A guide to turning your picky eater into a phenomenal eater
by Omena El
It’s 7:15 in the morning and I am in the kitchen having a mental tug of war with what to prepare for lunch for my newfound 7 year old picky eater. I think, “when she was younger it was sooooooooo much easier to prepare her meals.” I didn’t give her much of a choice to eat but I also made cooking an adventure. Even at 2 years of age she was involved with the culinary process of her food. Back then I truly exercised my culinary skills as I made funny faces, butterflies, and sun shapes on her plate with the food.
This absolutely tickled her and it ignited her taste buds and senses. It became a Saturday morning ritual with breakfast. Then, I became busier with freelance projects and building my own wellness empire, being in a relationship, creating time schedules for bath and homework. Time seemed to escape me bit by bit, and I only became interested in getting a savory healthy meal on the plate.
I also noticed a shift in her when she started school. The three years of influence that I possessed as a result of homeschooling gradually begin to dissemble. There were other little people who came to school with interesting foods that were very different from what she was eating. The cafeteria food was also a fascinating temptation. The chicken nuggets looked like the soy chicken nuggets I prepared at home, the mozzarella cheese sticks looked like the fish sticks she devoured with my moms homemade tartar sauce.
My razor sharp authority held up for a year or so. But the once phenomenal eater I nourished and fed was turning into a defiant, and stubborn picky eater. Internally I felt like I was failing FIRST and FOREMOST as a Holistic Nutritionist, and 2. As a PARENT! How could she rebel against everything I taught her about healthy and clean eating? For God’s Sake she trailed me for a whole summer as I ran and operated a successful cooking camp! Didn’t watching ‘Supersize Me’ scare some sense into her? Based off the latter, it’s needless to mention how frantic and frustrated I became.
Fast forward to current day, my picky eater is starting to come back around. She still eats school lunch and eats from the other children even with the interminable requests not to do so. But a recent shift has occurred. First, I began thinking of ways to get back to making cooking fun and giving her autonomy in the kitchen with certain tasks. I also began to go deeper within myself to examine any personal emotional triggers related to listening, following directions, and being heard.
Much came up for me and I became more accountable, less hypocritical (spiritually) and I in turn listened to her. What she desired was to fit in and try something new. So without compromising my unique eating habits, I agreed to prepare healthier vegetarian versions of the food served at school as well as food that some of her other friends were eating. Additionally, I realized I needed to make food fun again. This led me to research some interesting tools for picky eaters. Below will be some great resources and recipes to turn your picky eater into a phenomenal eater!
1. Discover what your child taste buds are, i.e. sweet, salty, spicy, fermented, salty, andsweet, salty and sour etc. Then add in foods that fit under these taste categories.
2. Give your picky eater a task to do in the kitchen. Find out what their favorite food is and incorporate it with some healthy options. Let the child season their favorite food etc. Let them become familiar with touching and tasting different textures and flavors of food. Caution! Don’t prepare your child’s favorite food at every dish. Do some investigating and find out a variety of favorite foods your child likes and incorporate them in your weekly meals.
3. Turn cooking into a fun quiz game. (This will be better during the weekend or when you have more time during the week). Take 4/5 different vegetables, blindfold the child and let them smell, touch, and taste vegetables to figure out what it is. It’s also best to include veggies that they like. Add in sweet vegetables, astringent vegetables, fermented (i.e. tomatoes, celery, sweet potato, pickles, spinach, cucumber etc.) Check out this website for more details on how to incorporate fun kitchen activities; www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers/picky-eaters/make-food-fun.html
4. This article I read in the N.Y. times presented a very interesting perspective on some causes of why your child is a picky eater. Check it out here www.nytimes.com/2007/10/10/dining/10pick.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
5. Another tip recommended by Nutritionists and other Health Specialists is to get your children acclimated to picking fresh vegetables and fruit in the produce aisle or at the Farmers market. Make grocery shopping exciting and turn it into an activity for you and your child(ren).
6. Listen to your child’s natural body signals. Do not force them to eat pass their level of fullness. Sometimes this can be tricky especially when your child doesn’t want to eat a certain food. Perhaps they’ll take 1 or 2 bites and say that they’re full. In this case serve smaller portions of new foods or foods that they’re not fond of. Use cool shape cutters to cut the food. Try this website for great items for purchase www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=food+cutters+for+kids&tag=googhydr-20&index=aps&hvadid=34120878475&hvpos=1s1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=248262919591860089&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_2zcad9lcyf_b
7. Educate your children on basic nutrition. Dr. David Katz has an excellent program called Nutrition Detectives check out his site at; http://www.davidkatzmd.com/nutritiondetectives.aspx also check out Melissa’s Picky eater project on the food network. Melissa is a mother like you and I who has a family of four girls, a husband and a dog. She transformed her four picky little eaters into phenomenal eaters with these special tips http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/packages/picky-eaters-project.html
8. Here’s another innovative tip to get your picky eaters involved! Create a menu plan for the week. If a week is too much to start with, make a menu plan for the weekends. Let your child(ren) plan at least 2 full meals on their own. Of course you can tweak it but give them autonomy with the 2 dishes on the menu. This will empower your children and encourage them to want to indulge in the dish that they created. Here’s where tip number 5 really comes into play. When you go shopping for the ingredients of the menu, let your child(ren) pick the ingredients for their 2 dishes.
9. Sit together as a family when eating. Allow your child serve everyone’s plate with some assistance from mommy! If your custom is to say grace, let your child try leading it. Talk about non-food related things, like the unfolding of their day, or an enjoyable topic to them. This has been a challenging one for me because I am big on being quiet and present while consuming your food. However, I realize how much my busy bee likes talking and unwinding at the dinner table. Here is a website for great kids recipe www.babble.com/best-recipes/50-best-recipes-for-kids-picky-eater-healthy/zigzag-chicken-skewers-2/
10. In my research I have come across a lot of professional recommendations that suggest trying 15/20 times to get your child open to new foods. Here is an article that you can read at your leisure www.babycenter.com/0_picky-eaters-the-veggie-hater_10331610.bc?page=1
Overall, be sure not to reward your child with sweet candies or dessert to get them to consume the healthy foods you want. This will create a pattern of emotional eating where the child associates sweet foods with good behavior. If you’re concerned about an overweight child, do not speak negatively about the child’s weight or speak about their eating habits as a contributing factor to their weight gain. Keep a mix of flavors and foods handy in your refrigerator or food pantry. Avoid yelling at your loved ones during dinner time, as this will cause another level of emotional stress at food time and can repel children towards certain healthy foods.
In terms of masking foods or blending healthy unfavorable foods with favorable foods, some experts agree and some disagree. I am one who actually agrees as long as it is in balance. I do understand the other perspective, because hiding doesn’t really teach the children about ways to make those unfavorable foods tasty in a unique way. Starting out I think that for some children who are aggressively stubborn, hiding is an effective tool to ensure absorption of vital nutrients in developing bodies.
Many gastrodegenerative ailments are affected by a high consumption of processed refined carbohydrates, emotional stress, and hereditary predispositions. Be sure to breathe, be gentle with yourself, and look for ways to maintain balance in your daily routine as you learn to incorporate healthy GO foods.
*Omena El, CHC, AADP is a Board Certified Nutrition Coach specializing in holistic nutrition. Learn more about her practice at http://www.tranquilitysbliss.com/
Photos by: Yael Gottlieb