The thing I love most about working with parents, families and children is discipline, but nutrition comes in a very close second.
I was a super picky eater. Super picky. I ate potatoes, pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cereal growing up.
I have two boys. They shared the same food in my uterus (at least that is how I imagine it) and they shared the same flavors and substances while breast feeding. So I was surprised when at 6 months, one of them ate everything in sight and then other one bunched his face up in disgust and spit most food out.
But here’s the thing- they are both three now and neither one is picky. I have to add that they aren’t very open to much when we are out and about because they really don’t know what they are getting in to, but at home, they will take at least one bite of everything and they both love a huge variety of foods including kale, elk steak, salmon, red peppers, spinach, quinoa, spicy foods, etc etc.
So if your child is picky right now, that does not mean that they are a picky eater. ALL children are picky eaters at some point in their life!
There are two things that you can do today to help your child stop being picky.
1) Don’t refer to them as picky eaters.
They are not.
They are either going through a phase where either they aren’t that hungry (It happens. Kids can go days without eating much. Just check with your pediatrician if you are worried. I do. All the time.)
Or they are going through a phase of being distrustful of food. This is a biological reaction to keep us from putting things in our mouths that can kill us. Children are wired to be distrustful of food once they are more mobile and independent. This is to keep our species alive so that little one doesn’t put a poisonous plant (á la Into the Wild) in their mouths while mama is starting a fire to cook the meat that papa brought home from the hunt. So don’t think that you are a bad parent when your child refuses food. That is actually their job. So just keep offering and eventually they will eat it!
2) Be relaxed about food and eating.
They don’t have to eat if they don’t want to. We try and force our kids to eat because we remember the days when they were infants and they needed a certain amount of food in order to sleep.
Toddlers are not like that. If your pediatrician says that there isn’t any reason to force food, then don’t. Offer three meals per day and one or two healthy snacks in between meals and then forget about it. Don’t offer food while they are distracted. Don’t have them carry around food hoping that they will eat. Don’t keep offering different things hoping that one of them will stick. Don’t give them something right before they go to bed if they don’t eat dinner. Don’t worry about how much they eat. Children will regulate their nutrition without any adult interaction, if we just offer three healthy meals and one or two snacks per day and that is it.
3) Keep trying the same thing over and over and over…
Your kids are not going to like something new the first time you serve it. And maybe not the second or third time either. But if they keep seeing the same food over and over, then eventually it will grow on them. Don’t give up because they don’t like something the first time.
My family loves the following recipe. We serve it with elk steak. My boys have loved and eaten sweet potatoes from day one which allows them to try other parts of the salad. Make sure if you serve something new (which you should do at least once per week!) that something else on the plate is well-liked.
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon tamari
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Juice of 1/2 orange
1 cup diced sweet potato
1 cup cooked quinoa
1/4 cup chopped chives
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1 bunch braised kale
1) Whisk first 6 ingredients, set aside
2)Place sweet potatoes in a steamer with water and steam until soft
3) Mix everything together and serve