We have that child, we have seen that child, we were that child. The child who threw fits when it came time to try new foods, especially if these foods were even remotely green, remotely a vegetable, or are not prepared in a remote location away from the home kitchen (i.e. their favorite fast food chain or restaurant). Picky eating can be natural at times, especially between the ages of 2-10 years old. Children are developing constantly both physically and mentally. They are developing likes and dislikes, however modern foods can amplify the intensity of these dislikes and make it more difficult to offer children healthy foods.
It is no secret that most American children and American adults are not eating enough fruits and vegetables (plant foods in general).
According to the National Cancer Institute, 76% of the total US population did not meet fruit intake recommendations, and 87% did not meet vegetable intake recommendations.1
This lack of plant food intake comes from a variety of reasons, some of which I will go through today and give you pro tips on how to give your child (no matter what age) the ability to better combat or prevent this pickiness.
Healthy Food During Pregnancy
Listen up mom and dad, raising your child starts now! Making sure mom is eating the correct foods, avoiding processed foods, drinking water, the whole nine yards is vital! The developing fetus will not only grow better, but around the 15th week your fetus is tasting the flavors of your food in the amniotic fluid. Studies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11389286) have shown that these tastes in the fluid can affect the child’s preferences when they get older.
Healthy Food While Breastfeeding
Heck! Even if you just breastfeed you decrease a magnitude of issues for you child, one of these issues does include picky eating. Ever heard of a dairy cow getting into a patch of onions and spoiling their milk? The idea is basically that simple. The flavors and nutrition form the foods you eat are present in your breast milk. If mom is eating lots of great whole foods: beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, vegetables, whole grains, and fresh fruit, then your baby is too. If baby is enjoying these flavors in the breast milk, then they will enjoy these flavors when they are given solids at 6 months.
“Something Green” Rule
I have a rule in the house. No one eats without something green on their plate. Are we perfect? No way! But I would say that because we are aware, and because we have this rule, 90% of the time we are eating something green. Now, your child might not eat it, and that is totally ok, but the fact that it is on their plate (even if it is a teaspoon serving) is a win. Studies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25555540) show that the more you expose children to healthy and different options the more they are likely to eat them.
The key is being consistent and not putting pressure on your child to eat.
The pressure is more on the parent to keep cool, put new healthy foods on the plate, and make sure the new healthy foods are on your plate as well.
Not so Hidden Sugar
As a parent it can be hard to say no. If you have a large family or big circle of friends, then every day can feel like a celebration of some sort. This is where parents can lose track of how often their kids are having a sweet treat. Capri Sun at school, cupcake for classmates birthday, pieces of cake for the graduation dinner, you get the idea.
Added sugar can inhibit hunger for children or it can increase hunger in some children leading to weight and health issues.
If you can limit the sweet treats to no more than 1-2x per week then you can begin to increase your child’s appetite and decrease pickiness.
Oh how I wish all you had to watch out for were the cookies, cakes and ice creams when it comes to sugar. Unfortunately, many children become picky eaters due to the hidden added sugar in common foods. Peanut butter, pasta sauce, yogurt, crackers, snack bars, and many more will contain 1 or more teaspoons of added sugar per serving. It is extremely important to read ingredients and check for “sugar words”: fructose, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and many more. Here is a list of 61 Names of Sugar ( http://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/hidden-in-plain-sight/#.WY_fl3eGPEY). I usually recommend my patients to print this list out and place it on the fridge or somewhere in the kitchen. This added sugar can cause your child to develop extreme pickiness with foods and even food addiction issues.
Being the Example
As you may have noticed, all of these tips to prevent a picky eater in your child can also be applied to adults. Unfortunately or fortunately, the “do as I say, not as I do” method does not work well in this case. This is great news for you mom and dad, because now everyone in the family can become healthier and happier. If you are eating wonderful, fresh plant foods your children will too. Since you do all of the grocery shopping, reading ingredients and skipping the added sugar will be huge in getting anywhere from 5-15 teaspoons of added sugar per day out of your families diet. It’s not easy, so ask for help.
The HealthSoup App is a great resource to connect with knowledgeable health professionals like myself, who can give you more specifics and help you reach a healthy lifestyle you can live with for the rest of your life. Say goodbye to picky eating or better yet, never say hello to it!
Cover photo by Alex Fulton published under the Creative Commons license.