I have two children, ages 14 and 10. A common misconception among my friends and family is that my children are the best eaters ever. This is only half true. My 14-year-old, Caitlynn, is a good eater, while my 10-year-old boy, Miles has declared war on carrots. Caitlynn is the adventurous eater, the one who has grown up to eat most vegetables as long as they are doused in Sriracha sauce.
“Brussels Spouts!? Sure! Pass the Sriracha, please!”
Hey, whatever works, you know.
Miles, on the other hand, is stubborn, thinks carrots are his mortal enemy, and is skeptical about healthy foods. He waged war on carrots when I put them in chili and he has never let me forget how much he hated the carrot laden chili. So, moral of the story, do not put carrots in your chili. Miles will hate it.
Now, I am not the type of parent to force my child to eat anything, including vegetables. If Miles doesn’t want my chili (I usually make it sans carrot), he doesn’t have to eat it. Of course, he might be hungrier than the rest of us, but he’s exercising his right to live a carrot-free life. Plus, he knows how to make some of his own meals – sandwiches, toast, etc. He can even heat up an Amy’s burrito if he wants.
I am sure there are moms out there who can relate. A picky eater lurks around the dinner table picking out every last pea out of the pasta dish. Should you worry? Will your child get enough nutrition? What do I do if my child does not want to eat his vegetables? Force them? Bribe them?
Well, I tend to side with Ellyn Satter, the feeding expert. Her research shows that creating a positive feeding environment is better for the child and better for you as the parent. The parent is “responsible for for what, when, and where” to eat. The child (toddler or adolescent) is “responsible for how much and whether” to eat.
So, what do you do?
Offer healthy food (vegetables, fruit) at each meal. If kids see the vegetables at each meal, they will start to realize that this is the norm. Eventually they’ll come around and start trying new foods. And remember to lead by example. Kids mimic their parents. So, if they see you eating the healthy foods, they’ll likely follow suit.
Encourage children to listen to their body. I grew up in a family that prized the “clean plate club.” Kids should be able to step back from the plate when they feel full. They need to learn from their internal cues when to stop eating, even if they have not finished their green beans yet.
Figure out how kids like the vegetables cooked. In my case with Caitlynn, I had to pay attention to which vegetables she was willing to try. At first, she turned her nose up at everything. Then I made leek and potato soup and she ate a big bowl. It was at this point I realized she liked vegetables pureed in soups. From there I was able to introduce her to more vegetables and to encourage her to explore different foods. She moved from only eating vegetables in soup to eating them as a side dish.
Do not bribe your child into eating healthy. I think parents fall into the bribe trap too many times. “If you eat the broccoli, you can have ice cream for dessert.” Sound familiar? This puts broccoli in a negative light and ice cream in the positive. Ice cream already has a lot going for it. Do not pit vegetables against ice cream. Ice cream will always win.
Be positive and pick your battles. Keep the dinner table a battle-free zone. You’ve worked hard getting a good meal on the table, so you feel the need to make sure everyone enjoys it. If your child does not want to eat everything you’ve served, that’s ok. Keep things positive. Meal time should be fun and chance for the family to catch up on the day’s events, not fighting about whether or not your child is eating all her carrots.
Encourage your child to explore the world of food, not just vegetables. Bring in different flavors and textures from around the world. Utilize the spice cabinet to introduce different cuisines. Have a special night dedicated to certain cuisines – Greek, Indian, Italian, Thai, etc.
Grow vegetables in your backyard (or porch) or take the kids to the farmer’s market. Let them see how fruits and vegetables are grown. They will be more likely to try something if they’ve grown it or picked it themselves.
Let them help with meal time. Cooking is a skill that should be taught early in life, so that kids will grow up with an appreciation for food. Ok, so that’s the food-nerd in me talking, but the more the kids are around food either growing it or preparing it, the more likely they will be to try new things.
So, don’t fret. Your picky eater will come around eventually. Miles is starting come around. He’s been eating carrots without even knowing (they hide in my cream of tomato soup). Shhh… don’t tell him.