Health & Food

I’ll Never Have a Picky Eater

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This is just one of the many things I told myself I’d never have, or do, prior to actually having children.  Obviously as a dietitian I always assumed my kids would be healthy eaters. I imagined balanced meals being served daily and my kids eagerly asking for seconds of their vegetables. I imagined kids who never said no to anything that was offered to them. I imagined children who loved the same foods I loved, and like me, really had a short list of dislikes.  I breastfed both of my children for twelve months or more (more for Cameron, since he actually nursed) and I used the Baby Led Weaning approach for both. I used these tools as a way to nourish my kids and to also introduce them to new unique flavors and textures, figuring the earlier the better.  I assumed that because of this, on top of our healthy household, I’d have kids who were easy to please and who would just eat what I put on their plate.

Well, as they say, “assumptions can make an ASS of u and me!”. Flash forward four years after having Paige, and I’ve got two picky eaters (and I’ve learned this is the norm).  Paige has become picky only lately, since starting preschool. My guess is that she hears other kids using the words “yucky” and “gross” when it comes to things like vegetables, because Paige was for so long my great eater! She’s never eaten a ton at one sitting (she’s about 20th percentile in weight) but she always ate what I put on her plate (ok, not always, but most of the time).  Now, I fear the nightly fight about what’s for dinner.  I’ve turned into the mom who makes something separate for my child, nightly, because she refuses to eat (or even try) what I make for the family.  The last thing I want is to make dinner a stressful time so I try not to make too big of a deal over the situation. Inside I’m fuming. The good news is she still eats her vegetables, it’s the main meal and protein with which she struggles. Cameron, on the other hand, has been picky since day one (who would have guessed the one I nursed for 14 months would be the picky one?).

This was the first solid I put on his plate; a banana.

Cameron seems to have a thing with textures. I’m not talking textures in his mouth, but textures on his hands!  When he touches something and he doesn’t like the way it feels, all bets are off. So, since he hasn’t quite mastered a fork, he uses his hands often; touches foods, doesn’t like the feel, and decides the food is not worth trying.

So smoothies are a hit for Cameron. I load these smoothies with vegetables and fruits, he doesn’t have to feel anything “slimy” and he’s good to go.  But obviously we can’t just do smoothies….

I’d say 80% of the time Cameron gets more food on his face and on the floor than he does in his mouth.  It can be frustrating. I have often worried whether he is getting enough nutrients. I try to remind myself that I have small kids with small appetites, and that kids are great at intuitive eating so I need to relax.  Here are some other things I’ve learned;

  • Snacks can ruin an appetite-How is it that kids learn to beg for snacks (particularly carb-loaded and nutrient lacking ones) so early on?!  Even with a full on whine fest I try hard not to give in each time my children beg for snacks. This is especially true if it’s too close to a meal (as in within 30-minutes).  I would also add that giving my children too much milk ruins their appetite.  I aim for no more than 12 ounces of whole milk a day for Cameron.  Juice is a never in our household (I’m not a fan) but I allow it at preschool because I don’t want to be “that mom”.
  • They make up for calories on other days-  I’ve noticed that generally if my kids have a few light eating days in a row, they will be followed by a few heavier eating days. So, when they eat like a mouse I don’t freak too much. Their body knows what’s best, and I’m not about to force them to finish their food.  The only time I require a clean plate is when Paige is begging for a “late night snack”. If she hadn’t eaten all of her dinner, I require she finish it before she snacks on something else (yes, I save her unfinished dinner plate all evening).
  • They want what you are eating – Have you learned this trick yet?  It’s not full-proof but sometimes I’ll just ignore Paige at a meal (for example, if she says she’s not hungry) and I’ll go about making my own food.  I don’t give her any attention and I just make something for myself. I sit down to eat it and the next thing I hear is “Mommy, I want what you’re having!”.  Again, it doesn’t work all the time, but typically at breakfast and lunch this is a winning strategy!
  • Certain times of day they might be hungrier –I’ve learned both of my kids are breakfast and lunch eaters.  Dinner is typically their smallest meal (hey, isn’t this supposed to be the “best way to eat”?)
  • They may love something one day but hate it the next (and vice versa) – Have you ever gone out and purchased a crap ton of a certain food because your child devoured it the night before?  I did this once with avocados; Cameron ate almost a whole avocado once so I went and bought ten.  Of course the next time I offered it he wouldn’t eat it.  This is typical toddler (annoying) behavior!  Don’t give up, keep offering it.  And of course the opposite is true; they turn their noses up at your homemade mac and cheese one day but eat it up the next day. They’re human.
  • Giving a multivitamin is probably a good idea – I’m not saying that a multivitamin is ever going to make up for a poor diet, but during the picky toddler years, a multivitamin is probably smart.  I buy this product for Cameron and Paige takes a Flintstone every day.  I found out that Paige was iron deficient when she was 2.5 years old, so I started Cameron on iron early.  Iron is so important for growth and immunity, and I’ll tell you right now I know both of my children don’t get enough in their food (the texture of meat isn’t their thing, unless it’s coated with bread and shaped liked a dinosaur).
  • There is nothing wrong with adding seasoning or sauces – I add salt to Paige’s food (gasp!).  You know it’s true, salt brings out the flavor, and if it’s going to be the difference between her eating her spinach and brussel sprouts or not, I’m going to add it.  I do not add salt to Cameron’s food since he’s still exploring new flavors and textures.  Of course salt isn’t the only flavoring agent; we use cilantro, oregano, garlic and basil (and, ahem, ketchup when necessary).
  • Canned foods and frozen foods are helpful – canned (low sodium) vegetables are a favorite in our household. Peas, carrots and especially beans.  Also these  Praeger’s Dinosaurs! I also stock up on frozen vegetables (sometimes with sauce and sometimes without), which are convenient and generally liked by my children.  Another favorite? Frozen sweet potato fries.

Look closely, you may just see some Chef Boyardee on that plate. This was, of course, one night he ate the majority of his food! I’m not ashamed.

What tips would you add to my list?

Also, the winner of last week’s slow cooker cookbook giveaway is Ashley.  Congrats!

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