Figuring out your approach to early childhood nutrition can be tricky, especially when you realize that deciding what to feed your child and when to begin solids is only half the problem. Now you have to convince them to actually eat it!
Don’t worry, there are ways to avoid raising picky eaters and while serving healthy foods for kids that they’ll actually want to eat.
Set Them Up For Success
When starting kids on solid foods, you’re shaping the way they will perceive food for their entire lives – no pressure, right? It’s for this reason that offering your child different healthy foods and encouraging them to try a variety of flavours, textures, and colours is so important.
Store-bought baby food (and many make-at-home recipes, too) rely on a base of apples or pears. This, coupled with the fact that purees are so well-blended, means that although your child may eat a spinach puree one day and squash the next, the taste and texture are almost always the same: sweet and smooth. Eventually, these are the things your child will grow to prefer.
No wonder many kids balk at slightly bitter, textured food like broccoli — it’s totally unfamiliar to them.
You can help to avoid creating picky eaters by eating meals together and offering finger foods with different tastes and textures, like soft-cooked vegetables, fish, hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped fruits, and whole grains.
Respect your toddler’s appetite but don’t hesitate to introduce new foods, either. Children sometimes take up to fifteen tries of a food to decide they like it, so don’t stop offering something just because your child didn’t eat it the first time.
If you’re way past the introducing solids stage, actress Amrita Raichand has a few ideas for how to deal with a picky eater.
Raichand joined us at the recent RoundGlass Blossom Breast is Best event in Mumbai, and managed to sum up kids’ attitudes toward eating perfectly: “They’ve been conditioned to think that everything healthy is boring,” she laughs. “We always try to excite children about things they’re just not excited about!”
She argued that rather than bending over backwards trying to convince our kids that their meals are good for them, we should realize that they don’t care about a food’s nutritional value, and focus on other attributes instead.
She may be right. I mean, have you ever heard a five-year-old sing the virtues of iron-rich spinach or celebrate the brain-boosting Omega-3s in fish? Yeah. Me neither.
Instead, Raichand says that although we should serve healthy meals for a picky eater, we should try to emphasise other aspects of the food that they do care about, too, like how fun food can be.
Easier said than done? Maybe not. An audience member at the event remarked that she had a hunch that children’s disinterest in healthy food is rooted in their separation from it. She explained, “We make [their meals] for them. They are not aware of how to make food — they’re only exposed to the final outcome.”
For any reluctant cooks out there (ahem), making meals sometimes feels like drudgery, so we often forget that for kids, it’s a totally new experience. We can make mealtime fun by allowing kids to measure and mix, cut vegetables with a child-safe knife, grate cheese, and crack eggs. These are all wild new adventures for a young child!
It may take longer to make a meal when your child “helps”, but investing time during preparation can pay off later when they actually want to eat the meal they helped create, instead of having to be endlessly encouraged (or bribed!) to take one more bite.
Raichand also shared a story about how to make kid friendly recipes like Angry Birds themed pizza. She used veggies to create the face, beak, and wings, and while it was a simple meal, her picky eaters loved it and ended up eating a veggie-rich dinner without a fuss.
Ultimately, kids control what they eat, so it’s best to work with picky eaters rather than against them. Set them up for success by offering different tastes and textures when you first introduce solids, and as they get older, involve them in the meal-preparation process by letting them help choose and prepare their meals. And remember, as their parent you are only responsible for deciding what to feed them and when. Your child is responsible for deciding if they eat, and how much.
With these approaches well in hand, mealtimes can go back to being fun family gatherings instead of battlegrounds.