There is lots of information out there about child picky eaters. If your child is a picky eater, you’re not alone. Millions of parents struggle, cajole, beg, hide, and bribe their children into eating more/healthier food everyday. Some studies blame genetics for finicky eating habits in children. I blame processed food, lack of nutritional education, and too much choice.
The Real Reason Your Child is a Picky Eater
If you serve your children sugary cereal for breakfast and fast food burgers for lunch, they’re going to eat around the broccoli and peas you serve at dinnertime. Highly-processed foods are loaded with chemicals that are specifically-designed to be addictive to your child.
Food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, and aspartame are all neurotoxic to your child’s growing brain. These additives also interfere with normal hormone and sugar levels, leading to behavioral problems, excessive carbohydrate consumption, and weight gain.
Whenever these foods are taken away from your child, even for a short period of time, he or she goes through junk food withdrawal. Junk food withdrawal has the same effect on your child as someone coming down from drugs or alcohol. This is what causes the knock-down drag-out verbal battles that erupt over food choices.
They’re coming off a drug!
How to Improve Your Child’s Eating Habits
1. Slowly Wean Them off Processed Foods
If you have a child addicted to processed foods, you cannot suddenly stop serving them. The withdrawal symptoms will be horrible. Instead, slowly wean off them processed foods by replacing them with healthier alternatives. For example, if your child is addicted to a certain type of snack chip, visit the health food aisle of your grocery store and find a similar, less-processed replacement.
2. Make “Fast Food” at Home
If your child is used to eating chicken nuggets, burgers, and fries, they’re not going to give them up easily. Not only do they love the taste, they’re completely addicted to the chemicals. Resist the temptation to visit the fast food restaurant and instead pick up the ingredients you need to make “fast food” at home. Grass-fed beef, organic rolls, and natural cheese make healthier burgers. Organic chicken chunks, breaded, fried, and served with organic BBQ sauce and organic French fries can easily replace drive-thru fair.
3. Lead by Example
If you want your child to eat a healthy diet filled with a rich variety of nourishing foods, you have to lead by example. This means buying, preparing, and consuming foods you want your child to eat.
4. Involve Your Child in Growing and Preparing Foods
One hundred years ago, children knew where their food came from. They understood about animals, farming, gardening, and the circle of life. If your picky eater refuses to eat fruits and vegetables, start a small garden and work together with them to grow their own food. If your child is old enough, give her a few simple tasks to do in the kitchen such as washing off vegetables before you cook them. When your child is involved in growing and preparing foods, she’ll feel more connected and in control of her meals.
5. Continue Exposing Your Child to the Unwanted Food
Experts say it takes up to 20 exposures for a child to try a new food. If your child expresses distaste for a certain food, don’t stop serving it. This will only narrow his food choices. Keeping putting it on his plate and wait until he tries it. If he doesn’t after 20 exposures, try something else but don’t give up easily.
6. Don’t Ask Your Child What They Want to Eat
Giving your children a choice between outfits or activities is a good way for them to get a feel for their own independence. However, this can backfire when it comes to planning meals. If given the option, children will almost always choose foods that taste good to them and not the ones that are best for their health.
The next time your child is hungry, instead of asking what he wants, set out a variety of foods and observe what he picks. Fruits, vegetables, cheese, yogurt, nuts, seeds, and lunch meats are all healthy options for your child to choose from. If your child is not used to these foods, introduce them gradually.
7. Introduce Rejected Foods in Small Amounts
If your child is disgusted by fruits and vegetables or anything red, for example, introduce them in small amounts with foods they already enjoy. This small amount of food may lessen the aversion response and make your child curious enough to give it a try.
8. Experiment with New Ways to Prepare Food
If your finicky eater is disgusted by broccoli, for example, find new ways to prepare it. Serve it raw with a tasty hummus or yogurt dip, steamed with other vegetables, or stir-fried and mixed with rice and meat. Use cookie cutters to form other unwanted foods into creative shapes that are pleasing to the eye.
9. Use Compartmentalized Trays
Some children just can’t stand it when their food touches. If this is a problem for your child, just one piece of carrot coming into contact with a baked potato could cause a meltdown. Try using compartmentalized trays to separate foods so your child can eat them one at a time. Most children eventually outgrow this stage but watch out for signs of obsessive compulsive disorder in other areas.
10. Prepare Homemade Juices and Smoothies
Sometimes, no matter what you do, your child just doesn’t want to eat what he doesn’t want to eat. In this case, invest in a juicer and a blender and start preparing homemade juices and smoothies. Mix organic fruits and vegetables together and serve it with breakfast in the morning. Don’t tell your child it’s something different. Just replace the juice they usually drink and see how they respond.
Smoothies can be made with organic chocolate milk, yogurt, berries, nut butters, and any kind of vitamin or nutrient supplement you want to slip in there. Just tell them it’s a milkshake. They’ll love it!
Be Careful How You Talk About Food in Front of Your Child
Sometimes food aversion has nothing to do with processed food addiction, it has to do with the way you talk about food in front of them. Children are sponges and even if they don’t respond, they absorb everything you say. If you claim a certain food goes straight to your hips, they’ll take it literally and be afraid of what food will do to them. If you’re over-conscious about your weight, your child will be also and this could turn into a lifetime of struggling with an eating disorder.
Food should be used as nourishment and prepared and served in a way that is fun and non-threatening. Resist the urge to beg, threaten or bribe your children into eating the foods you know are healthy for them. The less tension surrounding mealtime the better. These tips can help your picky eater enjoy new foods and get more well-rounded nutrition without the battles.
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