Turning Picky Eaters into Foodies
Are fussy eaters making your dinner table a battlefield? Here are some doable tricks that will teach your your child to love new foods
Fed up with baking frozen pizza and toasting waffles as backups to every meal? Then quit. Tonight. Here's why: Kids do not have a biological predisposition to reject healthy foods. It's you, Mom, and those nutrient-deficient convenience foods you keep serving that shape your child's taste buds. Unfortunately, these early food preferences can follow your child into adulthood. If she's learned it's OK to eat fruit roll-ups instead of real fruit, the result could be a lifetime of weight issues. “Parents reinforce the ‘picky eater’ idea with special treatment,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., a contributor to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website kids eatright.org. “Picky eaters are made, not born.”
Kids need to be exposed to a variety of foods consistently—and when they're really hungry. Even the leafiest and greenest may go down the hatch if you time it right. Then, when spinach salad appears again, your kid recalls that it didn't kill her. We turned to famous chefs and nutrition scientists to help your food cynic evolve into an adventurous eater.
No. 1 Eat, Reign, Love
Repeat after us: You are in charge. You buy the groceries. You make meals. Still think you can't stick to your guns when your tot gets food fussy? Start small:
NO SHORT-ORDER COOKING. How will kids get exposed to new foods if you keep cooking chicken nuggets for them? Scientific studies have shown again and again that children copy their parents' eating behaviors. If you want your kids to eat a wide range of wholesome foods, serve them what you're eating (and make sure there's a vegetable on your plate!). It'll be less stressful for you (one dinner versus two), which, in turn, will boost your kids' acceptance of the “adult” menu: Studies show that a positive mealtime atmosphere led to greater food consumption in children, while negative vibes did just the opposite.
DON'T KEEP JUNK IN THE HOUSE. Does your daughter snatch her favorite chips from the cupboard when she doesn't like the yummy, garlicky pork chop you've put on her plate? First, continue to brush up on your “no” skills. Second, don't buy crap food. “It's the parents' job to provide healthy food,” says Blatner. “It's the kid's job to eat or not eat.”
BE CONSISTENT ABOUT WHAT'S VERBOTEN. Kids push boundaries. If you ease up on rules, Junior learns that it's OK to reject veggies, snack on candy, and behave like a banshee at mealtime. And that's not OK. “You wouldn't let your child run into the street,” says Cathleen Piazza, Ph.D., a pediatric feeding specialist and researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. “Why would you let him eat what he wants and send him on his way to a heart attack [in adulthood]?” Junk food isn't as immediate a peril as, say, traffic, but you get the gist: Be a parent!