Putting a positive spin on picky eating!

Part One of a two part series….

There’s an old nursery rhyme about Peter Piper who picked a pepper. My guess is Peter didn’t eat the pepper because peppers are an unusual food group for a child. Or are they? Today we want to talk about picky eaters but from a positive point of view. Creating a positive attitude towards food begins at an early age and as parents we role model food preferences every day, both consciously and unconsciously. Therefore, fostering a healthy attitude towards food begins at home – with the parents and guardians of our precious,  “Picky Peter Pipers.”

Healthy Food

One of the best ways to appeal to a young child is through their inner super-hero. Universally, kids can relate to the strength and inner resolve required to be a super-hero. Talk to them about how food helps kids grow and in language they can relate to. Need super-hero eyesight? Vegetables can help with that! Super-hero strength? Protein is important and there are plenty of proteins to choose from for even the pickiest eater. The Canada Food Guide has an excellent pictorial guide to food and their categories and young children can easily learn about the four food groups from this source. Consider these tips:

  • Perhaps they see a picture of their favourite food on the guide and if so, let them point to it and have a discussion about what food group it’s in and how that particular food will help them grow.

  • Then, involve your little one in the meal planning process – perhaps by discussing the days of the week and the day you agree to prepare their chosen food. When that day comes, remind your little one by including them at an age appropriate level in the food preparation process.

  • If portion control is an issue, remember the “fist” rule and both demonstrate and share with your child how everyone has a different sized fist and that it’s by making a fist we determine how much each of us should be eating. (This is a handy reminder to us parents as well, young children need far less than we think they do and one of the biggest mistakes we make as parents is piling too much food on the plate – it can be overwhelming!)

  • Finally, another helpful tool here is to use a smaller plate for your little one. It will look full to you but less overwhelming for them.

A Positive Environment

Modeling your own behaviour and attitudes towards food is very important. Kids hear everything we say! Pushing food to the edge of your plate and saying “I’m so full, I feel fat” will register in little ears as “don’t eat everything on my plate.” The same goes for talking about your food preferences.  Our children look to us every single moment for guidance, reassurance and in an attempt to mimic us and live up to our expectations. It’s ok (and should be encouraged) to talk about food preferences and how we are all different in terms of our likes and dislikes but it’s not ok to say: “I hate fish” or “that’s too spicy.” Fostering a positive environment is about exploring and tasting a wide variety of foods from all the food groups. Consider trying this:

  • A fun way to do this might be to designate a night of the week as “Let’s Explore _______” (insert the name of a country that you and your child have located on a map) and then serve foods specific to that locale.  Again, you have involved your child in the process and it’s an opportunity to try new textures, spices and sauces, perhaps even a new veggie or two.

Remember, children are universal and a child raised in a different cultural background where spicy food is the norm might be just as reluctant to try a food considered “typical” in North America.  In other words, attitudes towards food are fostered from birth, in the home and reflect what we serve and how we approach it.  Being creative takes a little more work but with menu pre-planning each week and careful shopping, you might even find you spend less while encouraging your child to eat more.

A Step by Step Approach

When exploring new foods with a picky eater, it’s helpful to offer one new item at a time and to only provide a small amount of it.  If a child doesn’t like that particular item, make sure they know it’s okay not to eat it, but offer it again at a later date.  Sometimes it can take a few times before a child realizes they in fact like it and sometimes, your child will simply never like “orange” vegetables and let them know that’s ok too. Just serve more green ones!

This is a long and important topic – one that often causes plenty of debate amongst parents, nutritionists and even Grandmas who, let’s face it, never agree with how we are feeding our kids! With that in mind we’ll stop here and invite you to stay tuned for part two where we look at healthy snacks and “being mindful.”