“Ugh, your kids are so picky they never eat anything I make!” Says your mother-in-law, you cringe and mumble under your breath to your determined to starve child, “Take a bite and I’ll pay you $5.”
“No Mom, it is too….(pick any adjective here, gross, slimy, green, smelly, crunchy, mushy, cheesy, dry…. )”
You sigh, get up to what feels like laser eyeballs of adult judgement and make a piece of toast for your young dictator, all the while preparing for the litany of parenting and nutrition advice you will receive over the next few hours…..
Sound familiar? Well read on!
As a pediatric nutritionist, picky eating is at the forefront of my practice, many more blogs on this topic to come, but my finest nugget of wisdom is to make the word “picky” akin to a swear word in your house. From this day forth NEVER call your child picky or assume what they will and will not eat. Kids will often be what we tell them they are. If you had a kid who was struggling with homework would you tell them they are a bad student, suggest they not try as historically they have not been able to master the assignment? No, you would encourage them, find strategies and stay positive!
Be encouraging with food, never assume what they will and won’t like, and tell your child they are the most adventurous eater you know! You might be surprised.
However, this strategy can take many months for actual progress to materialize, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner so here are some tips to take the stress off food this holiday.
1. Offer to bring a side dish, something you know is a fast and true favorite of you child. Often the presence of one familiar item on the plate can begin the process of eating and once they start they are more willing to try other items.
2. Tell you children the story of thanksgiving and what you as a family are grateful for this year Work together to help them come up with their own food contribution that makes them feel grateful. Encourage them to branch out here, but if they are grateful for mini pizzas- well then plop a basil leaf on them and serve them as an appetizer or a side dish.
3. Start small! A huge plate of new food can be very overwhelming for a kid who has not had a great deal of sensory exposure to new foods. Make a plate that looks pretty close to what they typically eat at home, ideally 1/3 a starchy item, 1/3 turkey and 1/3 a veggie, and make sure one of the options is a familiar favorite. There is no obligation for you kids to have everything offered. If you kid has a “never eat” item, maybe this is not the day to push it. Additionally, starting with just a small portion means less food leftover if your resistant child chooses to not have much, may translate to less laser eyes of adult judgement.
4. Put sauces in a small dipping dish on the side. Kids like to dip and may be more inclined to try new foods if they can independently dip the foods into gravy, cranberry, or even the old school favorite ketchup. Depending on the formality of your family and the age of your kids try cutting the food into bite size pieces and stabbing a toothpick in each bite. The novelty of eating off a toothpick may be enough to tantalize even the most resistant eater.
5. If your child enjoys sandwiches there is nothing wrong with putting the turkey in a roll with some butter or mayonnaise.
6. This is a day that dessert is always a fine option! Apple crisp, pumpkin pie, pecan tart all have many redeeming nutritional qualities. Don’t use dessert as a bargaining chip for dinner tonight. This may help reduce meal time arguments and negotiations.
7. Be attentive to hunger. An overly hungry child is often beyond the point of hunger and won’t actually want to eat, or will be too emotional to eat. One who has gorged themselves on cheese and crackers will not want to eat either. Make a small plate of appetizers and then encourage them to get outside, or play a game.
8. Get some fresh air – a breath of fresh air can accomplish many things. It can diffuse a brewing food standoff, can stimulate hunger and can take the pressure off it being a fully food focuses holiday. Head out for a walk before the meal, or get a game of flag football, old fashioned tag, or kickball going.
9. Finally, and perhaps most important – these are YOUR kids not anyone else’s, be confident in the parent you are, I am sure you are doing a great job. Your kids may be a bit resistant in the food department, but before that can be the focus of any conversation direct the meal time exchange to their other amazing attributes. Their science project, the nice painting they made, the quality job they did setting the table, their sports teams, school work, anything to boost their esteem at the table.
Celebrate gratitude and Happy Thanksgiving!
MOLLY GERSTER MS RD
Molly has 15 years in the field of pediatric, adolescent and adult nutrition. She began her career as the infant-young adult RD at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, NY. She was then the IOP nutritionist for the Renfrew Center of Southern Connecticut and is currently the nutrition director at Backcountry Wellness in Greenwich, CT with Dr. Joanna Bronfman.