important to encourage food positivity and offer a variety of real foods to them on a regular basis.
But amidst the struggle and frustration of it all, it certainly helps to have a plan! So let me share with you my personal plan with my own little picky eater in hopes that it will help you too.
WHY ARE KIDS PICKY?
Before we get into some active solutions we can take to get our kids to eat a wider variety of foods, we need to talk about the elephant in the room… and that’s why they are picky in the first place.
When I was growing up, one of my best childhood friends ate one thing, and one thing only. It was chicken flavoured ichiban noodles.
I’m talking, morning, noon and night. Whenever I was over at her house (our families were very good friends so it was pretty often) she was slurping down some ichiban.
At the time I thought it was kinda funny. And looking back, that would probably be the most extreme case of picky eating I could ever think of.
But the point I want to make is that she didn’t get there by accident. She wasn’t born to only like ichiban noodles. Nope, instead it was a series of small actions taken over time that lead her down that path.
One of which, I hate to say it, was her mom’s choice of what she fed her child. But guys, this isn’t about mom guilt – I really dislike that stuff. It’s more of a wake up call to tell you that you are in control of what you feed your children and overtime it can lead to greater consequences.
I know that the struggle is real. I’m certainly guilty of bribing my daughter with a cookie to get her out the door faster, or offering her a piece of chocolate for dessert to get her to finish her dinner. I’m not a saint. But I know that my actions have resulted in my daughter looooooving chocolate and cookies and asking for them all the freakin time. So I have to be careful of when to bribe and when not to.
So let us all give each other a big hug and accept that our actions have resulted in picky eaters to varying degrees. But let’s also realize that we can change this if we want to! Basically mama, YOU can help your child to love a wider variety of food. YOU’VE GOT THE POWER!
Kids Are Prone To Sweet Things And Companies Have Figured This Out
Kids taste buds are prone to sweet things. This is normal.
But actually, so are mine and yours! Consider this a survival instinct passed down from our caveman days.
And unfortunately, marketers from processed food companies have figured out a way to use this to their advantage.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there is actually a profession called a flavor chemist (aka flavorists)? To get this position, you have to graduate with a degree in chemistry, biology or food science – so it’s no joke. These flavorists work in labs and “use chemistry to engineer artificial and natural flavours” in our food. (source)
They also create chemical taste enhancers which are designed to suppress the bitterness in processed foods by enhancing the sweet and savoury flavors. Basically, they turn things that might not taste very good into things that taste amazing! That’s their job – to create chemical taste enhancers that large companies will then use to put into food. These flavours are generally found in every single processed processed food you can find at the grocery store.
In a way, these chemical taste enhancers trick your tastebuds into thinking that you’ve tasted something delicious and also healthy. Which maybe isn’t the case at all (like cherry bubblegum for example).
So when you’re obsessed with the latest flavor of barbecue potato chips – and you just can’t stop eating them and you have no idea why. THIS IS WHY. It’s not your fault girl!! There is a team of professionals creating that delicious flavor that makes you go overboard on the chips even though you know they’re not good for you.
But there’s a bigger problem here, and that’s the fact that your taste buds become numb to everything else, including real healthy food, when you eat too much of the processed stuff.
So if your kids are eating processed foods frequently throughout the day, or tons of sugar, and then you try to offer them broccoli for dinner and they tell you it tastes like cardboard, this is why.
So, step one is to start decreasing the processed foods in your home. It may seem like a big undertaking, but ya just gotta do it. Take it slow, eliminating one thing at a time.
But there is good news here! Yes, I have loads of good news!!
If you were to eliminate majority of processed chemical foods and only eat whole foods, it will take your taste buds about two weeks to acclimate to new tastes. And the longer you go eating real foods, the more enjoyable and deeper the taste will become as you start to enjoy more flavours. That means that one day, you will actually think that celery has a hint of sweetness to it – no really, it does!
