April 9, 2024
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April 9, 2024
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How to Get Picky Eaters to Pick Wisely

Dear Coach Gila,

Question: I follow you on Facebook and while I am extremely impressed with all the healthy meals you prepare for your family, my kids are really picky and would never eat any of your healthy snacks or meals. I know that the pizza, pasta, chicken nuggets and fish stick standbys are not healthy for my kids but that’s all they will eat. I have the time and desire to shop and cook nutritious food I just feel it is all a waste of time as when I serve the meal I am met with resistance and a request for pasta. More often than not, I give in and serve what I know will go over well with the kids. What do you suggest?

-Well Meaning Mom

Dear Well Meaning Mom,

I really hear your frustration! I have dealt with this exact issue with my five children. Today we have the perfect storm, kids demanding processed nutrient deficient food while spending more and more time indoors on their ipads, Xbox or watching TV. The end result is an explosion of childhood obesity and the diagnosis of fatty liver disease in children. From your question I can tell that you are aware of this and would love for your children to learn to enjoy healthier foods. I like to imagine the journey to health whether taken by an individual or a family unit to be like a ladder. Just as one would never run up a ladder, but would take their time, ensuring proper foot placement, so too I am an advocate for small changes, individual steps taken one at a time on the road to health.

Regarding picky kids, I have a few suggestions that have worked with my own family and numerous clients.

1. Crowding out: Instead of eliminating all the meals and snacks that the kids are used to and enjoy, begin by adding in healthier choices. For example at breakfast, if the kids are used to eating frozen waffles, give them the waffles but add a beautiful bowl of fresh berries or cut up melon. Eventually, over time, the healthier choices will ‘crowd out’ the less healthy options and will be on your children’s plates more often than not.

2. Set a good example: If your children see you eating a variety of healthy foods your kids will be more likely to follow suit. Back to breakfast, instead of grabbing a bagel as you fly out of the house, make yourself eggs or eat a leftover piece of fish from last night’s dinner. If possible, eat breakfast with your children, I know it sounds crazy in a busy household with a hectic morning routine. But in reality it will add 7-10 minutes and your kids will see you sitting and eating a nutritious breakfast. It won’t be long before they say – “Hey, how come I get a frozen waffle and you get all that yummy food?”

3. Menu planning: When I first removed all processed foods from my home I had my kids make menus for the week. They included all their favorite meals and then I set out to recreate those meals with healthier ingredients.

4. Take the kids shopping: I suggest taking the kids shopping with you and allowing them to each choose a fruit and a vegetable to be eaten that week. Each child can walk around with a piece of paper and a pen and make a list of the fruits and vegetables that appeal to them. Over the next few weeks as you buy the requested choices remind the child that it was their choice.

5. Kids in the kitchen: My kids help me in the kitchen from a very young age. This week my 4 year old, using a plastic knife helped me prepare a salad. He cut the vegetables for me with pride. Later that evening when we were eating, I heard him say “please pass the salad that I made.” Yes it takes longer and is messier but time and again when the kids are involved in selecting the produce and preparing it they are more likely to eat it.

6. Don’t offer an unhealthy dessert as a reward for eating a healthy meal. You will be sending the message that the dessert is the best food which might increase your child’s desire for the unhealthy food.

7. Minimize distractions: I teach my children to be mindful of the food they are eating beginning with making their bracha (before blessing) and ending with their bracha achranoa (after blessing). In between there is no reading at the table, ipads, ipods, texting or talking on the phone. This will help your child focus on eating without being distracted.

8. One bite rule: When I introduce a new food, I only make one new item at a time leaving the rest of the meal familiar and enjoyable to the children. I do request that they try the new food, “one bite please.” If they don’t like it, that’s fine. Sometimes it takes as many as 10-15 exposures to a new food before it becomes familiar and tasty to the child. Often the “one bite” turns into – this is delicious, can you make it again? Keep presenting new healthy ideas without pushing it on your child.

9. Roasting vegetables: I have learned that many kids prefer their vegetables roasted as the roasting brings out the vegetables natural sweetness. Keep switching it up. Try the broccoli raw with a tasty, creamy dip, steamed or roasted.

10. Make food visually appealing: One of my many mantras regarding healthy food is ‘Eat the rainbow’. We eat with our eyes first, if the food is visually appealing children are more likely to eat it. I try to literally plate a rainbow when I serve my kids. As an example, a piece of chicken, a wedge of orange sweet potato, green broccoli florets and cut up red pepper strips.

Do not let the slow wheels of progress stop you from continuing to make small changes. Keep serving healthy meals and snacks until one day you will find they are familiar and preferred foods! The small steps taken each day will help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.

Gila Guzman offers workshops, lectures, supermarket tours, pantry makeovers and cooking demonstrations. To read more client testimonials and to subscribe to her newsletter go to her website www.mainassethealth.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mainassethealth. She can be reached at 917-647-1788.

By Gila Guzman, JD, CINHC

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