Thursday, October 28, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Food Issues

Tip # 11
Do What You Can to Quell a Picky Appetite

I think everybody ends up with a set of foods that totally grosses them out. For me as a child it was peanut butter (so sorry about that one, Mom!), tomatoes, mushrooms and chili. I think that a short list of refusal foods is reasonable. Don't you? This post could hit some hot buttons so let me say right out of the shoot that we all go through seasons in life where we have to select our battles carefully. When you have multiple preschool children and it is all you can do to make it through the day, this might not be the battle you pick right.this.very.moment.

In our house I have a rather complicated set of parameters that I have to cook around - these parameters involve health concerns for a husband with Crohns and allergy concerns for the baby. You can perhaps appreciate the fact that I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR PICKY EATERS when it comes to the people I regularly cook for. I will gladly short-order cook for any child that visits my house but as for my own kids, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit."

Each of my kids have gone through picky stages - some more resolutely than others. Here are some of the techniques I have used to quell pickiness in the earlier years:
1. Introduce new foods over and over and over again. I introduced my babies probably 20-30 times to the same food (at 20-30 different meals) when there was one they refused. I did not push, but I did not let early refusal mean much.
2. Put only 3 bits of the undesired food on a plate, and then ask them to eat "just two."
3. Take it slow! Place that tiny piece of lettuce on the plate every day at first. Don't require them to eat it, but let them become accustomed to it being there. After a while ask that they just touch it to their tongue (make it a game you play too, even!). After several days of that, ask them to chew up one bite. Nice and slow progression. I use this with veggies, because I see a healthy appetite for veggies as a life-long grow-into-it thing. I want them to actually develop a taste for them, not just "eat them cuz they have to" habit.
4. Offer only healthy options for all meals and snacks so that no matter what they fill up on, you are pleased with it (they did not leave the table with a tummy full of buttered bread).
5. Put only one to two pieces of the food you know they enjoy, plus one or two pieces of the less desired food on their plate. If they ask for seconds of their desired food you can say, "sure, after you eat your chicken you can have another strawberry!"
6. Remember preschooler's tummies fill fast so keep portions really small. If given a plate of food that looks like a ton to them, they will feel quickly overwhelmed. Hopelessness will set in ("I will NEVER be able to eat all this") and they will have a tendency to not even try.
7. Rather than forcing a child to eat something they don't want to eat, give the control over to them saying something like, "No sweetie, you don't have to eat your chicken, but everyone who DOES eat their chicken get to enjoy ice cream for dessert," or "If you want another handful of grapes you can have that, but you need to eat another handful of chicken first. Let me know what you decide."
8. Remember that resolving picky appetites is more like running a marathon. Don't think it will resolve itself in a month. Several months of introduction and reintroduction. Lots and lots of food and phrase repetition.
9. I have chosen to not offer milk at meals. If you do, limit milk to 1-2 Tbsp. After that, its water, baby! (We live in a culture that is habitually dehydrated anyway, so you could look at giving them a thirst for water as a gift not a punishment). The goal with limiting milk intake: nutrition comes from food not drink.
10. Keep snacks between meals healthy and small: 3 carrot sticks or apple slices with water or two crackers.
11. Cut a plate of veggies up before preparing dinner so that when your little ones come nosing around the kitchen looking for something to eat, you have something good to offer them (you would be amazed at what a hungry child is willing to eat when he is truly hungry!). I know one mom who has a veggie-loving, meat-detesting child so maybe a better option for her would be to always have come slices of cold well-seasoned strips of chicken out for this purpose instead.
12. Toddlers are by nature snackers so often times there are no big meals. When they eat like birds, remember its quality not quantity. If all they are going to eat is a few bites here and there, don't offer fishy crackers, you know!?
13. Suppress the temptation to feed convenience foods. You are developing their palate - develop it to prefer healthy, non-processed foods. (Think chicken breasts cut into strips and broiled, rather than breaded chicken nuggets.)

The one pervading thought I have had in my head is this: I did not run into many picky eaters when I visited a Mexican orphanage. It is a lavish thing to be picky, you know? We don't need to be frustrated at our children for becoming picky, but we do them a tremendous service when we subdue it where we can.

1 comment:

Ginger said...

GREAT ideas, all of them Jenne! I remember hearing at a M2M about serving their food on dessert or salad plates, it doesn't take much to fill that plate, and it's really much better proportioned to their little tummies.

Another fun line, "tastebuds change every 10 to 14 days, maybe yours have changes since last time you tried ___. Let's see!"