So basically, here’s the real talk – Expect this transition process to be hard. Know that this will take time. Be patient with it. And remember, you’ve got the power! (If you need some pump up music, watch this video)
THE 5 ACTION STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO HELP YOUR PICKY EATERS
You didn’t think I’d leave you hanging without some action steps to get started did you? That’s not my style. So now let’s go over the steps together. These are the same things I’m doing in my own household with my own daughter. Give them a try. But always remember that there’s no perfect one-size-fits-all for this stuff. You’ll have to do some trial and error here to see what works best for each child in your family. But that’s basically what parenting is all about in general, right!?
Step One: Change Your Mindset
The first step here is to change your own mindset about what it means to be picky. I’m going to encourage you to take a more relaxed approach. If you do, it takes the pressure off of everyone, including you, and it allows for more ease around food.
Do you have a friend whose kids will eat anything!!?? Like all the healthy food in the world – it doesn’t matter – they’ll eat it. I’ve got those moms in my life too. It can feel a little discouraging at times, but the truth is that we are all uniquely different and we can’t expect all children to act the same around food.
So if you see a mom who has a child who eats loads of kale and drinks green smoothies and your kid won’t touch the stuff – DON’T WORRY! You’re not failing as a mom. So take the pressure off give yourself permission to just go with the flow.
Step Two: Get Them Involved In The Kitchen
The next step (and one of the most important) is to start getting them involved more often with food choices and cooking. Take them to the grocery store with you and let them cross off items on your grocery list as you go through it.
One of my absolute favorite things to do with my daughter is to have her choose a new fruit or vegetable for us to bring home and try. She gets to pick it out and then we talk about how we might eat it – should it be cooked for dinner? served as a school snack? If your kids are old enough, have them google the food to learn more about its nutritional value and how to cook it together.
The key here is that you want to get them involved in the process of making it. This will encourage them to experiment and try new things. And if you make this a part of your life every single week, it will become normal for them.
The next step is to take this same curiosity and experimentation into the kitchen. Get your kids helping out with cooking. Have them stir, mix, wash and peeling vegetables (if they’re old enough)… put on some music and make this time special. Create a tradition – these are memories that will last their lifetime and yours!
Step Three: Talk About Nutrition With The Kids
Start talking about food with your kids and how it makes them feel. Do vegetables make them strong? Does eating too many candies give them a tummy ache? This will help to encourage them to become more aware of their bodies and how food directly impacts them.
Step Four: Celebrate Small Wins
Celebrate and encourage your child’s bravery for trying new foods, even if it’s the tiniest bite. They say it takes 20 tries for a child to start liking something.
Another thing we should note is that our taste buds evolve as we age. Was there anything that you hated as a child but now love to eat? Your children will also go through an evolution of their own taste buds as well. What they eat as toddlers, elementary kids, in middle school and high school will all be different.
So start celebrating and encouraging all growth and changes, even if it’s the tiniest one. These small steps add up to big changes over time.
Step Five: Lead By Example
From the moment that your children are born, they look to you for what to do and how to navigate the world. What you eat will impact your children, and if you want your children to eat and explore a wide variety of foods, you have to do the same.
A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shares that the best way to teach your kids to eat healthy is to set an example for them starting at an early age.(1)
“The mothers who led by example and persuaded, rather than ordered, their kids to eat their vegetables had kids with healthier diets” (science daily)
That means that ordering kids to eat their vegetables won’t be nearly as effective as them seeing what’s on your own plate.
Bonus Step: Don’t Give Up!
Don’t give up! You’ve got this. Continue to go with the flow and encourage your children down the path of healthier eating. Don’t expect miracles to happen overnight – but really, nothing in parenting happens that fast. Everything we do and teach to our kids takes a long term commitment and daily reminders.
The point that I’m trying to get at is this: Go ahead and experiment with a variety of food. Enjoy them. Offer them to your family, and don’t worry about the rest. Your job is to show them that whole foods are amazing and it’s up to them as to whether or not they want to try certain things.
So, with all that being said, I really want to encourage you to try new recipes. Explore new foods and see what works best for you right now in this chapter of your life. Don’t be offended if a meal doesn’t please everyone in your family.
The journey towards health isn’t about getting to a finish line. It’s about experimenting and enjoying your food in a way that makes you feel excited. It’s about letting the process be imperfect. And above all else, it’s about simplifying the entire thing so that you can truly enjoy just how wonderful eating real food can be.